Easter memories with an ethnic Polish flavor during the season

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By: Frank Piaskowy

Flavor 574 photo/Frank Piaskowy

Holidays can spawn memories of childhood experiences. For me, decorated hard boiled eggs, new church outfits and homemade smoked kielbasa come to mind each Easter season. For the uninitiated, kielbasa [keel-BAH-suh] is also known as Polish sausage. Beet red horseradish was the preferred condiment.

Kielbasa has its origin in Eastern Europe and is classically made by stuffing natural hog casings with pork, beef, or both, along with garlic and other spices. In addition to garlic, salt and pepper, the essential seasoning is marjoram, “an aromatic herb in the mint family” which, incidentally, has many health benefits.

The pungent, earthy herbal aromas of marjoram are in the same category as oregano, dill or thyme. Umami rich garlic and zesty black pepper add additional layers of flavor to traditional Kielbasa.

My father used fruit wood, typically cherry or apple, in the smoking process. The smokiness lent a hint of sweetness and richness. He would make 100 pounds to 150 pounds of this holiday delicacy, which was then distributed among extended family members.

So which wine do I suggest with Polish sausage? My response is unequivocally a Garnacha.

Garnacha is the Spanish interpretation of the Grenache grape. Although thought to have originated in Spain, when grown in Sardinia it has been known for centuries as Cannonau. Grenache based wines are also produced in France, Australia and the U.S. The Spanish version has more a distinctively herbal profile.

Grenacha is a medium-bodied to full-bodied red wine with notes of dried oregano and tobacco. It should be no surprise that the same aroma compounds of herbs and spices are found in wine.

Alcohol levels above 14 percent add body and spice, as well as magnify the wine’s cinnamon, candied black cherry and raspberry flavors.

I still hallucinate about the smell of sausage as my father and uncle Steve removed links from the improvised backyard smoker, which was made out of a 55-gallon steel drum. Even more vividly recalled is the crunch of biting into the crisp casing and the savory flavors of the meat, still warm from the indirect heat of the wood fire. It certainly was “smaczny,” which translates from Polish to delicious, or tasty.

From the refrigerator, the sausage is not as savory but still quite flavorful. Accenting with horseradish or Dijon mustard adds a clean spicy element that complements the garlic and marjoram.

Garnacha is a wine that magically pairs with kielbasa, whether warm or cold, to create a “wow!” experience. In the end, the taste is all that counts.

VIGNETTES:

  • My father’s sausage had extra garlic and was double smoked. The closest commercial product I have found is the wedding sausage from Big Frank’s Sausage in East Chicago. When in Chicago’s Lincoln Square, consider asking for a taste of Goralska sausage at Gene’s Sausage Shop. My brother touts the smoked sausage from Stanley’s Market in Toledo, Ohio.
  • If fresh sausage is your preference, consider Frank’s Kielbasa from Old Hoosier Meats in Middlebury. I gave Randy the recipe that Leonard Krajewski shared with me more than thirty years ago. Of course, marjoram is a key ingredient.
  • While smoked sausage doesn’t require reheating and may be eaten cold, there are many ways to cook sausage, check out these suggestions.
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