Saturday, July 23, 2011

Taiwanese beer house style sausage

In my previous column I talked about the wonders of Chinese sausage stir-fried with cabbage.  I'm now going to surrender to another taste memory that centers around lop chong, but this one is dated about 10 years later when I already was a seasoned denizen of Taipei.

A couple of posts ago I mentioned the beer houses (pijiu wu) that used to line the upper reaches of Zhongshan North Road in the Tianmu district. And boy, was that the best time to live in Taiwan, for in addition to the incredible restaurants that studded almost every street in Taipei, the buzzing little hives of great food and cold beer known as beer houses were always on my permanent rotation list because it just was the best way to end the week, relaxing with good friends over savory nibbles that just kept on coming until we couldn't eat any more.

Julienned leeks form the bed
One of the most popular of these Chinese tapas was a truly simple dish: slices of grilled sweet sausages lightly brushed with a soy marinade and served on a toothpick with garlic.  This was one of those redolent dishes that everybody at the table had to eat, but we never complained... the sausages were crispy and juicy, the sauces sweet and salty, the raw garlic sharp and tasty, and it all mixed so well with our icy beers that we'd often order seconds.  This dish is also a beloved street food throughout Taiwan, with people walking down streets as they nibble on fat wieners roasted on sticks, much like corn dogs.

When we moved back to California, I worked on recreating this favorite dish, and over the years it morphed into its present state, one that we love to eat on warm summer evenings with, yes, a beer or maybe some cold sake or a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio. It's now sausages chez Huang, but enough of the original fingerprints are still visible to keep this firmly in the Taiwanese corner of Chinese cuisine.

What has changed here: first out was the garlic.  I love garlic in all its forms, but too many raw cloves can be overwhelming. However, I did want the suggestion of garlic, so I started serving the sausage on thin shards of fresh leek, which has much of the same herbal zing as its earthier relative without all the fumes.  I now cut up big pillows of leeks to serve under the main event because, more often than not, I want a big mouthful of that oniony goodness to cushion to meaty burst of the sausage.

Lop chong
Next, since I can't get ahold of the fat fresh wieners that seem to be made only in Taiwan, I now rely on Cantonese lop chong. However, they're dry rather than juicy, so instead of grilling them whole, I slice them thinly on the diagonal. This makes them easy to chew and also exposes more of the sausage. 

That last point is really important because slicing them into long strips allows more of the lop chong to brown and even burn a bit on the edges, so that it ends up crispy and smoky.  I like to bake the sausage slices at very high heat, rather than broil them, as the sugar in the lop chong blackens easily. And if you do this in a toaster oven, it will end up as an incredibly economical dish, plus using a small oven helps keep the house cool.  

Just arrange the slices in a thin layer on a broiler pan (which allows the fat escape and not catch on fire), bake the lop chong until it's browned and smells delicious, and that's pretty much about it.  I drizzle some soy sauce paste or oyster sauce over the leek shards, pile the sausage slices on top, and serve.

One variation on this that we adore is duck liver sausage (yagan chang) instead of the lop chong. This is a darker meat that when done right has the subtle boozy undertone of white liquor, or gaoliang.  No matter what type of sausage you use, keep an eye on it as it broils, turning it over often so that all the pieces brown evenly. Snap up any burned offerings for yourself.

Chinese sausage Taiwanese style 
Taishi kao xiangchang  台式烤香腸 
Southern Fujian, Taiwan
Serve 6 to 8 as a small plate or tapa

1 medium leek, white part only
6 Chinese sausages
Soy sauce paste or oyster sauce
1. Cut and rinse the leek as directed in this post. Shake the leek dry and cut it sharply on the diagonal into very thin slices.  Separate the rings, fluff up the pile, and mound it on your serving dish.

2. Heat your oven to 450 degrees F.  Rinse the sausages and pat dry.  Slice them thinly on the bias into long pieces.  Separate the slices and place them on a broiler pan.  Cook the sausage slices a few inches from the upper element, turning them every minute or so as they cook so that they brown evenly. Remove the pan from the oven.

3. Drizzle the soy sauce paste or oyster sauce over the leeks. (You can also serve extra in a small saucer on the side.) Pile the sausage slices on top of the leeks and serve with a cold beverage.

1 comment:

  1. I only use lap cheung in boujaifaahn (ittle pan rice? you know rice cooked in a clay pot with spare ribs, or chicken, etc). Your recipe is certainly an great idea for appetizer. Will try soon!