Sausage City: Hard-to-Find Loukaniko at Elea Mediterranean Market
A couple years ago, Mike Sula wrote in the Chicago Reader about trying to find good Loukaniko in Chicago. It was, after all, something you'd expect us to have. We have plenty of gyros, and Greek restaurants to serve them, many clustered on a strip of Halstead west of the Loop. Sure, Loukaniko might not be as famous as the turning spit, but it's a fine thing when done well, and Chicago ought to have it.
Since writing his article, Elea Mediterranean Market opened up on Halstead in the heart of Greektown (they've been around for about a year), where you can find, among other things, excellent domestic and imported feta, olives, olive oil, and the usual selection of Greek pantry staples. And yes, they have their own recipe of Loukaniko, which I picked up for a taste test.
Traditionally, Loukaniko is made with pork, sometimes with lamb, dried for awhile but not fully cured, then grilled. Lamb sausage is one of my favorite kinds of sausage (a good merguez is pretty much heaven), and you don't see it often. The best Loukaniko uses just enough lamb to keep things interesting without turning gamy, while relying on the pork to richness.
Elea's, which sells it frozen in links in their case, is a family recipe; to produce it, they drop off the secret blend of spices at a local meat processor, who mixes the sausage and puts it into casings. The grind is extremely coarse, so that when you slice into it, there is plenty of texture. They don't dry it, so it's more like a fresh sausage.
The spice profile of Loukaniko is the most unique thing about it; the hallmarks are fennel seed and orange zest. Elea's version has both, plus an undertone of cinnamon and possibly allspice, with hits of citrus in every bite. The coarse grind makes it a real pleasure to eat.
Since the sausage is best served as apart of a mezze platter, Elea's a good stop anyway to fill out the rest of your table. Flaming cheese, anyone?