Sausage City: Perennial Virant's House-made Charcuterie
I started to get curious when I heard the words "beer jam." But then again, who wouldn't? At Perennial Virant, chef Paul Virant has always expressed his love of pickling, curing, and preserving; and sure, I'm a big fan of pickled green beans and rhubarb jam. But what in the world was beer jam?
Turns out, it's a concoction of beer and sugar that they cook down until it's concentrated and syrupy. Mixed into a sausage, it has an almost maple syrup-like flavor that plays against the rich pork beautifully—like a grown up version of breakfast sausage.
This was just one of three sausages that the restaurant currently makes in-house, and I was lucky enough to try them all on a recent visit.
It all started with ordering the charcuterie platter ($15), which in the past has featured some of the restaurant's dry-cured sausages. House-made dry-cured charcuterie in Chicago is always something to notice; because the conditions for dry-curing meat—moist, above-refrigeration temperatures—clash unhappily with our strict food safety laws, there are few restaurants who have it on their menu.
But recent shifts in power at the Chicago Health Department has led to a hiatus on PV's dry-cured program until formal state certification. And so, well, there were no sausages at all on the platter. It did feature a gorgeous head cheese, a chicken liver mousse, and a seasonal rhubarb mostarda.
Thankfully, the gracious staff and kitchen were able to drum up some examples of their sausage from other parts of their menu. The beer jam sausage was the standout, which is going to be featured as a part of the dinner starring April Bloomfield. I was also impressed with their take on cotechino, an Italian sausage that includes pig skin ground into the mixture and a long, slow cooking process. It has a mild spice profile with a strong tangy cured flavor.
The third sausage, which PV will be serving at the Green City Barbecue this Thursday (preview!), is a duck bratwurst served atop braised kale with house-cured lardons of bacon. It combined the fragrant spices of traditional bratwurst with the rich, just barely gamey flavor of duck, all packaged up in a smooth emulsified mixture inside a sheep casing. Not your average cocktail weiner.
Chef Paul Virant has always been known for his gifted preparations of vegetables, not only in cooking but in sourcing locally from farmers. But based on my visit I would venture to say that he has a keen sense for charcuterie, too.