I’ve always struggled with my sausage in Mexico.
It’s just so hard to know what you’re getting until you take your first bite. You never know what parts of the animal are in there or sometimes even what kind of animal those parts came from, You can’t tell how much fat there’ll be. Or if it will have any of those chunky, gristly, icky bits. Toughest of all is guessing the spice level. Don Day can handle ’em hot but Don Day’s Wife has been burned a few too many times.
Don Day has even been sighted in Mega, the San Miguel supermarket, putting those mass-produced Johnsonville Brats in his cart. Ah, the shame, the shame!
Deep in his heart though (or perhaps that’s his stomach), Don Day believes that the best sausage in Mexico comes from shops that have the word carniceria on their awning. Sausages are a butcher’s chance to shine. It’s the one time when it’s not just about cutting and cleaning. It’s when it’s all about creating.
A butcher’s sausage recipe is a prized possession. Recipes are brought from the old country. Recipes are passed from father to son. Recipes are revised. Recipes are revisited. And recipes are often never revealed.
In Mexico, you’ll find a few different words on sausage signs. Chorizo, moronga, longaniza and salchichon are the most common. Longaniza is usually the biggest mystery and the one that drives Don Day crazy.
I’ve had fat longanizas. I’ve had skinny longanizas. I’ve had red longanizas. I’ve had beige longanizas. I’ve had scary longanizas (because they were only 25 pesos a kilo). I’ve had mild longanizas. And I’ve had the devil’s own longanizas. I’ve had fresh longanizas. I’ve had dried longanizas. I’ve had so many different longanizas, that I stopped buying longanizas. Until last week.
Sausages with the label longaniza began life centuries ago in Spain, had immense popularity in The Philippines (where they’re spelled with an S instead of a Z) and today, are most frequently found here in Mexico. If you’re in the Yucatan, it would be hard to find a butcher without them. In San Miguel de Allende, most butchers make them as well.
So why is there suddenly longaniza 0n Don Day’s menu again? Well on most Tuesdays you will find Don Day at San Miguel’s Tuesday market and three or four blocks from the Tuesday market you will find Fraccionamiento La Luz. La Luz is a neighborhood where expats rarely tread but where expats surely should. For it’s there where you’ll find Carniceria La Neuva Aurora, the butcher that Don Day thinks is the most professional, most knowledgeable, most service-oriented, most economically-priced butcher shop in San Miguel.
Don was there with his friends Richard, Ben and Cheryl to order some young lamb and have Alberto, La Nueva Aurora‘s owner and master butcher make up a new batch of Don Day’s Wife’s Italian sausage, a tantalizing tube that, in 2013, was voted the very best in San Miguel.
Alberto had some of his own sausages and they were waving at Don Day from inside the display case. I asked him what they were. “Longaniza, Senor”, he said.
Alberto told us his longanizas included both beef and pork and they were “not too hot” but I didn’t ask what the exact ingredients were. I believe there are some things you just don’t ask a man about his sausage.
Should I or shouldn’t I? If I couldn’t trust Alberto to make a great longaniza, who could I trust? “Give me a half kilo”, I said. “Dame un medio kilo”, said Cheryl. ”Make it three”, said Richard.
Don Day took the longanizas home and on Wednesday we had them for lunch. Don Day’s Wife baked them in the oven (a much better treatment than frying for most sausages). To truly appreciate their goodness we had them straight up. Just a titch of yellow mustard was squirted on top and the longaniza was placed between slices of some very healthy looking bread from the organic shop, Natura.
Don Day looked at Don Day’s Wife. Don Day’s Wife looked at Don Day. Don Day and Don Day’s Wife looked at each other again. “Not too spicy”, said Don Day. “Not too spicy at all”, said Don Day’s Wife. “Would make a great breakfast sausage”, said Don Day. “Would be good in a pasta sauce”, said Don Day’s Wife.
When Don Day is reviewing a wine, he can get away with a whole lot of crap. He can say the wine has lychee fruit and jasmine blossoms on the nose and loganberry and leather on the tongue and no one can really argue because…well because it’s the world of airy-fairy wine critiques…no one’s quite sure what lychees smell like or loganberries taste like.
It’s a lot tougher when you’re reviewing sausages instead of sauvignons. Because you’re guessing actual ingredients that are in the spice mix. So here goes with Alberto’s longanizas but, trust me, I could be very, very wrong.
In La Nueva Aurora sausages, I detected the taste of paprika (that one I’m confident about), oregano, achiote, cloves, onion, red wine and just a little hit of chilis. The combination was delightful. Here was a longaniza I could love. And even more important, so could Don Day’s Wife.
No longer will buying longaniza in San Miguel be like buying a pig in a poke, it will be like buying very tasty pig in a nice natural casing. Next Tuesday, when I pick up my lamb racks and shoulders, I’ll be taking home some more longaniza from La Nueva Aurora.
Carniceria La Neuva Aurora is located at Durazno #24 in Fraccionamiento La Luz, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.