Tag Archives: sausage

Lamb and black truffle sausage: Osteria Papavero, you crazy bastard, I love you

One of the appetizers at Osteria Papavero is “antipasti di tartufo” — three dishes with black truffle, subject to chef’s whim and different every night.  Truffle is one of those ingredients that I know is distinguished and I know is expensive but which has never really revealed its charms to me.  Papavero is helping me out with that problem.   I think I’m going to go ahead and order this dish every time I go, because it’s consistently the highlight of the meal.

Tuesday night, one of the plates was a truffled lamb sausage. Long, dark brown, a little pocked, served in a loose coil, looking a little disturbingly like — well, I’ll bet you can guess what it looked a little disturbingly like.  But it was superb:  coarsely ground, a little gamy or smoky, and rich as hell, without being, you know, stupidly rich.  One of the best things I’ve eaten in Madison.

Papavero has a Christmas tree with comic photos of the staff in place of ornaments.  Also a Xerox of the greatest New Yorker cartoon of all time:

Image courtesy of a post by Daniel Radosh, who observes that the caption is not identical with the one that originally ran in the magazine.  But this version is the one I know and admire.

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La wei si ji dou, or: eat at Fugu

At last there’s an acceptable, even pretty good, Chinese restaurant in downtown Madison:  Fugu, in the space formerly occupied by the misleadingly named Yummy Buffet.  (OK, to be fair, it was actually a buffet.)  It’s billed as pan-Asian but the management is from Hong Kong, and I’ve done well by sticking to the Chinese portion of the menu.  I particularly liked a dish called “cured meat with string beans,” which consisted mostly of very tender, very flavorful, very salty dry-cooked green beans, lightly sauced and studded with little ovals of something like a cross between Hebrew National salami and beef jerky.  The waiter told me the meat was pork but wasn’t able to give any further description.

Here’s how the dish was identified on the menu:


I decided to figure out what this actually meant — partly because I liked the dish so much, partly because I was interested to see if I could still use a Chinese dictionary, something I learned to do when I attempted to learn Chinese in high school.  I spent every Sunday morning of senior year going to Potomac Chinese School, where I was placed in a group consisting of non-Chinese adults and Chinese-American kids who had gotten kicked out of their regular class.  Suboptimal pedagogical environment.  And Chinese is really hard.  So I didn’t learn more than the rudiments, and I could never manage to say anything without waving my head in sync with the inflections.

I did learn how to look things up in the dictionary, though.  Here’s the trick:  each character has a kind of “fundamental piece,” usually the simplest element of the character.  In the second character above, it’s the little box on the left-hand side.  The fundamental pieces are listed in the dictionary in order of strokes; the little box has just three, so you find it on the list of three-stroke fundamental pieces, then you look at the sublist of “characters which are a little box + a five-stroke secondary piece,” and that’s a short enough list to search by eye, finding that 味 is “wei,” which means flavor.

The second character, 四, is one I remembered — it means “four.”  But I looked it up anyway, and was rewarded with the compound 四 季, “si ji”, which means “four seasons.”

Now here’s the part where it gets easier than it was when I was in high school — you can Google “wei si ji,” and you quickly find a menu offering “chuan wei si ji dou.”  And the character for “dou” is exactly the 豆 you’re looking for.  So you’ve got four out of five.

I tried to use Google magic to figure out the first character, but no use — I had to figure out the fundamental piece and look it up by hand.  This was the hardest part, but I eventually found out it was “la,” which means “sausage.”

So now we’ve got the whole thing:  “la wei si ji dou,” or something like “sausage with four-season flavor and beans.”

But of course this isn’t right — Googling various contiguous chunks of characters, you find that “si ji dou” is just the name of a particular kind of string bean.  According to this page,

The reference in the name “si ji dou”, (lit: four season bean) is likely due to the beans’ heartiness, and farmers’ ability to grow it in almost any season.

And “la wei” is the name of the meat:  according to a Chinese friend of a friend, “smoked or preserved pork sausage, similar to salami.”

In other words, the Chinese name of the dish is “cured meat with string beans.”

I still say the hour I spent doing this was worth it.  You never know when you might need to look something up in the Chinese dictionary, and now my skills are fresh.

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Mickie’s corned beef hash, herring with lingonberries, Elgin hot sausage

(No, not all together, though I wouldn’t swear that such a combo never crossed Steve‘s lips in bachelor days.)

The in-laws from Israel, last seen here, were back last week for the run-up to Passover. I always try to hook them up with a little Americana, so we had an excessive breakfast at Mickie’s Dairy Bar, whose excessive breakfasts are even better — and more excessive — than the ones at The OP. A momentary worry that my breakfast would not be excessive enough prompted me to order a side of corned beef hash, the true test of any diner. This was superb — maybe the best I’ve had. (The red flannel hash at Henrietta’s Table is the other contender, but it’s so socioeconomically elevated as to not really be the same dish.) Mickie’s corned beef hash is hardly hashed at all — the beef comes in big oblong chunks, and the potatoes in fat, crispy discs. All are coated in a smoky, peppery rub. It is the kind of corned beef hash I imagine cowboys might eat, outdoors, at the beginning of a day they know will be long and exhausting, especially if they are worried that their breakfast might otherwise not be excessive enough.

Then Passover started. We spent it in Hempstead, Texas, ancestral seat of Mrs. Q’s maternal side. It is the Watermelon Capital of Texas (more precisely, one of at least five municipal claimants to the title) and the only way to get wireless there is to pull up in the parking lot of the Super 8 and check e-mail until a chambermaid notices you — thus limited blogging. The good thing about Passover in Texas is that it’s a great place to eat big pieces of meat. More specifically: the good thing about giving a talk at UT on Passover is that you can stop for Elgin hot sausage on the way back. Now I like a Wisconsin brat as much as the next man, but there’s no comparison to the satisfying snap of the casing on an Elgin hot, or the tender, peppery beef filling, with a texture closer to meatball than kielbasa. And you can have it shipped to your house!

We’re back home since Tuesday night. On CJ’s request, we stopped at Brennan’s on the way back from daycare yesterday; he likes the cheese samples, I like the herring with lingonberries from Hughes Seafood.

I have, just once, been to a smorgasbord in Sweden. There must have been a wide variety of food on offer, but in my memory, that’s all been crowded out by the awe-inspiring combinatorial explosion of herring. Herring in mustard, herring in wine, herring and onions, herring and curry — and, most exotic of all, herring with fruit. People of America, follow the Swedes — you don’t have to adopt cross-country skiing or six weeks of paid vacation, but please, listen to me, and start sweetening your herring. If you need further instructions, buy a pound of herring with lingonberries from Hughes Seafood. And you too will sing my herring-sweetening tune.

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