Sausage maker tries cracking the casing of this sausage town


November 14, 1993|By ROB KASPER

Bruce Aidells rates cities by their sausages.

Chicago, he said, is a good sausage town, as is New York. Philadelphia, with its German, Amish, and Italian markets, turns out good sausage, he said. While New Orleans is not much of a sausage town, the andouille sausage made in western Louisiana, he said, is terrific. Los Angeles, he said, is hard to figure. pTC Everybody talks about health foods, yet the town has great hot dogs.

And Baltimore? "Oh yeah, Baltimore is a good sausage town."

Aidells now lives in San Francisco, where he makes low-fat sausages and writes books. But years ago, when he worked as a cancer researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Aidells said he would spend Saturday afternoons in Baltimore's Lexington Market, eating and watching people "make this great Polish sausage."

Shortly after I met Aidells this week in a Washington restaurant, we were talking about the sausage scene in Baltimore. I told him that Ostrowski's was still making its Polish sausage. And Egon Binkert was making knackwurst and other superior German sausages. And fennel-flavored sausages were being sold at Trinacria on Paca Street and at other Italian food stores around town. As I spoke, I could see Aidells' mouth begin to water. Here was a man who was thinking of chucking his schedule, fleeing to Baltimore, and feasting on the sausages even though the sausages were made by competitors. Here was sausage lover.

Aidells' San Francisco Sausage Company makes about 20 different kinds of low-fat sausages. His chicken and apple sausage, which he said is showing up on the first-class breakfast trays on American Airlines flights, has about one-third the fat and about half the sodium that a traditional breakfast sausage contains. Hailed in the national food press as the sausage for smart eaters, his meats sell around the country by mail order and in food stores like Eddie's and Fresh Fields in Baltimore, Produce Galore in Columbia, and Railway Market in Easton.

Aidells, a big, burly guy with a straightforward style, said that selling a low-fat sausage in a "good sausage town" wasn't easy. Folks used to eating a $2-a-pound sausage made with old-country seasonings, he said, are sometimes reluctant to try his $6-a-pound sausage seasoned with fruit and herbs.

Aidells maintained that while his sausages may cost more than the ones Granddad used to make, his sausage-making style follows the best of the craft's tradition. "The secret to making a good sausage," he said, "is what you leave out of it. The cheap stuff."

An admitted fan of the pig -- he even eats scrapple -- Aidells puts pork in some of his sausages. He also puts poultry, lamb and game, and pepper, curry and Thai seasonings in the sausages. And he spoke up for salt. "Salt is a necessary part of sausage-making. It allows the meats to bind."

While his low-fat sausage became popular with the "high-end market, our niche has grown." A good sausage, he said, "is not just for the foodies and the snotties, it is for the regular guys, the guys who move equipment," said Aidells, who looked like guy who has carried a few refrigerators.

A few years ago Aidells, in partnership with writer Denis Kelly, wrote a book on sausage-making called "Hot Links and Country Flavors" (Knopf, $20). The pair has a new book out, "Real Beer and Good Eats" (Knopf, $23), a cookbook for beer lovers. The beer book failed to mention the superior suds being brewed in Baltimore. Aidells promised me the next time he came East, he was going to tour the sausage and beer outlets of this town.

Back in Baltimore, I grilled a couple of his sausages. I thought they were pretty good. The skin had good bite, and the meat, while lacking the decadent bubble of higher fat sausages, had clean flavors. My favorite was a whiskey fennel sausage, which combined two of my favorites tastes.

I, however, did not grow up in this good sausage town. My kids did, including the 8-year-old, who when asked what he wants for supper, regularly replies "sausage cooked on the grill." He polished off the chicken and apple sausage and the chicken and turkey sausage with five roasted peppers. The kid would not go near the whiskey fennel sausage, though, because he had been told in school that "whiskey shrinks your brain."

When I asked this Baltimore native for his assessment of these San Francisco sausages, he paused. They were good, he said, but not as good as the Italian sausages we buy on Paca Street.

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