25 January, 2012

The Chicago Hot Link

Hot links cooking over wood fire

If you want to make Chicago Style BBQ, then you gotta make hot links. I have always liked having sausage as part of a BBQ spread, but I never realized the hot link is part of what defines our regional style. In this episode I have two hot link recipes to share and I'll talk a little about why I think they represent the sausage known as the Chicago hot link.

Hot links

I made my first hot links in 2007. I molded the recipe from several online variants which I later learned all came from a single recipe in Hot Links and Country Flavors, Bruce Aidells. At the time most of my searching associated the hot link sausage with Texas style of BBQ. I always wondered how did a Texas sausage end up in BBQ joints in Chicago? Turns out it didn't, The Chicago hot link was born right here, founded on a tradition that came up out of somewhere a little east of Texas. This revelation came to me in the form of a video titled "A Barbecue History of Chicago" by Michael Gebert. In it Gebert presents a thoughtful history of Chicago BBQ and defines the BBQ Style of our region. Take the time to watch it.

Hanging in the larder

Since I first saw the documentary last September, I've been mixing batches sausage and searching the internet trying to find he right link. I have had a few hot links around town and they all can be described, as they were on one food forum, as a "Spicy breakfast sausage." But before I could work on that, I came across another description a hot link containing only salt, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. I'm sorry I have since lost the page where I read this (it's in the LTHForum somewhere), but author claimed to have fashioned these hot links at Hecky's in Evanston. Hecky's is a special place for me because it was the first place I had BBQ in the Chicago area way back in 1990. Misty reminiscing aside, I liked the idea of of those three ingredients making a tasty sausage. Well, it didn't work, batch after batch, it always seemed to be missing something. I finally got it right, with a few more ingredients thrown in.

Chicago hot link, pork and garlic

Chicago Bacon Hot Link

Per 1000g of Meat
80% pork shoulder
20% bacon
16g salt
10g fresh garlic, minced
10g paprika
7g ground black pepper
7g mustard powder
5g sugar
2g red pepper flakes

20g milk powder

100 ml water or beer.

Hog casings soaked at least a half an hour.

Cut pork into manageable cubes toss with the salt. Dice the bacon. Put both in the freezer for half an hour. When the meats are crunchy but not quite frozen, run them through the grinder. Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment or a big wooden spoon beat in spices and milk powder. Gradually add liquid and continue to stir until you get a nice paste. Stuff into hog casings, twist into links (or not) and let them hang in to fridge for at least 24 hours. Slow cook hot links over a gentle wood fire into done, about half an hour depending on your fire.

Substituing Chicken for the pork and cured jowl for the bacon also makes a nice link, here's one stuffed into a lamb casing for a bite sized portion.

Chicken and jowl hot link

I realize bacon may be a surprise ingredient for a hot link. I use it to get more smoky flavor, without having to hot smoke sausage for a long time. I cooked the chicken hot link pictured above in the oven, and the bacon gave it a fresh off the smoker taste.



I really like the Bacon garlic hot link, but for that authentic South side flavor, you've gotta go for with the spicy breakfast sausage.

Chicago hot link, pork and beef

Chicago Sage and Beef Hot Link
Per 1000g of Meat
60% pork shoulder
40% beef chuck
20g salt
7g paprika
7g ground black pepper
5g sage
5g fennel
3g coriander
2g allspice
5g sugar

20g milk powder

100ml water or beer

Hog casings soaked at least a half an hour.

Cut up the pork and beef and toss with salt. Put both in the freezer for half an hour. When the meats are crunchy but not quite frozen, run them through the grinder. Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment or a big wooden spoon beat in spices and milk powder. Gradually add liquid and continue to stir until you get a nice paste. Stuff into hog casings, twist into links (or not) and let them hang in to fridge for at least 24 hours. Slow cook hot links over a gentle wood fire into done, about half an hour depending on your fire.



Hot Link

Of course these sausages get a better with age, after cooking let them hang in the fridge unwrapped for a couple days, then reheat when you're ready to serve. Or you can chomp on them cold, or roll them in bread dough, and you've got a party in a bun.

Bacon Hot Link en Croute

Anyway you put it, The Chicago Hot link is a tasty part of our food history that you can now make at home.



Cheers.

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