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At the Modern CafÃ©, grilled fennel sausage arrives nearly alone on a plate, with a crescent of whole-grain mustard and a dollop of barely sweet onions. Both short, fat links look ready to burst. And when you slide a knife into one—there it is, the snap! of a natural casing and a well-made sausage.
Until recently, making sausage in-house was not just old-school, it was positively old-country. The ancient art of finding the perfect blend of fat and meat, of emulsifying the fat so that the interior stays creamy, the deft handling of natural casings to create the coveted snap—all that was the province of heritage joints like Kramarczuk’s (making more than three dozen types of sausage since 1954) and the Black Forest Inn (stuffing bratwurst since 1965). Their products are Old World authentic, but none more daring than chicken with sundried tomatoes and basil.
Today, smaller, chef-driven establishments have taken up the craft. While the Modern’s sausage relies on the tried and true sweetness of fennel, with just a little heat, chef Matt Paulson of the Sample Room is on a quest to push the boundaries of flavor. Having set himself the task of creating 100 wholly unique sausages (look for them on the daily specials menu), he has pressed mole, green curry, wild mushrooms, and Surly 5 (a smoky, funky dark ale) into sausage casings. His sausages are flecked with Colby cheese, kale, chestnuts, celery, and dried cherries. He has also mastered the snap!
At Amsterdam, St. Paul’s new bar and music venue with a Dutch bent, the sausage broodje, a mini-sandwich, isn’t about the snap at all. It’s a patty, not a link, and it’s all about flavor and a meatier texture. Head chef Thom Lowe says he flavors the all-pork patty with nutmeg, chili flakes, and garlic, then slathers it with herb-garlic mayonnaise. This combination has helped make it one of the most popular items on the menu.
If sausage is having a moment right now, it’s because it’s fun. Chefs get to play with intense flavor combinations and diners get a burst of nostalgia, remembering a childhood hot dog and the joy of that first bite’s snap!