I hadn’t seen Bob Masucci in at least a year. Philadelphia Bob is what we used to call him. Good poker players always have nicknames.
A few years ago we used to mix it up on Mondays at a dealer’s choice game at the gone but not forgotten Manolo’s on Zacateros. Now Bob plays in San Miguel’s regular Wednesday night hold ’em game and it was there, right after he hauled in a nice pot when I read that he had nada, that he asked me the same question that so many San Miguelenses ask me.
“Where do you get a good Italian sausage in this town?”
I decided to bore him with a long story about a sausage making contest a few years ago in San Miguel. Because the story then had a very happy ending. And, even though I’ve written about it before, I thought it was worth telling again. Because it is the definitive answer to finding a good Italian sausage.
Italian sausage. Sweet Italian sausage. Hot Italian sausage. Salsiccia in Italy. Pure porcine pleasure. Heaven to men all over the world. In a bread roll. In a red sauce. Buried deep in lasagna. Crowning a pasta.
I don’t think there are many men who would name the Italian sausage their absolute best favorite thing to eat. But I don’t think there are many men who wouldn’t name it as one of their favorite things to eat. So back in 2012, to discover which was the best sausage in town, I held a little contest.
I’d found eleven different Italian sausage makers (what Don Day lacks in writing skills he makes up for in research skills) and contacted them to see if they were up for the challenge. Seven replied yes; the other four didn’t reply at all. Why do men always have such a problem saying no? Women don’t seem to.
Speaking of women, I was telling Don Day’s Wife how I was one short of my targeted eight sausage makers and she said “It’s too bad I’m not competitive, I’d include mine.”
That’s all I needed to hear. I may have lost some of my smooth talking skills but I knew right then and there I could coax her into it. I had bought her a sausage maker for her birthday the previous year (I know what you’re saying, “Don Day what an incredibly thoughtful guy you are to give such a meaningful and personal gift”). The problem was the sausage maker (human variety) was in San Miguel de Allende; the sausage maker (grinder and stuffer variety) was in Toronto.
I started the flattery. It didn’t take much. Next thing I knew Don Day’s Wife was checking the pantry for fennel seeds. Not too long later she had a baggie full of her spice mix. But what about the sausage machine? How could she grind the meat and get those oinkers in their jackets. Don Day’s Wife also had the answer for that. You take the mix up to Carniceria La Nueva Aurora and ask Alberto to grind and case them. She knew Don Day’s favorite butcher up in Fraccionamiento La Luz would. And of course he did.
Stan Jones agreed to provide the venue for the event and the next day Don Day was off to purchase everyone else’s sausages and pick up the rest of the supplies. I fried up three kilos of onions in butter and olive oil and, after Don Day’s Wife had done the charring and chopping, did the same with three different batches of peppers, one mild, one medium and one muy caliente (habaneros were the main ingredient). Stan’s wife Peggy agreed to make one of her signature dishes, her very creamy and very delicious potato salad. I went to La Mesa Grande, Mivida and La Buen Vida (Cumpanio’s best of the bunch baguettes hadn’t arrived in town yet) in order to have an assortment of different breads and I stopped into Bonanza for a couple of jars of mustard.
I had everything needed to discover which was San Miguel’s best Italian sandwich. Including fourteen guys who had volunteered to judge. Don Day’s Wife was in prayer when I left. “Oh please, please, please, do not let me come last.”
If this had been wine the guys were scoring, it would be called a blind tasting. As they could see what they were eating, I guess it was a deaf tasting. Because I told them next to nothing. I just gave them a few guidelines: Score each sausage from one to ten taking into consideration texture (rough or smooth, wet or dry, meaty or mealy) and, most importantly, overall taste and spicing (too much, too little, most interesting, amount of heat).
Not only did the judges not know where each sausage came from, they didn’t even know which restaurants or retailers were even in the running for the best sausage title.
The Weber’s three burners were cranked to high, Stan and I started loading up the racks and the fat started sizzling. One by one, about every five minutes, we filled another platter with sausage and loaded another on the barbie. In went Sausage A and on went Sausage E. In went Sausage B and on went Sausage F. There was close to 20 pounds of meat when we started. There was close to two when we finished. The first thing I did was to go through the list from A to H and tell everyone where the sausages came from. The second thing I did was collect the sheets and tally up the results. It was time for my Bert Parks impression.
I started at the bottom and worked my way up to the top. I could go through them all one by one as I did that afternoon but some of the shops are gone and some of the restaurants have changed owners or chefs so it wouldn’t mean a lot. So I’ll skip to later that day.
I was home from my lunch before Don Day’s Wife was home from hers. She is so much better at lingering. She didn’t say anything at first. She just took her coat off and started to arrange some lilies she’d bought at Ignacio Ramirez Market. Finally I said the first words.
“So do you want to hear about it”, I asked.
“About coming last”, she replied.
No, you didn’t come last”, I told her, “why don’t I take you through the results from bottom to top like I did with the guys? Get yourself a drink.”
She chose water. Don Day’s Wife rarely chooses water.
I repeated my Miss America Pageant schtick and when I was most of the way through the speech and halfway through announcing who came second, Don Day’s Wife suddenly brought her knees up close to her chest, dug her elbows into her stomach, clenched her fists and began to shake them up and down.
“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” was her only word.
So there you have it. The best Italian sausage in San Miguel de Allende is one you can make at home. The very best Italian sausage in San Miguel is the one Don Day’s Wife made a new batch of this week.
She served it in a basil, spinach and parsley pesto, with pumpkin seeds replacing the usual pine nuts (an economy measure). One of our dinner guests, fellow food blogger Valen Dawson (check her out at eatingtheglobe.com), called it “the most amazing Italian sausage ever”. You might call it that too if you use this recipe.
The Recipe for Don Day’s Wife’s Italian Sausage
If you have a well-equipped kitchen, you’ll probably have most of the ingredients in stock. If not, you should be able to get everything but the fresh parsley at San Miguel’s Bonanza. Preparation takes less than hour.
Makes about 5 1/2 pounds (freeze what you’re not going to eat right away)
2 kilos pork shoulder cut into cubes
1/2 kilo pork fat cut into cubes
2 tbsp. olive oil
5 tsp. kosher salt (crushed)
1 1/2 tbsp. ground black pepper
3 tbsp. fennel seeds
1 tbsp. anise seeds
3 tbsp. mild paprika
2 tsp. hot smoky Spanish paprika
2 tsp. hot chile pepper flakes (if Mexican) – 3 tsp. North American (US/Canada)
1 head minced garlic
1 cup very finely chopped fresh parsley
6 tbsp. red wine
1 tbsp. brandy or cognac
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 litre warm water
Saute garlic in olive oil over medium heat until just cooked. Remove from pan.
Add fennel seeds, anise seeds, mild and hot paprika, hot pepper flakes, oregano, basil, and thyme to pan and stir for a couple of minutes to toast the seeds and release the spices. Add red wine and brandy and cook for another minute to dealcoholize and reduce the liquid slightly. Add water and salt, and stir over low heat until the salt crystals have dissolved.
Set aside to cool.
Stir in chopped parsley and garlic.
Mix spice mix with the chunks of pork shoulder and pork fat. Put through meat grinder at a fine grind and extrude into sausage casing.
Note: If you don’t have a sausage maker and are fortunate enough to live in San Miguel de Allende, the best butchers will have natural casings in stock. Bring your spice mixture into the butcher, and if they’re as nice as our butcher, they will grind it with their meat and produce the sausage for you. Here’s the address of the butcher we use.
Carniceria La Nueva Aurora is located at Durazno #24 in Fraccionamiento La Luz, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.