Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Headcheese and Shinckenspeck from Karl's Sausage Kitchen

Karl's Sausage Kitchen on Route 1 in Saugus, MA is a true find, and a favorite of locals and expats from anywhere around Central Europe. Beyond some of their fabulous smoked-in-house sausages, and imported goods, you will find a deluxe selection of charcuterie items in the glass case, where I often spend a good amount of time pacing and prowling like a jungle cat ready to pounce. Today, we will feature two of the most incredible sliced meats that you may not think to order had someone not recommended it to you. I urge you, friends, to venture to Karl's and no matter what your order, add a bag of jagdschnitten (a hunter style rye bread that we've spoken of before), a half pound of butterkase (a buttery style cheese with little tiny wholes throughout that tastes similar to provolone), and a quarter pound each of two of my favorite sliced meats: sour headcheese and schinkenspeck.
The Sour Headcheese
Now, I know that the nasty bits scare the bejeezus out of a whole population of regularly righteous consumers. But maybe it shouldn't. Some of these same people will dive head first into a sausage or a hot dog without a lick of fear, despite deeply buried knowledge that the Fenway Frank you are stuffing into your grateful gob includes many of the throwaway things that "you would never eat." I invite the masses to take the plunge with me, and go ahead and take a taste of some delicious headcheese. This is one of my favorite late night snacks, particularly because it's so cheap, and it's unlikely that my bigger half will devour it first (he's a bit timid on the whole subject... see Fenway Frank statement.) Head cheese is produced from boiling down the meat and bits from the head of a cow or pig, in Karl's case, the imported meat is that of pork. The head of the pig is boiled down until the meat is tender and the resulting stock congeals when cooled to produce the characteristic clear jelly. All of these bits of meat and the salty, slick jelly really produce a delicious snack. Now if you are going to try headcheese, you really shouldn't go all in at your local grocery store. If they happen to have head cheese, it's likely spent a bit too long in the deli case, if it's been opened at all. They'll look at you funny when you order it, and then you'll have to do the little "What? Head cheese? No, I ordered the honey turkey and American cheese... because I'm an American." But if you order it at Karl's you're a) immediately confronted with a little bit of a nod that you are in fact one of them b) you're given the option of the sweet or the sour variety c) affirmed of the fact that this headcheese moves quickly out of the glass case, because it's likely that the sweet grandma in line after you is after the same exact thing. When I order, I opt for the sour headcheese, sliced thin. This beautiful meat has a tangy flavor to compliment the rich jelly and the fatty bits of pork. Bits of gherkin are scattered throughout the jelly and pink hammy meat. It's really strange looking, and shiny, but so delicious.
The Schinkenspeck
Alright, so maybe you're still a little gun shy about the headcheese. But I promise that if you can eat pork, you'll be very excited about the schinkenspeck. The schinkenspeck at Karl's is found in the section of the meat case that houses the salami, but on the smaller upper rack that also has items like Black Forest Ham. You'll recognize it, as it's rather small and kind of lopsided. The flavor of the meat itself is sort of a a cross between a very rich, dark ham (think of a dryer prosciutto) and a salty, smokey bacon. You clearly have the lines of fat between rounds of meat, and the color will vary from dark, deep reds to the pink of a boiled ham. It's chewy, and incredibly luscious, a little bit will add a distinct nutty and earthy flavor to any charcuterie plate. I believe that Karl's salt cures and smokes their own schinkenspeck, but I haven't actually asked so I could be wrong, and it may be imported along with some of the other delicacies that they feature in the meat case. Regardless, sliced thin, this pork makes for an excellent open faced sandwich, which is exactly what I am going to do.
My spread
Since I've taken the time to introduce two of my favorite meats, you might well want to know what you can do with them. They're both perfect for snacking, but since tonight, it's dinner for one, I am going to make my own little spread, and prepare two little open-faced sandwiches. I've got a lovely array of fresh, crunchy lettuce, lightly pickled kohlrabi (which my bigger half had made yesterday using rice wine vinegar, sugar, water, Szewan peppercorns and star anise), butter, a few slices of butterkase (the cheese I suggested earlier), and two slices of jagdschnitten (but you could use any equally nutty rye bread, you know something with texture).
Headcheese Open-Face Sandwich
Schinkenspeck Open-Faced Sanwich
Build your open faced sandwiches by buttering a side of the bread. Top with a few leaves of lettuce. Add on a slice of butterkase to each, and add two slices of headcheese to one sandwich, and about three thin slices of the schinkenspeck to the other. Top both sandwiches with a few pieces of the pickled kohlrabi, or any other pickles for crunch and tang. The headcheese sandwich is a treat with the bits of salty jelly, the succulent pork bits, the butter, and the nuttiness of the bread. Likewise, that deep smokey flavor of the schinkenspeck will play off of the flavors of the crunchy toasted rye bread, and is awakened with each little nibble of those slightly spicy, sweet, sour pickled kohlrabi. They're two awesome little sandwiches, and still a fairly light, but deeply satisfying dinner. An exotic, easy dinner for one with two, yet again, very unique and slightly unusual ingredients found right in the heart of Massachusetts.

Karl's Sausage Kitchen
142 Broadway (Route 1)
Saugus, MA 01906

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