By Adam Marianski
Without a doubt the word Kielbasa has worldwide recognition, yet it is also often misunderstood. Kielbasa is the general Polish name for sausage.
You cannot walk into a Polish store and say: please give me a pound of kielbasa. The sales lady, surrounded by 50 different kinds of kielbasa, will inevitably reply: yes, but which one? There are well over 100 types of kielbasa, and the word itself is meaningless unless followed up with the proper name: Kielbasa Rzeszowska, Kielbasa Krakowska, Kielbasa Tuchowska, Kielbasa Mysliwska, etc.
It is like going into a deli and asking for some cheese. Sure, but which one: American, Provolone, Swiss, Gorgonzola, Gouda, Muenster - you have to provide some details. There is no specific sausage called kielbasa but there are many sausages that carry the word kielbasa as part of the name.
We know of only one sausage that carries the word "Polish" in its name and that is the Polish Smoked Sausage (Polska Kielbasa Wedzona). This is probably what the first immigrants brought with them to America. The problem we face here is that you can find Polish Smoked Sausage in almost every supermarket in the US, and no two are made the same way. Yet Polish Smoked Sausage has been well defined for centuries and everybody in Poland knows what goes inside. We do not intend to become judges in this matter, but instead rely on Polish Government Standards for Polish Smoked Sausage. These rules have remained unchanged for the last 60 years.
Before we anger many people who have been making Polish Smoked Sausage in their own way for years, let's clarify something further. It's perfectly fine to add an ingredient that you or your children like into your sausage. You still have the full right to say that you made a better sausage than the famous Polish Smoked Sausage. You may say that your grandfather who came from Poland made the best Polish sausage in the world and we honour that. Maybe he used chicken stock instead of water or maybe he added something else. What we are trying to say is that he was making his own version of the known classic or some other Polish sausage and it could have tasted better for you and your family. We do not dispute that fact. You can of course add anything you like to your sausage, but it will no longer be the original Polish Smoked Sausage (Polska Kielbasa Wedzona) or any other brand named sausage. Once you start changing ingredients, you create your own recipe and you may as well come up with your own name.
1. For centuries Polish Smoked Sausage was made of pork, salt, pepper, garlic and marjoram (optional). Then in 1964 the Polish Government introduced a second version of the sausage that was made of 80% pork and 20% beef. All other ingredients: salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, and marjoram remain the same in both recipes. The marjoram is optional but the garlic is a must.
2. The meat is cured before it is mixed with spices. In the US Cure #1 (sodium nitrite plus salt) is used, in Europe Peklosol (sodium nitrite plus salt) is common.
3. The sausage is stuffed into a large hog casing: 36 - 38 mm and formed into 12" (35 cm) links.
4. The traditional way was to cold smoke it for 1 to 1.5 days (it had to last for long time).
5. In most cases it is hot smoked today
A little test was performed to see how large American manufacturers make Polish Sausage. Four sausages called Polish Kielbasa or Polish Sausage were bought at the local supermarket in Florida and each of them was produced by a large and well known meat plant. The number of ingredients and chemicals used varied from 10 to 20 and different combinations of meats were used: pork-beef-turkey, beef only, pork-beef. Except the name, none of the sausages had anything to do with the original.
It seems that for the manufacturers any sausage that is smoked (or have liquid smoke added) and stuffed into a 36 mm one foot long casing can be called Polish Smoked Sausage or Polish Kielbasa. It becomes quite clear that manufacturers put any ingredients they like inside of the casing and the name Polish Kielbasa is used just for credibility and to gain the trust of the consumer.
The problem is further magnified by various sites on the Internet that provide countless recipes for making Polish sausages. Yet the mysterious Polish Smoked Sausage is embarrassingly simple to make and all it needs is pork, salt, pepper and garlic.
Adam Marianski has co-authored two books on meat smoking and making sausages. He runs the web site Wedliny Domowe where you can find more about making quality meats at home.
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