Monday, May 26, 2014

Sunny with a Chance of Sai Ua ໄສ້ອັ່ວ | Laotian sausages

Sai ua ໄສ້ອັ່ວ | Laotian sausages have been a bbq staple for us for many happy years and we've introduced it to our friends and family.  (I did a brisk interstate trade there for a while).  Sai ua are also common to Northern Thailand (since nation-state borders are an artificial capitalist construct and cut across language and cultures).  I am eternally grateful to Saysana for ordering this delicious dish at Champa Garden--and also for the gift of a nifty Laotian sticky rice steamer.  

A few years back, I convinced the owner of Vientiane Cafe to sell me the sausages frozen to grill at home and now they do a brisk sideline selling the sausages.  Since we moved to Fremont, we rarely hit up Vientiane anymore, and though Green Champa Garden makes it, it's a smaller portion and I react to the MSG besides.  You gotta get your sausage where you can.

I set myself the goal this year of using the slabs of pork belly from our annual pasture-raised organic hog buy.  I used one slab for making Bánh Chưng and I've been meaning to make sai ua with the rest.  If you must use conventionally-raised pork, my mom recommends soaking it with lemon juice and water overnight to "sweeten" the meat before marinading. The acidulation helps to break down the tough meat fibers from chemically laden, stressed out pigs.

The soft start to summer over Memorial Day Weekend provided the perfect opportunity to make some sai ua.   We kept the skin on which gave the sausage a great chewy/dense texture.  Since the pork belly is very fat-rich (and very healthy fat I might add), we supplemented the pork belly with some boneless pork shoulder roast from our local Whole Foods Market.  According to Phia Sing (b. 1898, d. 1967), Royal Cook in the Royal Palace at Luang Prabang, an ideal ratio would be 1:4 fat to meat; I got to 1:2 maybe 1:3 ratio and we were perfectly content with the result. 

I used Phia Sing's recipe as the basis and added other Southeast Asian flavors that I've tasted at Champa and Vientiane--lemongrass, lime leaf, galangal.  Galangal is a rhizome in the ginger family; it has a distinct zingy, pungent flavor almost mustardy/horseradish/wasabi-like.  If you cannot source galangal, omit it. I buy the biggest tuber I can find and then freeze whatever I don't use. Lime leaves also have a distinct taste without substitute.  If you cannot source them from a Southeast Asian market, you can occasionally find them dried in the spice aisle.  Lucky for me, my MIL has a makrut lime tree.  I harvest a bundle of leaves, wash & dry, and then freeze them.  They keep well in the freezer (actually all the spices used in this recipe store well in the freezer).  I completely forgot about the cilantro so it's not pictured but you should add it.  Thai bird's eye chile peppers are the preferred chile to use; spiciness can vary by pod so you can pre-taste a chile and judge how many you'll need from there.  Habañero is also another fine substitute, use sparingly.  I think I used serranos (I always forget to label things I throw in the freezer and then am annoyed at myself).  Use gloves when chopping any chiles and handling the spiced ground meat.  I have had Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad experiences involving habañeros and contact lenses.  Spare yourself the agony.  I always make a separate no-spice version because my daughter doesn't eat spicy.  You'll want to process that first before adding the chiles.

I happen to have a meat grinder because I raw feed my critters (benefits: optimal health, sleek bodies, silky fur, low odor stools, no parasites) and I used to make my own grind pre-kid.  The Northern Industrial meat grinder can take on chicken bones for whole prey feeding.  If you don't have a meat grinder, you can use a food processor though be sure to keep the grind coarse.  Though I do have a sausage stuffing attachment, I didn't bother to source casings from organic hog or not, so we ended up making sausage sliders.  I was going to wrap them in blanched banana leaves for grilling, but then it was faster to make patties than wrap 5 dozen links.  If you don't have equipment, you can use the old school method of chopping the meat into ever finer bits (as instructed in Phia Sing's recipe).   If you are into ancestral food ways, you would grind the spices in a mortar and pestle.  I don't know the science of why mortar & pestled food tastes better, but it just does.  Though I have a bit of a mortar and pestle collection going on (used to be five, I've downsized to the two my parents gave me--a volcanic rock molcajete and a Costa Rican mahogany one), I was pressed for time so used a food processor. I had a fine sous chef for this recipe run which cut my production time (wish I took a pix!  but my hands were busybusybusy); he cut the meats into smaller chunks, helped make patties and washed up a little bit.  It always takes time to establish a rhythm and harmony with a kitchen partner.  We've been together for over 15 years, married for 8, and partner well in the kitchen now.   I cannot even tell you how excited I am about this recipe!  It would be as if it rained breakfast food in a marvelous foodtopia.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs

Sai Ua ໄສ້ອັ່ວ | Laotian sausages

Makes 5 dozen two oz. patties


  • 3.5 - 4 lbs of pork belly including skin
  • 3 lbs of pork shoulder
  • 4 shallots
  • 1/2 garlic head
  • 4 lemongrass stalks
  • 4 inches of galangal 
  • 2 handfuls of makrut lime leaves
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 3 handfuls of celtic/grey salt 
  • 1/2 cup+ of Red Boat fish sauce
  • chiles to taste

Spice paste

Prep the spices for grinding or processing. Chop off the top third of the lemon grass and the base of the bulb and compost.  Using the dull edge of the knife, bruise the lemongrass to release the juices.  Cut into three pieces lengthwise. Peel garlic.  You can do the fancy chef 10 second way or use the flat side of a knife to smash the cloves and then remove the skin. Skin the galangal and cut into smaller chunks. Throw all the spices and salt into the food processor.  I found I didn't need additional liquid, but if you do need some to help with the processing, add fish sauce.


Cut the pork belly into thick strips if you are using a grinder, cubes if you are using a food processor.  Cube the pork shoulder. Mix together the pork belly slices pork shoulder cubes and the spice paste.  Add more fish sauce.  In the ideal world, you would marinade this at least 2 hours and up to one day.  I was in a bit of a hurry so I didn't marinade at all.

Meat Grinder: Use a coarse grinding plate.  Put a mix of belly/meat into the hopper of the grinder.  Reserve a high fat/skin piece of belly for to feed into the grinder last.  This clears out all the meat bits and with a grinder there is a very small amount of wastage that doesn't grind, so I'd rather waste fat & skin then meat.  Normally, I'd feed the leftover bit to the dog or cat, but since it had chile, I did not and had to throw it out.  (I hate wasting like that! I suppose I could have chopped it and added it, but time was a factor.)

Food processor: Fill the bowl with cubed belly & meat and pulse until coarsely ground. Once it's all ground, give it another mix to blend into the fat/skin, meat, and spices.  Add additional fish sauce at this time. Give the sausage a taste test at this time following these instructions from Phia Sing:
Take a very small sample portion of the mixture, wrap it in pieces of banana leaf and grill it until cooked. Taste it and check the saltiness. (If this test is satisfactory you can proceed to make the sausages. If the taste of the grilled sample is not right, adjust the seasoning.)
Line a roasting pan with parchment paper or banana leaves.  Make balls and form into patties.  I have a 2 oz cookie scoop that my sister gifted me that I use for baking (it's the exact amount of batter for a cupcake) and meat balling because it saves me time & energy.  If you are storing these for later, separate the layers with wax paper, parchment paper or banana leaves. Broil for 10-15 minutes or grill. Serve with brown sticky rice (recipe forthcoming).

Ăn Ngon Lành|Eat Delectably!

No comments:

Post a Comment

I'd love to hear from you! How did yours turn out? Comment below or email me realfoodrealpho @