Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage)

Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Well friends, this is the last post from my time in Thailand. Although I’ve been gone from the country for a month and a half now, the fact is that after this post I’ll be done writing about it, looking at pictures constantly, revisiting notes, and all that. But in a way I saved the best for last.

As a birthday present for me, Kylie and Walt got the four of us a class at Ton Gluay Thai Culinary Heritage, a cooking school that Kylie found on a blog all about life in Chiang Mai. They contacted Ice, the woman who runs the school, and got us set up for an afternoon class to take place at Ice’s house. The cool thing about this class is that instead of rushing you through making four different dishes, you pick one dish to make from scratch. One of the dishes we hadn’t yet made in any of our cooking classes was the infamous Chiang Mai sausage, or Sai Ua, that we had eaten (and loved) on many occasions. It was spicy and juicy, with strong flavors of cilantro and lemongrass. Now, I’ll admit that making sausage from scratch isn’t necessarily the most appealing thing to me – intestines have never been high on the list of parts I enjoy eating or handling. But I was determined to try something new! So the class was scheduled and we were on.

When Jonah and I pulled up to Ice’s house on our motorbike, she and her boyfriend Eric (from New Jersey) were sitting out front, waving us in. Perhaps the first thing you notice about Ice is her petite but incredibly strong frame – turns out she and Eric are starting a gym in Chiang Mai and do lots of weight training in their yard. But the second thing you quickly notice is her voice. Ice is Thai but studied in Scotland and has also spent some time in the U.S., and because of this her accent is fascinating and hard to place. The way she said “cool” was so great that eventually all four of us started repeating it after her. If you want too hear what I’m talking about, you can check out the podcast that Jonah and I have been making and listen to the episode that features Ice’s class.

Ice has a wicked sense of humor. You could tell that we quickly felt comfortable with each other because she was quickly poking fun, making jokes, and testing how gullible we were. The cooking class took place in her house, which lends itself to the feeling of familiarity, an old friend inviting you into their home to prepare a meal. We jumped into preparations, scraping clean the pig intestines, mashing chilis and spices into a curry paste, mincing pork (and pork fat), and slicing herbs. Then the real challenge came. Once all the seasoning was mixed into the pork, we started delicately stuffing the meat into the intestine casings. It became a game: we all sat around, talking, joking, laughing, singing (that’s what happens when you put four singers in a room with only their hands keeping busy), and then someone’s casing would break. We would all yell, “NOOOOOOOO!” and Ice would quickly come help with the repairs or getting you started with a new casing. In the end, I think Kylie was the only person not to break her casing.

As the sticky rice steamed on the stove, Ice cooked our sausages over low heat of the charcoal grill and we watched as they turned from a pale pink to a caramelized golden brown. She sliced them up and served the sausage to us with little baskets of rice and slices of cucumber, and we sipped tea and sat, talking and laughing some more. This recipe is straight from Ice, and I love that I’ll think of her every time I make it. And maybe she’ll think of us when she makes it in the future too (I think we left quite an impression).

We enjoyed our time with Ice and Eric so much that we ended up meeting them for lunch twice more during our time in Chiang Mai, at small, hole-in-the-wall restaurants popular amongst locals but lesser-known to us tourists. Perhaps this is the thing about cooking classes – when I get to connect with people over a love of food and cooking, I also get to connect with them on so many other levels. Both of our cooking teachers in Chiang Mai became friends, people I would be excited to go back and visit when the stars align and I get to return to Thailand.

Sai Ua (Northern Thai Spicy Sausage)

Makes 3-4 links

You don’t have to face sausage casings to make this delicious dish, if you don’t want. It would work just as well as a kind of burger patty (it would be so tasty topped with lettuce and sriracha mayo and pickles) or shaped into meatballs. I have never purchased sausage casings or intestines, but I presume if you ask your butcher, they will lead you in the right direction as far as finding some (hopefully they will have some for you!). If you don’t want to mince your own pork and fat, you can pick up 325 grams (or roughly 3/4 lbs) of 20-25% fat ground pork.

Ingredients

3-5 dried red chilis, depending on desired spice level
4-6 dried birds eye chilis, depending on desired spice level
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 stalks lemongrass, sliced
2 large cilantro roots or 4 stems
1 tsp fresh turmeric, ~3 slices
1/2 small head garlic or roughly 7 small-medium cloves, peeled
2 shallots, peeled
250 grams (1/2 lb) pork meat + 75 grams (1/10 lb) pork fat OR 325 grams (3/4 lb) of 20-25% fat ground pork
4 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
1 small bunch of dill, chopped
2 green onions, sliced
6-8 sprigs cilantro, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp water
1/2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 pinch sugar

Instructions

Soak the chilis in warm water for 1-2 minutes. In a mortar and pestle, crush the chilis and salt, then add the lemongrass, coriander root, turmeric, garlic, and shallot, crushing after each addition until you’ve got a rough paste. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly mix the pork with the kaffir lime leaves, dill, green onions, cilantro, and water. Add the soy sauce, water, sugar, and all of the curry paste from the mortar and pestle. Mix to combine, preferably with your hands (gloves are a valuable tool here) so the meat gets massaged with the curry paste.

Now, if you have sausage casings, it’s stuffing time! Be gentle so as not to break the casing. We used round ends of tongs to hold the casings open, but you can also cut open a bottle of soda and use the neck of the bottle to hold it open. If you’ve never done it before (I hadn’t!) just take it slow and be gentle, squeezing the meat down into the casing as you go. When you’re done stuffing the meat into the casing and both ends are knotted, poke gently throughout with a toothpick. If you’re just going to skip the casing and make patties, shape the meat into whatever size patty you would like.

You can cook these on a grill or stove over low heat. Rotate them occasionally, every 5 minutes or so. They’re done when they look browned and kind of dried out, roughly 30 minutes.

Slice and serve with sticky rice and cucumber.

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