Sunday, October 14, 2012


LUCY BURDETTE: I loved visiting with thriller writer Mike Cooper at Bouchercon. Somehow we always gravitate to talking about food. So I thought you'd enjoy his take on something culinary. Welcome Mike!

MIKE COOPER:  My protagonist Silas Cade in CLAWBACK is no gourmand -- he's too busy hunting down armed riffraff along the Greenwich-Wall Street axis.  Here he is at a nice restaurant:

"I sawed away at my fish, which seemed not to have been cooked enough.  Maybe it was supposed to be that way."

Because I'm the at-home parent, on the other hand, I do a lot of cooking.  One place that my interests and Silas's intersect is barbecue.  The grill here runs pretty much all year, and not just the Weber; a few years ago I built a little smokehouse.

The hope was to reproduce my grandmother's kielbasa.  Most years she and my grandfather kept a hog, butchering it in the fall for sausage, bacon, ham and everything else.  I copied her recipe from the scrawled scrap of paper she'd written it on about fifty years ago.

Grind 45-50 lb pork.  Leave fat in, but you don't have to add more if it's a good shoulder cut.  I use a cast-iron crank grinder.  (BTW, adjust all these amounts down for more typical family-sized volumes; my grandmother was cooking for multitudes.)

Mix in well:

1 cup + 2 tsp salt
2 garlic heads, crushed and soaked in 1-1/2 cup water
1 whiskey glass coarse pepper
3/4 whiskey glass paprika

Stuff the casings (I use the same hand grinder with a stuffing funnel).  1" casings seem best for kielbasa. Twist them off and hang overnight, not touching, in the refrigerator.  I have a cut-open plastic bin for this purpose that just fits into the bottom of the refrigerator.  This is an important step -- to dry the sausage slightly, and make sure the exterior is not at all damp.

Next morning, hang them in the smokebox, get a fire going, and hot-smoke them at around 160 degrees until the interior temperature is also 160. It can take hours, which is a lot of fussing around with the fire to maintain a level burn.

Note that grandma's recipe does not include a "cure" -- the sodium nitrite.  The USDA, along with the rest of the free world, insists that you should put this in to prevent botulism, which certainly seems like a good idea.

As you can see from the photo, the smokebox hasn't seen much use this year (though the morning glory vines will all die off at first frost, quite possibly this weekend).  You will also notice that we live surrounded by neighbors, including upstairs.  October is the best time for smoking not just because crisp cool air is pleasant to work in, but because most people have closed their windows for the season and will be less annoyed by the smoke.

Really good kielbasa is available in the Polish markets in South Boston, but homemade sausage is always a bit better -- even if I've never quite matched my grandmother's.


Mike Cooper is the pseudonym of a former jack-of-all-trades. Under a different name his work has received wide recognition, including a Shamus Award, a Thriller nomination, and inclusion in BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES. The sequel to his novel CLAWBACK will be published by Viking in 2013. Mike lives outside Boston with his family. Read more at his website.


  1. Hhmm . . . We love handed-down family recipes, so this is pretty intriguing . . . nothing beats homemade “made from scratch.” [And sometimes it’s good to be reminded that it wasn’t always as simple as dashing off to the grocery store or the local butcher shop to put a meal on the table.]

    Once your kielbasa is smoked, do you have a favorite recipe that you use it in, or do you serve it “plain?” We also enjoy barbequing, but whenever kielbasa makes its way into our kitchen that generally means its time for Frogmore Stew.

  2. Terri picked two random winners yesterday and they are LINDA RODRIGUEZ and DENISE ANN. Please email her Terri.Ponce at me dot com to arrange for the drop!

  3. I love any recipe that begins with "Grind 45-50 lb pork."

    I've never attempted to make sausage, but when I was a child (in Louisiana) we went to fall hog killings called a "boucherie." The pig was slaughtered and all sorts of yummy stuff resulted: cracklings (we called them "gratons" in French), blood stew, sausage. The best was the roasted pork that came from cooking the pig on a spit over an open fire. I still associate that smell with fall.

    Good times! Thanks for the memories, Mike, and good luck with the CLAWBACK sequel.

  4. I would die (well, almost) for a piece of that kielbasa, Mike.

    Reminds me... We used to take the T into Boston's North End every few weeks on a food pilgrimage. We'd walk across Parmenter Street and stop at the fresh pasta place where they cut the pasta, sized to order, sprinkled it with a fine corn meal and packed it in a pastry box. On to a butcher (Centofanti) on Salem Street for their in-house Italian sausage. If you wanted lamb chops he'd bring and entire carcass in from the back and butcher it on the spot. On to Polcari's for grains and coffee. On the way out stop for a piece of pizza and a canolli. And finally to Haymarket for fresh produce. We'd put all the groceries in the stroller and carry the kid.

  5. Oh boy that would have been some amazing meal Hallie!

    Ramona, I know...I cracked up when I saw Mike's recipe:)

  6. Hi Mike! I'd come all the way to the East Coast for some of your kielbasa!

    It was great to meet you at Bouchercon, and I'm looking forward to getting acquainted with Silas.

  7. Hmm, I tried to post this comment earlier and it didn't stick. I'll try again.

    The equivalent to Hallie's North End pilgrimage is a trip to Baltic Deli (or Euro Deli) in Boston's South End, where you can buy kielbasa (and much else) brought up from the authentic NYC-outer-borough Polish smokehouses. Maybe not quite as good as Grandma's, but a lot easier than two day's of exertion at home.

    Joan, I usually just boil it, in plain-and-simple E. European style. A couple weeks ago I started fermenting a batch of the standard accompaniment: saurkraut. Along with horseradish and potatoes, the perfect Old Country meal.

    Thanks all!

  8. Obviously we need a JRW Boston eating tour led by Hallie and Mike!

    But meanwhile, since Mike's making sauerkraut and 50 lbs of Kielbasa, I'd say we're all invited, right?

    Good luck with Clawback Mike. For those of you who haven't tried, it's fast and furious and fun--and focuses on everyone's favorite target lately, investment bankers.

  9. Hi Mike,

    One of my grandmothers, from Polish Salem near Derby Wharf, used to order her Polish ham for Easter. Nothing else would do. She would serve it ringed with strings of kielbasa and decorated Easter eggs nestled in the crevice between the ham and kielbasa.

    Thanks for helping me revisit some good memories from my childhood.

  10. Deb, if you'd come to the East Coast, I'd bring you to a great kielbasa and pierogi place in New York City! And there are plenty in Connecticut, too.

    Mike, thanks for your post. I love recipes that include things like use a whiskey glass for measurement. I spend every Christmas Eve with my best friend and her familly and kielbasa is always on the menu. Yum.

    --Marjorie of Connecticut

  11. Hi Mike,
    Great to see you at Reds! Sorry I missed you at BoucherCon. My red-bearded husband said he had the opportunity to chat briefly while having CLAWBACK signed for me.

    What a terrific read. One of my favorites this year. I can't wait to see what you have in the hopper next.


  12. He, Reine, I only recently realized there was a large Polish community in Salem. I take the kids up for a day trip every summer and we found an unexpectedly well-stocked Polish deli right across from the Peabody Essex Museum. The Polish church apparantly sponsors some day festivals too.

    Marjorie, where's that kielbasa & pierogi spot in NYC? I'm in the city a couple times a year and maybe should make a lunch trip there!

    Thanks, Mike

  13. Mike:
    I have a friend of Polish descent who embraces all things Polish: food, music, language, literature, etc. While she makes a lot of Polish food from scratch (and she is a fantastic cook) I have never heard her talk about making POUNDS of kielbasa! I think I'll print out your recipe fo her. And volunteer to be her guinea pig:-)

    have such a great capcha word today that I just HAD to post a response. my word is hichumS. So,hi chums!

  14. I suppose I should confess that I've nver made the full 50 pounds! I scale it down to about 10-15 lb finished, which is about all the smokebox can fit.

    Thanks again, all


  15. Mike, I recently found out that I was baptized in that church. Until then I'd thought I'd been baptized in the French church over on The Point, because that's where my baptism photographs were taken. It seems my grandparents had a deal. All ceremonies would take place in the Polish church, but the family would attend the French church.

  16. Hey, Mike. I've been experimenting with smoking food this summer myself. Your recipe sounds terrific, but perhaps a bit ambitious for me quite yet.

    Recipes from grandmother and Mom are the best, no?


  17. Found this link while searching Google, thanks