Remember these two words: Sai Ua. These fantastic Thai sausages are unlike any other sausage that you may have eaten. They sing with flavours like kaffir lime, lemongrass, chilli, garlic and ginger and the long queues at Sai Ua stalls are a testament to how truly delicious these sausages are. But the best thing of all is that the filling is so simple to make. You can thread it through sausage casings (and I'll show you the a's, b's and c's of this) or you can make them into a fantastic skinless sausage or meatball patty!
I always think of Germany when I think of sausage, after all it’s kind of like their national dish. But this year I discovered another country that does awesome sausages and I bet it’s not one that you would first come to mind: Thailand. When I was caught up in the intoxicating buzz of Chiang Mai earlier this year, I found myself a shop with an enormous queue attached to it. The rest of the stalls were either empty or had the occasional customer but this shop seemed to have a permanent crowd of about 7 or 8 patrons patiently waiting their turn.
They were selling links of sausage, curled pieces, some broken off, picked up with tongs and deposited into a plastic bag. They were still warm and on the first day I purchased two broken links of a sausage called Sai Ua. They were unlike any other sausage that I had tried before. Usually sausages have a couple of flavours added to them and they keep it fairly simple. This sausage had a range of Thai flavours - there was chilli, lemongrass, garlic, coriander and kaffir lime. The meat was juicy and the sausage disappeared in a matter of a few bites.
We returned to the shop a couple of days later. This time I bought almost a kilo of it. “What are you going to do with a kilo of sausage?” Mr NQN asked me slightly horrified and curious. “Eat it?” I said uncurling the elastic band and taking a bite. Sai Ua is a specialty of Chiang Mai and Burma. Sai means intestines and ua means to stuff which is how essentially sausages are made. If you ever want to visit somewhere in Thailand for food, it’s Chiang Mai. The food is Off.The.Charts.there.
The problem with eating all of these fantastic foods is the insatiable need to eat them again. I was determined to make sai ua at home because it is hard to find here and also because Dear Reader, I know you will absolutely love this sausage and yes you’re guessing right, this is definitely a pushy recipe if you like Thai flavours. The sausage mix is really easy to put together although it may necessitate a trip to Chinatown or Thaitown to get the kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and turmeric. You may also need to order the sausage casing from a butcher-I used a natural casing made from the intestine of the sheep. You can also use artificial casings but I prefer to use natural casings. It's up to you though and what you can get.
Tips for sausage making:
- Don't have the mixture too lean. You need fat in your sausages or they will cook up too dry.
- You need to salt the sausages, this helps with preservation.
- Fresh sausages keep for 3-4 days in the fridge.
- Natural sausage casing is best. You can buy it according to how many kilos of meat you want to stuff. It isn't cheap though-my length which was half a sheep intestine was to stuff 5 kilos of meat and was $15. Sheep casing (22mm in diameter) is for smaller breakfast style sausages while pig or hog casing (29mm in diameter) is for slightly thicker sausages. Beef casing (from 40-60mm in diameter) is for larger salamis.
- If you have leftover sausage casing, pack it in salt and place it in a container. It can last up to a year in your fridge (you can also freeze it). Just be sure to rinse it out prior to use.
- Keep the meat as chilled as possible if you are grinding it yourself (I asked the butcher to grind it).
- Taste your mince before you stuff it by cooking a small portion of it and checking for taste and seasoning.
I fried my sausages straight away because I couldn’t wait to try them. It was just like the sai ua in Chiang Mai. It was a heady mix of flavours and spices. I know I sound like a broken record at this point but I urge you to try this-either in sausage or patty form because the flavours of this mix are heavenly and unless you've tasted sausages in Chian Mai or Burma, I don't think you'll have tried anything quite like it. And perhaps I'm crazy but is this not the perfect Christmas present for someone or a fun holiday project? Oh and it makes the most fantastic sausage roll filling too!
Anyway during high school the foreign language that I chose was German. My German teacher handed me my test scores. On the top of the page was 33%. I dismal fail for a language that I had no talent for (in fact I have no talent for languages, perhaps English is tenuous). She shook her head and said, “Lorraine, here is the only phrase that you will need if you ever visit Germany. ‘Ich habe keine ahnung,’ which means “I have no idea”.
Oddly enough, that along with food are the only German phrases that I remember to this day. I only remember kasekuchen (cheesecake), schwartz velde kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Cake), Curry Wurst (curry sausage) and Weiss Wurst (white sausage). I still am yet to visit Germany to dazzle them with my woeful language skills and I’m sure the customs officer will wonder why I a) have no idea about anything and b) keep suggesting sausages).
So tell me Dear Reader, what are your plans over the Christmas break? What language did you learn at school? Which languages do you speak? And have you ever visited Chiang Mai and had this sausage?
An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott/Not Quite Nigella
Preparation time: 1 hour (faster if you have a sausage stuffing machine)
Cooking time: 10 minutes
- 240g/8.4ozs pork mince
- 125g/4.41ozs. pork fat (get the butcher to grind this for you)
- 1 tablespoon shrimp paste, crumbled
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 10 kaffir lime leaves, sliced
- 3x lemongrass sticks, the fatter half, split in half
- 3x coriander roots, well washed
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 shallots (two bulbs), peeled and sliced in quarters
- 2cm.5/1inch piece of turmeric, peeled and sliced in a few pieces
- 1-3 small red chillies (depending on how spicy you like it), top removed, chopped in half
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Sausage casing for a third of a kilo of meat*
*You will need to pre order sausage casing at the butcher. How much you need depends on how many kilos of meat you need to make into sausages. It isn't cheap at $15 but natural casings are better for flavour and visual appeal.
Step 1 - Place the shrimp paste, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, coriander roots, brown sugar, shallots, turmeric, chillies and salt in a food processor and process until it becomes finely chopped. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and bash away until you get a paste. You can do this entirely in a mortar and pestle but it takes longer and I'm lazy.
Step 2 - Mix the pork mince and fat together. Then add the paste and mix well. I put on latex gloves for this but you can also use a spatula to mix.
Step 3 - Have a funnel or a piping bag fitted with a plain tip in it. Find the end of the sausage casing and insert two fingers to widen the hole to feed through the mince. This is the most time consuming bit. Sai Ua is one large coil of sausage meat which is a bit more difficult to do this way. If you make regular linked sausages that is faster or you can make these into burger patties in which case they are still amazingly good.
Step 4 - Heat a frypan on medium to high heat and add a little oil. Fry on both sides until cooked through.