A Texan in New Jersey soon learns that he’s going to have to adapt, and after living here for more two decades, I think I have adapted:
- After three days I learned there was something called ziti.
- After four days I learned to avoid it at all costs.
- After six months I learned to look in my grocer’s refrigerator section to find the corn tortillas.
- After two years I knew there really wasn’t any better option than Taco Bell for a bean burrito.
- After 10 years I stopped searching for beef brisket, bought a smoker and started making my own.
But like Col. William B. Travis at the Alamo, I’m drawing a line in the sand when it comes to sausage.
New Jersey, you know nothing about sausage, and I can sum up the problem in one word: Italians.
Now if there’s one thing you need to know about New Jersey, it’s that Italians are the predominant culture, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but paesan, you can keep your sausage!
I suppose Italian sausage has a place, like maybe in some gloopy tomato dish, or sliced on top of a pizza, but in any other usage, Texas sausage is vastly superior. That’s a pretty bold claim, but truth is, even New Jerseyans of Italian descent will admit it once they taste the difference, which rarely happens since most of ‘em have never been west of the Delaware.
Here’s a story: Once upon a time I grilled up a yuuuge mess of Texas sausage and took it into work for some special occasion. Man, you would have thought it was feeding time at the zoo the way those yankees went for that sausage. In fact the only time I saw ’em move faster was the time somebody brought in a couple sacks of free bagels.
“Oh my god, this sausage is delicious!”
How did you cook this???”
“You mean there aren’t any tomatoes in that???”
“You have to give me the recipe!”
Truth is, I was embarrassed to give them the recipe because it really wasn’t a recipe at all. Just buy smoked sausage without Italian spices, throw it on the grill along with some onions and burn the hell out of it. That’s it, no barbecue sauce, and definitely no tomatoes!
But as simple as it is, the concept remains foreign in New Jersey, where the godless Italian sausage still rules, and nowhere is that more apparent than at the breakfast table. When I order breakfast at a New Jersey diner, the last thing I want to see nestled next to my scrambled eggs is a nasty Italian sausage, but invariably, that’s what I’ll get.
The problem is the spices . . . they’re all wrong! Why would you want thyme, oregano and fennel seed in your breakfast meat? Jesus wept! Why can’t these people understand that there’s more than one kind of sausage?
When you order breakfast in Texas, they’ll dish it up right — bulk sausage patties like my Daddy always preferred, or a couple of links — and I guarandamntee you that neither product will have fennel seed in it.
Oh lord, I’m getting myself worked up just thinking about it!
Of course there are other sausage-y ways to strap on the feedbag in Texas. Biscuits and gravy, for example, will usually feature sausage gravy with bits of dead pig that were never within whistling distance of Italy. Then, of course, you could also order a chorizo and egg soft taco, but sitting here in my New Jersey living room, that’s a thought that is just making me depressed because it’s a concept that’s so foreign that it will probably never make it this far east … not enough fennel seed, I guess.
Perhaps I should focus instead on the strides we’ve made over the last 20 years.
There was a time in New Jersey, believe it or not, when I couldn’t even find Dr Pepper, which is the National Drink of Texas (along with iced tea). It’s true. During those early years I’d ask my grocer, “Where’s the Dr Pepper,” and he’d reply, “What’s that?”
It was then that I realized I’d moved to the dark side of the moon. Fortunately the light has started to shine, because I can easily find Dr Pepper now.
But a decent breakfast sausage without fennel? Fuhgeddaboudit!