(easy Canadian variation on a Finnish traditional recipe)
(c) 2013, Davd
Welcome to the Bachelor Cooking series, whose purpose is to help more men enjoy the most practical of all the arts. We’ll begin with an easy, hearty, savory, satisfying soup i learned about from the Finns. It works with leftover sausage from a party or picnic, sausages “reduced for quick sale”*, even “hot dogs” sold off cheap as the Canadian winter approaches—and it’s quick and easy to cook. All the foods that go in it can be bought on special, stored for weeks in a fridge, freezer, and under the kitchen counter, and put together in about the time it would take to “go out for fast food.”
Finns are hardy, frugal, practical people who enjoy life’s good things—including efficiency. Sausage Soup is a good example of those attitudes; and it’s also something that beginners can cook. I want this series to be accessible to “Every man”.
Cooking is just as much men’s work as women’s. Most chefs are men. When i sold fresh herbs to fancy restaurants on Vancouver Island, most of the line cooks were also men. I learned much more from the chefs than they learned from me—but to get them to listen, and to consider buying from me, i had to know basic cooking and better-than-basic seasoning.
(What are the distinctives of bachelor cooking? I don’t yet have a list, but i’m convinced that distinctives exist. One, it seems to me, is that we men are less likely to cook sweets, and especially less likely to bake cakes, decorate cakes, and worry about how flaky the pie crust is. [We don’t put dust ruffles on the tops of the curtains, either—i wonder sometimes if there’s a connection.])
What we’re more likely to cook, are hearty satisfying savory foods—with herbs and spices as well as salt—that keep well and taste as good or better when eaten a day to a week later. Chili is a classic example—anyone else notice how often it’s the man of the house who makes chili?—and i will offer a chili recipe before very long. Maybe two of them.
Today’s first-of-the-series technique is for something almost as hearty, simpler and much quicker to make, that can turn low-cost ingredients into a satisfying hot meal—a meal that keeps for days in the ‘fridge, re-heats well, and goes well with most beverages and vegetables. Economical in both money and preparation time., its basic ingredients are (from most to least abundant) potato, sausage, onion, and carrot. I usually make it when I’ve bought some sausage at “reduced for quick sale” prices from a store*, or have leftovers sent home with me from a potluck or picnic, so I work from the amount of sausage I have.
A stick of sausage [or a few small sausages] from the fridge or freezer, put in a pot as soon as you have it cut up, with potatoes, onion, carrots, and water or vegetable stock; can be good hot soup in about half an hour from when the pot starts heating. Of that half hour, you’ll do maybe 10 minutes of work cutting up the ingredients and stirring the pot—and the soup qualifies as a one-dish meal. (I usually have another vegetable with it… such as steamed cabbage with caraway, which i’m planning to post next, or maybe a tomato sandwich with homemade mayonnaise, which will post a few weeks later. Homemade bread isn’t that difficult either, but i expect to introduce several skills before writing-up that technique for you.)
If you have a kitchen with a stove or even a hot-plate; and the usual tools—bowls, cutting board, pots, pans, knives, forks, spoons—that’s all the equipment you’ll need to make Sausage Soup. (One of the cooking pots should be able to hold two litres, or at least, two “US quarts”. If you have only a one and a three litre pot, that’s OK; half-full pots cook well too.) Later in the series, as the techniques get more complex, i’ll suggest a few trade-cook’s tools to add, and maybe even put up one or two posts on kitchen equipment and supplies. To start, i’m writing so the technique can work for the men who haven’t been hobby-cooks, much less trade-cooks. (If you’re already a good cook, but without a Finnish connection, sausage soup may still be something new for your repertoire.)
I cut the sausage into pieces no larger than an inch on the longest side, and do the same with about twice as much potato as I have sausage. (The milder the sausage, the less the potato, so with “hot dogs”, maybe 1½ to 1¾ as much potato is enough. Hard (“dry”) pepperoni can “soup up” 2½ times its weight or volume in potatoes, maybe more.) The sausage and potatoes go into a pot (sometimes called “saucepan”) with enough water to cover—plus up to half that much more. In other words, if you have the pot half full of potato and sausage, the water should fill the pot up to 3/4 full. (If you have the pot 3/4 full of potato and sausage, get out a bigger pot.)
Now take about a quarter as much onion as you have sausage, and that same amount of carrots. Cut the onion and carrot small: I often slice my onion(s) and then crisscross-cut the slices; and quarter the carrots lengthwise, then cut the strips every 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Put them into the pot (the water can already be heating), stir everything until mixed fairly well, bring to a boil, and boil gently for 15-20 minutes. It’s OK to stir the pot every few minutes; but if you’re busy, mix things together once or twice and just ease back the heat when it boils, so it keeps bubbling but not wildly.
If you have a herb garden with more chive in it than you’ve been using, you can substitute chives for the onion, and make the soup a little more colourful. I happen to prefer chive to onion flavour, but they are very similar and it’s not worth while diverting chives from better uses. I don’t add salt or pepper until the soup has cooked for at least ten minutes and i’ve tasted it**, because sausages are seasoned already.
Different kinds of sausage make for different tasting soup, of course; but they all share the hearty, satisfying, well-seasoned character that sausage generally provides. I like sausage soup made from any kind of sausage I’d eat in other forms—even grade B pepperoni and “hot dogs”—but of course, I usually use up top quality thuringer or hard salami in some other way—those expensive long-keeping favourites seldom need boiling “in case they’re starting to spoil”, and deserve fancier fates.
There are many possible variations on sausage soup: You could add a little dark green outer cabbage leafage, or even kale. You can increase and decrease the proportions of onion and carrot a little. I usually add celery leaf, tired celery, or Levisticum officinale (in English, lovage [liveche in French]) which is heartier than celery and grows in my herb garden. I make “vegetable stock” from vegetable trimmings and substandard herbage, and i might use that instead of part or all the water. If the sausage is mild you could add a few peppercorns or a tiny pinch of hot red pepper. None of the variations is necessary, because potato, onion and carrot are cook-friendly ingredients and sausage is seasoned to begin with.
You can boil water? safely handle a cook’s knife? You can now cook something satisfying—easy, frugal and good—from ingredients that all keep for weeks to months. I’ll aim to post a “how-to” for something equally frugal next week, on the vegetable side.
* Because it’s cooked so thoroughly, sausage soup is OK to eat even when the sausage would be doubtful to eat “raw”. (What could be more economical than that?) You can use pale tan breakfast sausage—many Finns use a similar sausage called siskonmkkara for soup—but as with “hot dogs”, the result will be mild—only semi-hearty. Most sausages will swell up when boiling, “hot dogs” more than harder sausages.
** To taste it without burning your mouth, set a cooking spoon half-full of soup on a “spoon rest” (which can be a jar lid turned upside down) for a minute or two until it cools. Because of how spoons are shaped, it’s usually helpful to elevate the handle a little: If the side rails of an electric stove top aren’t high enough, a small piece of one-inch scrap lumber will do. It’s the broth, especially, that you want to taste for saltiness.