Hanging Out in Rockford: Making sausages and other things—A dinner with Gerlinde

By Mike Leifheit


Gerlinde calls me back in response to a proposal concerning a Gerlinde night at the Irish Rose. She has a big following, and now that she has closed her downtown restaurant, I have been thinking she might like to make contact with some of her friends. I have offered the back room at the Irish Rose on a week night to do a dinner totally of her own creation. She is going to come down on Thursday afternoon after I get back from the market to talk about it. I tell her to call me before she does in case I am late getting back.

We are planning a beer dinner for the third Tuesday of every month. At first, I am hesitant, but then I have an epiphany, and call Katy on the phone. “Sausages!” I yell into the phone, “We will serve sausages!” What more perfect food could there be for a beer dinner? Katy readily agrees. “Could we have beer cheese soup?” she asks. “Of course,” I reply. The die is cast. On the way into the city, I order 60 more pounds of pork and additional spices for the two kinds of sausage I have picked out—bratwurst and Polish.

The Polish is fairly simple. It calls for dried marjoram and garlic, but I always like to use fresh ingredients, and from Cornille, I obtain a pound of fresh marjoram. I intend to smoke the Polish, more about that later. The brat I intend to do fresh and, perhaps, boil it in beer before grilling it, as this is the tradition. I want the two sausages to be distinct. The recipe for the brat includes coriander, sage, paprika (we keep the good Hungarian kind on hand), cayenne pepper, rosemary, dry mustard (we are going to substitute Rolland French poupon) and nutmeg. We keep most of these ingredients in stock at the Irish Rose (all fresh, of course), and I only have to replenish a couple of items.

Because I am going to hot-smoke the Polish sausage, I will have to add a small amount of preservative to the meat to prevent bacterial growth while the meat absorbs the smoke while slowly coming up to temperature. I intend to allow the sausage to come up to 140, and then refrigerate it for further cooking at the time of serving. This is the temperature suggested in the recipe (authentic Polish) and the temperature that we use when we make our homemade smoked salmon.

I am confident I will be able to find the curing powder or curing salt that I need somewhere in the market. After I go to Amity and pick up my pork trim, I go right around the corner to Grant Park Packing on Lake Street, where I have been told they stock casings and curing salt. Parking outside, I walk in to the sales window to inquire about the things I need. I have rarely been treated so rudely by a business in all the years I have been shopping in the Chicago market. They absolutely refuse to sell me any supplies. A man, I assume he is the owner, tells me they are in the meat business, not the sausage supply business. Well, he won’t have to worry about my business, ever.

On the way back from Chicago, I have an inspiration, and call Eichmann’s Packing in Seward. I know they do a lot of processing, and I think they might carry supplies. They do. After I unload my supplies at the Rose, I set out for Seward. I turn at Winnebago Corners, and then realize my mistake. I take an unknown road west, believing I will run into the road that Seward is on. I do, but turn the wrong way, and wind up back at the highway. It’s been a while since I have been to Eichmann’s.

Finally, after driving around in a huge circle, I turn the right way and find Seward. I park in front and say hi to a woman I recognize who raises organic meat, and then proceed inside to try to learn the type of preservative I need. The woman at the counter isn’t sure, so she walks over to an office, where a rather tall gentleman is sitting at a desk working. He looks up from his desk to help me.

More next week.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the September 23-29, 2009 issue

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