November 28th, 2011 12:00 pm | by CHEF GREG HIGGINS Food & Drink | Posted In: Higgins in Mongolia

Higgins in Mongolia: Solving the Great Mongolian Sausage Conundrum

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

Start your day with the breakfast of Mongol champion wrestlers: steamed mutton dumplings and a cup of hot seabuckthorn tea. You're sure to be ready for whatever comes your way. I've never consumed so much meat in my life, and I wasn't really even keeping up with the locals. I was starting to crave green vegetables and a hot shower, not necessarily in that order.
Breakfast of champions: Steamed mutton dumplings

I had gradually come to realize the crux of the Mongolian sausage conundrum.

First, they only like fully cooked sausage; no semi-dry or dry-cured products for these carnivores. Their tradition was well established by the years of Russian influence. The amazing free range, grass fed meat of the various livestock breeds were mixed with industrial spice and additive blends from Russian suppliers and then processed in the marginally maintained aging equipment.

The results: A lot of middle-of-the-road, homogeneous flavored sausage.

The complicating factor was this: Since they didn't really understand meat protein food science, they tended to over-process their meats with the dull blades on their equipment. This resulted in unstable protein emulsions.

Translation: Sausage that loses its fat when cooked and tastes dry and grainy.

Their solution: Add more fillers—soy protien powder, potato starch or even wheat flour in hopes of retaining the fat.

Result: Sausage that tastes starchy, bland and less meaty. And we're talking a lot of these starchy fillers, up to 30-40 percent in some cases.

Great yields of not very good sausage. Sounds a bit like American baseball park hot dogs, but not even that good, actually.

Mongolian sausage on left, proper emulsion on right.

So there was the mission. Teach these folks how to properly develop their protein emulsions and step away from the soy protein flour sack. It was going to be a bit more expensive, but the sausage would have better texture, flavor and appearance. First would be the teaching, then the making and then tasting. In all likelihood it was going to take another visit to see if these ideas, recipes and techniques would take hold. These folks had gotten used to eating this style of sausage, probably years ago; when the equipment was new and the techniques fresh, the sausage might have been better. Over time, as wear and tear took place, things had clearly unraveled and the quality had suffered—industrial sausage or otherwise. Ulzhiikhu and her crew in Khovd had been very receptive to these ideas but, how about these folks in Ulaangom?

Mixing the terrine
The salamis, Toscana and Napoletana were being smoked. We made some black pepper vodka to flavor the terrine de campagne and put the forcemeat together. After processing we packed the pate into some proper compression molds and had gave the crew instructions for cooking them. The following day all the products except the beef jerky were ready to sample. 

The salami had the texture and flavors we had hoped for; everyone was pleased. For want of a good thermometer, the terrines had been overcooked by 10 degrees Celsius [that's 50 Farenheit -- Ed.]—that's a big miss. Although a bit on the dry side, they still maintained their texture. Lesson learned. Thermometers are cheap, good meat is not.

If I come back again in a year or so will they be adopting this method of production? Only time will tell. We all went out that last night to the Chinggis Steak House and downed a liter of Martell VSOP cognac with our fatty mutton and noodles. Ah, Mongolia.

Read more of Higgins in Mongolia here.

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