Like most 22-year-olds, when I was fresh out of college I had no idea what to do with my life. I wanted to travel, so I got into an RV with some friends and no money, and then quickly realized that no money wasn’t going to take me very far. When I got out of the RV in Tucson, Arizona, I started working in a gas pump nozzle factory. Yup. You heard me right.
Soon I tired of testing swivel necks, and thought perhaps it was time to look for a job where I could learn about something that interested me. As luck would have it, a friend of a friend worked for a catering company, but she was moving away. I called her boss and offered to take over in the kitchen. Until then, I had only ventured into baked potatoes and the occasional pasta—so the prospect of learning to cook organic wedding food was very exciting indeed.
Unexpectedly, the woman who taught me about southwestern food was from Turkey. Jale had moved to Arizona from Ankara a few years before and, not speaking a word of English, set about watching daytime TV until it all sank in. A fiercely intelligent and passionate person, in just a few years’ time she was using the language in all its subtlety, seamlessly incorporating phrases such as “tear you a new asshole” into a discussion on the bureaucracy at her culinary college.
I loved working with her. We would spend 10- and 12-hour shifts alone together in a small industrial kitchen, rolling out empanadas, folding phyllo parcels, and mixing vats of pineapple salsa and fresh guacamole. While we worked we talked about nothing and everything. We often listened to the radio—usually classic rock—and when “Love Hurts” by Nazareth came on, Jale would turn the knob to full volume and we would sing along.
Love is like a flame, it burns you when it’s hot
Love hurts. Oo, oo, oo, oo, love hurts
“It’s so true,” she insisted.
With my limited experience, I needed guidance in every dish I made. Jale explained everything, gently making suggestions about how I could improve my work. “A little more oil,” she would explain when I was sauteeing onions. “You want it to feel saucy.”
She showed me how to slice segments out of bell peppers, leaving the pith behind in one motion. When she saw that I was trying to cut each piece exactly around the membrane, she laughed. “It’s food,” she joked. “Not brain surgery.”
One of my favorite things to make was Veracruz sauce, a spicy and salty tomato sauce that we often served over whole fish baked in banana leaves, or grilled chicken. We’d chop tomatoes and sautee onions, throw in a glug of olive oil, a handful of garlic, some jalapenos, green olives, and capers, sprinkle in some salt and pepper and toss it in a covered dish while we did other things. We never measured, or worried about what else was in the oven, or cooked it at the same temperature twice—and it always tasted amazing.
I’ve been trotting out that ‘recipe’ for ten years, serving it at other paying jobs, dinner parties, meals designed to impress in-laws, and weeknights home alone. So when the June Charcutepalooza challenge was issued to make (and stuff) poultry sausage, I decided to grind up some Veracruz sauce along with my chicken. I used Ruhlman and Polcyn’s recipe for Chicken Sausages with Tomatoes and Basil as a starting point, but replaced their flavoring elements with tomatoes, garlic, olives, capers, and jalapenos.
On a side note, I also experimented with moose meat, which was kindly donated by my cousin, the wild man. Since moose and deer are sort of cousins too, I made Chef Milos’s Country Venison Sausages from *the book*
It is here I should tell you that Sausage Day involved an extraordinary number of statements ending with “if I do say so myself.” You should add that line to everything I’m about to write.
Chef Milos’s Country
Venison Moose Sausages are to die for. They are seriously wonderful and rich, with layers of deep flavor and just a tiny hint of sweet paprika and nutmeg. We ate them right away, fried in a little oil and served alongside a potato and steamed veggie salad with mustard vinaigrette, and begrudgingly set the remainder aside for Cuz. It was his beast, after all.
The chicken sausages are just the right mix of salty and spicy, fatty and juicy—and the best part is that they really do taste like chicken and Veracruz sauce. I can’t eat them without singing.
I’m young, I know, but even so
I know a thing or two—I learned from you
I really learned a lot, really learned a lot
In honor of Jale and our days in Tucson, I’ve made my Veracruz sausages into something wonderful and weird—the Southwestern cult classic Sonoran Hot Dog. Hailing from Hermosillo, Mexico, the Sonoran dog can be found at roadside trucks and snack stands wherever you see the saguaro cactus. The dog takes on many toppings and each maker uses a unique combination of ingredients, including pinto beans, slaw, jalapenos, pineapple, potato chips, mayo—basically anything goes.
However, true Sonoran dogs have two things in common: they are wrapped in bacon before they are grilled, and they are served on Mexican bolillo rolls. After that, you can treat it like Veracruz sauce: add some of this, a little of that, some more of the other, and it will taste great.
Looking back, Jale taught me the biggest thing I know about cooking. It’s just food, not brain surgery.
Chicken Veracruz Sausages
- 1 3/4 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 3/4 lbs pork shoulder or boston butt, with 50% fat, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 3/4 oz. salt
- 1 t pepper
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 c chopped tomatoes
- 1/8 c diced jalapeno
- 1/8 c green olives
- handful capers
- 1/8 c white wine vinegar
- 1/4 c olive oil
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 5 ft hog casings, which have been soaked for a few hours and rinsed through
I’m going to leave a detailed description of how to make sausages to the masters, so please read Charcuterie for the full explanation. The basic idea is to mix all ingredients except for the liquids, and set them in the fridge overnight to reflect on the experience. In the morning you can grind, being very careful to keep everything ice cold as you go.
Once everything has gone through the grinder, mix it all until it looks sticky, then add the liquid and mix some more until the liquid is incorporated and it all looks even stickier.
Stuff the mix into hog casings using the stuffer of your choice. I’m the lucky girl who got A SAUSAGE STUFFER FOR HER BIRTHDAY*! Woop! Twist into links and knot the ends. Do a dance to celebrate what a badass you are in the kitchen.
Sonoran Hot Dogs
- Chicken Veracruz sausages (recipe above)
- Bolillo rolls (click the link for Homesick Texan’s recipe)
- pinto beans
- anything else you like
Wrap a slice of bacon around your sausage, and grill until cooked through. Slice through the top of your bolillo roll vertically, and wedge your meaty bundle in* like you’re tucking it into bed. Top with everything you like. Eat with plenty of napkins on hand.
*No “that’s what she said” jokes!