Serious Eats: Chicago
Sausage City: A Tasting of Paulina Meat Market's Bratwurst
Paulina Meat Market (often referred to simply as "Paulina") is one of Chicago's most famous butcher shops, and possibly one of its best. Paulina is known to adamant cooks, sausage aficionados, and pretty much anyone who's had a cookout in the city of Chicago. Their vast selection of high quality products at reasonable prices is rivaled only by their classy service and large team of competent, friendly butchers.
Besides a full selection of fresh meat, Paulina has massive cases full of house made sausage, not to mention rows of fridges and freezers throughout the shop full of other foodstuffs—some common, some unusual (they even stock hog casings if you're inclined to make your own sausage).
To put it simply, writing about the vast selection at Paulina's sausages is overwhelming for a single column. In fact, I had no idea what I'd do until I got there and noticed a chance to write about one thing they do a lot of, and do well. That thing is bratwurst. Paulina has probably the biggest selection I've ever seen (curry bratwurst, anyone?), both traditional varieties and inventive variations.
First of all, what is a bratwurst? Basic research into this sausage will reveal two major categories: there is the traditional German-style bratwurst, a fine-textured emulsified sausage that's often made with veal and sold already poached; and there is the Wisconsin-derived Sheboygan-style bratwurst that has a coarser grind, made with pork, sold fresh, and is the more common variety you'll find in the U.S.
Of course, they have both at Paulina. But I didn't stop there. I left not only with a fresh pork, but also a lamb gyros bratwurst, a chorizo-style bratwurst, a traditional German bratwurst, a cheddar bratwurst, a Sheboygan-style bratwurst, and a "turducken" bratwurst made with three kinds of poultry.
I cooked them all up and, after tasting, a few winners emerged.
The basic fresh pork bratwurst had the right touch of spices and perfect execution; it was probably my favorite. I also liked the traditional German style, which was exceedingly soft and moist and subtly flavored (score two for the classics). But the chorizo and cheddar were a close second, and my wife loved the turducken, which had a clean flavor and a spicy kick. The cheddar was fullly mixed in and I couldn't have identified it blind, but it gave the sausage an especially soft and loose texture with a salty flavor, which may not sound all that appetizing, but tasted marvelous.
It's not entirely clear why Paulina calls some of these sausages "bratwurst," since the chorizo, for example, just tasted like chorizo (though a good one that that). But it doesn't matter all that much. What you can count on at Paulina is a well-made sausage, whatever they decide to call it.
What are some of your favorites at Paulina? Leave them in the comments.