It seems inevitable that trips to familiar destinations will coalesce around meals at favorite restaurants and stops in favorite shops. For example, In Milwaukee, my hometown, the route touristique is well-established. On landing, our first stop must be Kopp’s for one of the dinner plate-like cheeseburgers – extra butter, please – and a waxed paper envelope of onion rings. At some point during the weekend, we’ll take our places at the counter of Real Chili, where unlimited bowls of oyster crackers disappear into chili-laced spaghetti. Then it’s on to The Spice House to buy the freshest-tasting spices and chiles. And no trip is complete without a visit to Usinger’s for sausages.
If you’ve never been to Usinger’s, catch a flight to Milwaukee and visit the Old World Third Street location. You always have to wait – especially in summer, when the Brewers are in town, or before any holiday. Pull a number from the tape roll and, until your number is called, peruse the dozens of varieties of freshly made classic German sausages behind the glass display. Then look up at the wall, where a series of murals depict elves engaged in sausage-making. In typically blunt Teutonic fashion, Usinger’s spares the viewer nothing. A hog is slaughtered, dragged to the sausage-works, disemboweled, converted to links, cold cave-aged, and brought steaming to table by the elves, as a poem tells the tale of cramming pork into pig entrails and boiling it up for supper.
When I was a kid, the weekly shop at the local supermarket was an exercise in lunchmeat fads; chicken roll one week, olive loaf another, ham studded with pockets of cheese the week after that. One reliable and enduring favorite, though, was liverwurst (especially Usinger’s braunschweiger). You can’t grow up in Wisconsin without developing a taste for the soft, rich liver sausage, preferably on caraway rye with sliced red onion, or, if you were a kid, between pillowy slices of white sandwich bread.
Liverwurst owes its flavor to pork liver, which is difficult to come by in supermarkets or even at the butcher shop now. That’s too bad, because pork liver is delicious in sausages and terrines; without it, your pâté de campagne, for example, will not taste like the one you enjoyed so much at the bistro. You can cook it to lower temperatures than, say, chicken liver, which the USDA recommends you cook to 165F and which at higher temperatures becomes chalky-textured and pungently liverish. It’s milder and moister, and, being much larger, is easier to clean. To find pork liver, your best bet is an Asian or Latino market or butcher, but any true butcher should be able to order it if you lack access to one of these markets.
Most types of liverwurst are emulsion forcemeats, meaning the fat is emulsified until smooth with water in the form of ice, and often with the addition of milk, as milk proteins lend further stability and richness. It’s the same kind of compact, smooth texture you’ve encountered in hot dogs, knockwurst, and the like, as opposed to the coarse, looser texture of bratwurst and Italian sausage. Temperature control is key; proper emulsion only takes place in a limited temperature range under 58F. Some, but not all, liverwursts are smoked as for braunschweiger; the following recipe is not for a smoked braunschweiger. If you want a smoked taste, you may substitute smoked slab bacon for the pork belly and reduce the total salt by 1/3, and/or hot smoke the finished product at about 160F for 60 minutes.
24g kosher salt (4 tsp)
4g TCM (2/3 tsp)
8g sugar (scant 2 tsp)
3g onion powder (about 1 1/2 tsp)
2g white pepper (about 1 tsp)
1/8 tsp each: allspice, nutmeg, mace, clove, ground ginger
525g pork liver, cleaned of blood vessels and connective tissue
200g pork shoulder
325g pork belly or slab bacon
117g ice (about 1/4 lb)
53g nonfat dry milk powder (about 3/4 c)
Combine the cure ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the spices.
Cube the pork shoulder, the belly, and the liver. Mix the pork shoulder and liver and season with the cure. Chill both the shoulder/liver and the belly (separately) in the freezer for about 2 hours, until firm but not rock solid frozen. Then toss the shoulder/liver mix with the spice blend and grind. Separately grind the belly. Keep both chilled over bowls of ice. You may refrigerate these if not ready to proceed immediately but do not refrigerate for more than about 30 minutes; otherwise, cover and freeze for up to about an hour.
Fit your food processor with a slicing blade, set out your mise en place in bowls over ice, and prepare to work quickly as the mixture will not emulsify if the ingredients are too warm. Place the ice cubes in the food processor and run until the ice is crushed. [If your ice is already crushed you may skip this step]
Add the ground marinated shoulder/liver to the crushed ice. Run steadily until the meat is incorporated with the ice. Run until the temperature reaches about 28F-30F. At this point it will resemble nothing so much as a sort of cold, red meat goo and calls to mind von Bismarck’s injunction regarding sausagemaking. Note: the rest of this process, until the point of cooking and slicing, is not photogenic. Do not be put off – that’s just how it looks. All the earlier talk of liver and disemboweling by elf was meant to cushion the blow.
As the machine runs, add the ground pork belly. Continue to run until the mixture reaches about 40F. The mixture should emulsify and form an increasingly stiff paste about the color of a pencil eraser. Add the spice and continue to run until the mixture reaches 45F-47F. Then add the milk powder and run steadily until the mixture reaches about 56F-58F. Do not exceed 60F or your emulsion likely will break as the fat becomes liquid. Each stage of temperature rise in this process takes a fairly long time, much longer than you might expect. When finished, the mixture will be quite stiff with a uniform consistency; it should approximate the color of a pink rubber ball and contain no visible chunks of meat.
At this point you can scrape it from the bowl using a flexible spatula, pack it into a plastic bag, and compress in a chamber sealer to remove the air bubbles before forming into sausage, but this step is not necessary. I generally do not find air bubbling a huge problem when making liverwurst (as opposed to making, say, mortadella). If you omit this step, simply pile onto sheets of clingfilm and roll into sausages about 6″ long and 2 1/2″ in diameter. Twist the ends and roll in the opposite direction in a second layer of clingfilm. Tie the ends securely and poach in water just shy of simmering for about 2 hours. Alternatively, vacuum pack the rolls in bags and cook sous vide at 158F for 2 1/2 hours. Feel free to use natural casing if you can find the larger hot casings.
Immediately chill down the wursts in an ice bath and refrigerate at least a few hours to allow them to firm up before slicing. Excellent with pickled red onion and mustard on a sandwich, whether open faced or between slabs of house-baked pumpernickel. Or eat it old-school Milwaukee kid style, as a white-bread sandwich layered with mayonnaise and thin slices of pickle.