A Celebration of Sausage, the Poor Man's Steak

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A symposium in Chicago is focusing on cased meats: hot dogs, kielbasa and all varieties of wurst. Chefs, academics and food enthusiasts will gather at "Stuffed: A Journey of Midwestern Sausage Traditions" to discuss and eat the poor man's steak.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The cuisine of the Midwest doesn't get a lot of respect. Okay. Maybe there's your Chicago-style pizza or Cincinnati chili, and of course, all manner of casseroles, but not exactly the kind of thing that graces the cover of Gourmet magazine. One group is trying to change that, and they're starting with sausage.

The Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance is holding a symposium in Chicago on cased meats, you know, hotdogs, kielbasa, Coney dogs, all variety of wurst, what they call the best of the wurst. The event is called "Stuff: A Journey of Midwestern Sausage Traditions." And there, chefs, academics and food enthusiast will discuss and, of course, eat the poor man's steak.

Catherine Lambrecht is one of the organizers of this symposium and she joins us now from her kitchen in Highland Park, Illinois. Catherine, so glad you're with us.

Ms. CATHERINE LAMBRECHT (Organizer, Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance): Oh, glad to be with you as well.

NORRIS: Now, I understand that before you actually gone on the phone with us, you are actually cooking for tomorrow's symposium. What were you making?

Ms. LAMBRECHT: I was making Flint original Coney sauce.

NORRIS: Now, back it up. I didn't know that that you had a sauce for Coney dogs?

Ms. LAMBRECHT: Coney dogs come with a chili sauce and onions. This is not Coney Island dog like you're having in New York. This is Coney dog that originated in Michigan with Macedonian immigrants.

NORRIS: So, the sauce is - it's like a chili?

Ms. LAMBRECHT: It's a chili. It's a no-bean chili. And, for instance, the Flint version, which is only in Flint, Michigan, apparently - it is ground kidney, ground heart, paprika, chili powder, some oil - because this is, you know, these are meats that have no fat essentially - and salt to taste.

NORRIS: Okay. So not named for Coney Island. We just clear that - okay.

Ms. LAMBRECHT: Not - anything related to Coney Island, except that it's a Coney.

NORRIS: So how important is sausage to the cuisine of Chicago?

Ms. LAMBRECHT: It is certainly, you know, the poor man's steak. If you brought a heart to the table, or you brought the kidneys to the table, people might give you the, ah. But you know, you start mixing at this with some pork and everything else, and then it starts to take out the taste or the flavor that is just spectacular and it's acceptable. But if, you know - even like to say -when you look at how sausages made, you might not want it.

NORRIS: Yeah.

Ms. LAMBRECHT: But once it's encased in a bun, you want it.

NORRIS: Focus on the final product...

Ms. LAMBRECHT: Exactly.

NORRIS: Who's going to be attending the event?

Ms. LAMBRECHT: Oh, goodness, we're going to be having chefs, line cooks, academics, students, people like myself who simply appreciate food and its history, dieticians - I don't know why, but, you know, I mean, I shouldn't say that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LAMBRECHT: But you know, I'm...

NORRIS: You - actually, you might need a few of them there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LAMBRECHT: ...category - how can we get that fat out of there? And people who are just simply, you know, who do not talk about it, they just do it. They have their hotdog stand and they just go about their business doing what they think is just their every day thing, not realizing that what they're doing is something special and something to be celebrated.

NORRIS: I'm just wondering if there are gift bags. I'm curious, might Tums or Rolaids inside the...

Ms. LAMBRECHT: You know, I haven't thought about it. It is probably too late to get that at the roll. But maybe next time, because this - I don't think it's going to be the last of the sausage symposium. This is just the first. You know? This time, the theme was more, you know, sausage in a bun.

NORRIS: Well, Catherine...

Ms. LAMBRECHT: Next time will be sausage without the bun, perhaps.

NORRIS: On the grill.

Ms. LAMBRECHT: Absolutely.

NORRIS: Thanks so much for talking to us.

Ms. LAMBRECHT: You're welcome. Bye-bye.

NORRIS: That was Catherine Lambrecht. She's one of the organizers of the symposium in Chicago this weekend called "Stuffed: A Journey of Midwestern Sausage Traditions."

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