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The Kolbasz Kings

Local family makes Hungarian sausage from scratch


Jim and Annabelle Graban's home is comfortable--the type of place you'd likely wake up as a grandkid and smell breakfast already cooking in the kitchen.

Jim has been making traditional Hungarian kolbasz since he was 5 years old. Now 81, Graban has taught all of his grandchildren how to make the sausage. On a recent afternoon, his eldest grandchild, Sarah Carrico, came to help out.

Graban explained that it's best to cut the meat first into one-inch chunks.

"It just grinds better that way," he said. "And then I put the spices on and let it stand overnight."

Graban uses Szeged Hungarian paprika, kosher salt, black pepper and fresh garlic. On the counter, he gathered a stainless steel bowl filled with spiced one-inch fresh pork and lamb chunks, an electric meat grinder, a manual meat mixer and a sausage press.

Carrico has cooked for Boise's Bar Gernika for three years, and said her grandpa has been a huge culinary inspiration.

"He has taught me many, many things," Carrico explained, while mixing ice-cold water into the meat chunks with gloved hands. "We are kind of a food-centric family."

The ice water adds moisture to the sausage and helps the fat in the meat stay solid, which makes it much easier to grind.

"If you want to make a healthy sausage, don't make sausage," Carrico laughed. "Sausage is about fat, and you don't eat large amounts of it. It's a treat."

The Graban family eats this particular sausage every year at Christmas and Easter.

"Every fall, we'd butcher two pigs," he explained. "And of course, with all the trimmings and all that we'd make the Kolbasz."

Carrico's face flushed as she pushed the chunks of cold meat through the electric grinder with a round wooden implement.

"I am much stronger now that I do this for a living, but for normal people, it really wears you out," she added.

After the grinding and mixing the meat, Graban and Carrico untangled the large, unruly pile of pig casings and readied them to be stuffed, which is where the patience comes in.

"You can't make sausage without wine," Graban said, smiling.

After savoring a splash of Gewurztraminer, they transferred the mixed-up meat into a tall stainless steel canister, which was then secured beneath a screw-style sausage press, which pushes the meat through "the stuffing horn."

Carrico and Graban carefully pulled the casing tube onto the horn, a delicate process kind of like putting on nylons. Once the horn was stacked with the tube of casings, a knot was tied to the tail end, and the stuffing began.

"She's got the cranking down perfect. ... She and her mom have just mastered that," Graban said with pride.

Graban fashioned links of five to seven sausages, enough for one meal. Once formed, Carrico said the links should be left uncovered in the fridge for a few days to dry out a bit.

"I take them out to my shop and hang them on the pole because it is cold out there," Graban said.

Carrico chimed in, smiling: "We can't do that in the restaurant. It is against the law. In other countries where they care more about artisan foods, they might be able to."