November 17th, 2011 1:38 pm | by CHEF GREG HIGGINS Food & Drink | Posted In: Higgins in Mongolia

Higgins in Mongolia: You Can Lead a Mongolian to Artisan Sausage...

Portland chef Greg Higgins (of downtown's Higgins restaurant) is in Mongolia, sharing his sausage and charcuterie making expertise with local butchers as part of Mercy Corp's Farmer to Farmer project, and he's blogging the whole trip for WW:

So, what's it like teaching sausage making in Western Mongolia? First, you have to really re-think how you picture food. The cooking here is simple; it's evolved out of centuries of herders simmering meat in large pots over their small stoves in their gers or yurts. Their sausage was a sheep or goats stomach stuffed with other meaty morsels and roasted in a fire. No exotic spices, just a handful of wild onions and salt gleaned from the lake beds or mountains. Fast forward to a more recent era and you've got periods of Manchurian and then Soviet Russian rule. With the Russians came the sausage making tradition that continues today. Much of the equipment in these shops today dates to that era, creatively kept alive by all manner of welding and blacksmithing.

The Mongolian sausage of today is a contradictory blend of remarkable grass-fed meat combined with industrial sausage spice blends and fabricated with those cold war era meat processing machines. The meats are primarily camel, goat, sheep and horse—occasionally beef or yak. Pigs are a rarity at best. These animals are raised on the vast open range; their meat is lean and full flavored, tasting of their diet of wild herbs and grasses. Most are slaughtered and dressed there in the open air of the plains by the herders. Ironically the sausages made from these amazing animals are by and large mediocre. In the better ones, some of that herbaceous pasture shows through, but they are nearly all dominated by their industrial seasoning blends which include many additives: flavor enhancers, off flavor eliminators, emulsifiers, colorants, anti-oxidants, bulk enhancers... the list is lengthy and a bit frightening. The positive aspect of this approach is the convenience: relatively simple to make, relatively inexpensive, consistent and just like conventional agriculture, once you sign on, it's hard to sign off.

This is not a place for vegetarians, the Mongols are carnivores of the highest order. Annual meat consumption is nearly 200 lbs per person, reduce that a bit for children and the elderly and you get the idea. They eat a lot of meat and sausage, and therein lies the rub.

Chef Higgins shows off his Mongolian salami

Sorry to digress, but that's my quandary: How to wean some of these small producers away from the industrial food complex and teach them to make artisan meats and sausages that fit with their market, aptitude, available ingredients and equipment. The real essentials for good sausage are excellent meat, quality salt, a few seasonings and sound technique. Fortunately we have all of those here in Mongolia. Problems with equipment can be surmounted with technique and ingenuity. Great meat and good salt exist here in abundance. The people are earnest and eager to learn, it's up to me to help with knowledge and method.

It's Saturday morning, we've just tasted the terrines that we cooked last night: camel, goat and sheep with lots of organ meat and some shiitake mushrooms. Ulziikhuu and the crew like the terrine, they're just not sure how one eats it or sells it in the restaurant or butcher shop. We're picking the meat off some goats' heads we cooked overnight for presskopf, an Alsatian style head cheese. The camel meat Genoa salami are in the smoker, they're looking really good.

There's something happening here, it's really exciting for all of us. We just don't know where it's going, but each day things seem to get a little better. The work is a little easier, the communication a little clearer, the sausage a little tastier.

Read more of Higgins in Mongolia here.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
comments powered by Disqus

Web Design for magazines