A few months back I was contacted by Tamara Holt, a very friendly journalist with the new Jewish Living magazine. For those of you not in the know, Jewish Living is the Semitic answer to Martha Stewart Living. Think less Nantucket, Christmas cookies, and flat assed blonds, and more upscale Purim parties by the pool in Santa Monica, or how to do your curly hair.
Anyway, Ms. Holt was writing an article about salami and she wanted Save the Deli’s help. Unlike corned beef or pastrami or Montreal smoked meat, salami falls into the unromantic category of Jewish meats. It’s pretty much uniform, and is most often eaten at home than in a deli. Which is why Tamara’s article is such a wonderful addition. It takes salami and elevates it above the base tube steak. It is an ode, a guide, and a tasting of that most delicious of Jewish bbq meat…the wurst. Read on:
*But first, what, exactly, is it?
Salami is chunks of beef and fat ground up and mixed with salt and spices, stuffed in a casing, then cooked or smoked or both. And more than that, salami is part of our heritage, a food we all know and love. In our first taste test, Jewish Living looks at the history and traditions of salami, and asks a panel of experts to tell us which are the best.
Where there is grassland, there is livestock. Where there is livestock, there is sausage. It’s part of human civilization,” says Roger Horowitz, author of Putting Meat on the American Table: Taste, Technology, Transformation. Salami is a type of sausage, one that’s cured with salt and cooked, smoked, dried, or a combination thereof. Such processing was a logical answer to the two big questions that follow butchering a bull: “What do I do with all this meat?” and “How can I keep it from spoiling?”
Today, our salami, bologna, and franks are packed mostly in manmade casings, but traditionally they were stuffed into the animal’s intestine. The perfect package for scraps and an ideal way of making them into a consistent size and shape for cooking, curing, or drying,
“It’s as if the animal was setting us up for salami,” says Horowitz.
Sausage has been traced back thousands of years, even appearing in Homer’s Odyssey. But the earliest sausage citation is from Sumeria, the oldest known civilization, around 3000 b.c.e. That area is now southern Iraq, the location of the city of Ur, which may have been Abraham’s hometown and where he first spoke to God about going forth to beget the Jewish people. So if it was an ancestor of Abraham’s who made the first sausage, and Abraham is the father of the Jewish people.?.?. well, there you go. Jews have been eating the stuff since before they were Jews.
For Kosher salami, as we know it now, recent history is most relevant. Unlike many of our Jewish food traditions, kosher salami didn’t arrive in America with the wave of Eastern European immigrants of the 1880s; they didn’t have the grassland or enough cash for that much meat. Beef sausage sailed to our shores in the first half of the 19th century with urban, educated, middle-class German Jews, who made and sold kosher versions of what in Germany was known as wurst.
The word “salami” is most likely from the Latin “sal,” for salt, and salt is all that’s needed to preserve meat for a long time. We salt it when we’re koshering, so why not keep it salted, add some spices, make it into a log, and keep it on hand for months?
David Sax visited some 200 delis in North America and Europe while researching his upcoming book, Save the Deli. Along the way, he discovered the naked truth about salami sandwiches: They are usually just bread, mustard, and meat and less likely to be ordered in a deli than made at home. (Delis are better known for their hot meats, he says.) But Sax did help us find three delis justifiably famous for their grilled salami sandwiches. Find out more about his deli favorites at www.savethedeli.com. Then send us your choices of top delis and sandwiches to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wilensky Special…the world’s greatest salami sandwich.
BBQ Grilled Salami
Layers of thin slices of Kosher salami are grilled over charcoal, arranged on a chewy bakery bun, and topped with BBQ sauce.
Highland Park, Ill.
One slice each of three types of beef salami, plus one slice of bologna, are pressed on an iron grill, layered on a crusty cornmeal roll, pressed flat, and served with mustard.
Thick-cut salami is grilled and topped with fried onions, pickles, and deli mustard on a toasted sesame bun.
St. Louis Park, Minn.
The magazine then has two accompanying articles.
5 Cool Ways to Serve It…gives us recipes and suggestions for spicing up that delish salami.
1. Salami and Eggs
Cut sliced salami into thin strips, enough to make
1/3 cup. Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and cook salami, turning until it begins to crisp. Reduce heat. Beat 2 eggs with salt and pepper, then add them to the pan, spreading salami evenly. When eggs are almost firm, fold one edge toward center and then fold over the remaining edge. Cook about 1 minute more.
2. Mustard-Apricot Glazed Salami
Cut long diagonal slices 3/4 inches apart along the side of a salami (not cutting more than 3/4of the way through). Turn and cut across the slices, forming a checkerboard. Whisk together 1/2 cup apricot preserves, 3 tablespoons mustard, and 2 tablespoons water until smooth. Spread half over salami and bake in a small glass dish at 350ºF for 30 minutes, basting every 20 minutes with the remaining sauce until glazed and golden, about 1 hour longer.
3. Salami-Tapenade Tea Sandwiches
Spread one side of each of 4 slices of thin sandwich bread with 2 teaspoons green or black tapenade. Cover spread with thin slices salami and top with a slice of plain bread. Press gently, cut off the crusts, and cut diagonally into quarters.
The Nosher’s Guide to Salami
The Salami Line-Up
4. Salami on a Stick
Going camping? Skewer a whole salami and roast over a campfire, being careful to hold it away from the center of the flames so it browns slowly until the outside is crisp and golden.
5. Brown-Sugar Salami Chips
Arrange one layer of thin salami slices on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 325ºF until edges are crisp, about 30 minutes. Remove from parchment and blot dry on paper towels. Combine 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave about 30 seconds until bubbly. Add chips, stir gently, and return them to the oven on a fresh sheet of parchment to bake 3 to 4 minutes at 300ºF.
The Best Go-Withs
Even though delis usually just stick to mustard, your at-home sandwich can be dressed up as fancy as you like. Head to the condiment aisle and pick out anything pickled, packed, or processed with vinegar, which provides the perfect flavor balance. That includes mustard, sauerkraut, relish, peppers, and, of course, pickles of all sorts.
And finally, there’s a taste test by a panel of deli experts (I was invited, but alas, couldn’t attend), who rate salamis from various brands.
Our panel of experts sampled some supermarket and easy-to-order beef salamis. In a highly subjective tasting, they ranked them in order of preference and rated flavor and texture from one star (feh!) to four (to die for) to tell us which they think is the best of the wurst.
This 12-ounce “chub” is sold in the supermarket next to the hot dogs. It’s a different blend than the 5-pound log sold for deli slicing.
Joan Carol Ziggy Kevin
Ranking 4 3 1 1
Flavor * * *** ***
Texture *** ** **** **
Comments: “Almost sweet… You can taste the clove… Tastes like bologna and the texture is off… Tastes a little like chemicals… Flavor is perfectly balanced. Perfect garlic flavor… Very smooth texture… Tastes a bit like supermarket bologna, but I like it.”
Abeles and Heymann
Glatt kosher all-beef salami made from a traditional recipe in a brand-new New Jersey plant.
Joan Carol Ziggy Kevin
Ranking 3 4 4 4
Flavor ** * * **
Texture ** * * *
Comments: “Texture is okay… Has a hint of clove or anise, but not much flavor overall… It has some tough morsels of fat or something and a garlic aftertaste… Not enough salt or seasoning… Okay on the garlic… It’s strange. Sort of soft and granular at the same time.”
Usinger’s Beef Salami with Garlic
Completely not kosher. It’s smoked, old-world style, and sold in specialty grocers or online.
Joan Carol Ziggy Kevin
Ranking 2 1 2 5
Flavor *** **** *** *
Texture **** **** ** *
Comments: “Looks the best and has the most depth of flavor… The aftertaste is lingering… Smoky… Well spiced… Doesn’t taste kosher… Likeable flavor… Reminds me of a summer sausage rather than a Jewish salami… It’s not Jewish-style, so I rated it low… My wife would like this one: She’s Catholic.”
Best’s Kosher Beef Salami
Started in 1886 in Cincinnati, this brand is now one of the most widely available in the U.S.
Joan Carol Ziggy Kevin
Ranking 1 2 3 2
Flavor *** *** ** **
Texture *** *** *** **
Comments: “Sort of fatty… Good garlic flavor… Smoky… Slightly sweet… Quite nice… Smooth flavor… Not offensive… It’s got a summer-sausagey flavor. Smoky… Not like Jewish style.”
Zabar’s Hard Kosher Salami
Zabar’s salami is aged at least 90 days and sold at zabars.com. Order online and they ship overnight.
Joan Carol Ziggy Kevin
Ranking 5 5 5 3
Flavor * * * *
Texture *** * * ***
Comments: “Tastes flat… Awful… Tastes like it’s gone bad. The hardest of all of the salamis… I would not give this to my enemy… This gets points for being hard… The texture is too fine, but it’s closer to Jewish-style.”
The Final Analysis
Our top two overall turned out to be the two big national brands. Good news for you that they are easy to find. The big split we saw was between the deli men, who preferred the more classic seasonings, and the at-home salami eaters, who liked those with a smokier taste. That’s not to say that one is better than the others. Our test seems to confirm what science has shown, that food preferences are determined by a combination of genetics and experience. In other words, we tend to like the flavors we know, that our families liked, that we grew up with. With that in mind, we weren’t surprised to see the results we did. Or, put another way, you like what you like, I like what I like.… Forget it. Let’s eat! •
Don’t forget to purchase a “Salami Mommy” t-shirt, bib, hat, dog shirt, mug, or the ever popular thong at our gift shop.