I appreciate surprises.
Especially, surprises involving food.
Earlier this week, one showed up in the deli display at Hawaii, my favorite food market in San Patricio. Most of my new discoveries are fruits or vegetables I have not tried. Something new to experiment with. But this was something from my past. Chicken sausages from Aidells.
I have always enjoyed the company's sausages. In The States, the company offers a wide range of flavors: orange coriander, poblano paprika, sun-dried tomato, habanero and green chile, pineapple and bacon, and my favorite: spicy mango with jalapeño.
What Alex offered for sale at Hawaii was one of the company's milder (and subsequently more popular) offering: chicken sausage with apple. I did not hesitate to buy it because the apple version is very versatile. I have used it in both soups and with pasta.
In the 1980s, my law partner, Ron Gray, would inevitably shoot an elk during hunting season, and then share packets of elk sausage with me. Because it was very lean, I usually used the sausage in soup.
In the mid-1970s, I ate a game sausage soup in a Paris restaurant whose name I have long forgotten. On paper, it did not seem very promising. A carrot-leek-cabbage-potato-venison sausage soup finished off with a brown roux redolent with butter and fresh marjoram. But it was one of the best culinary experiences of my life.
I tried reliving it with the sausage Ron provided. It was just another fatal attempt to chase the dragon. I eventually gave up and, instead, riffed off it with other ingredients. That is where the chicken sausage came in. I did not re-create the Paris of experience, but I captured its spirit by cooking up several soups that were superior to the original.
And that is what I did yesterday. The cabbage and onions here are very good. As are the leeks. But my favorites are the smaller onions with their tops intact. They look like green onions on steroids, but they are far better than any scallion I have worked with. So, I bought several of them.
Because the butter, the onions, the leeks, the carrots, and the apple in the sausages would make the soup quite sweet, I needed something to balance it. The answer was easy. I added three habanero peppers. I chose a bonnet chili because its piquancy would balance the other sweet ingredients, but its fruitiness would complement the apples in the sausage.
I also added red and yellow bell peppers, garlic, tomatoes for taste, texture, and color. Then, because no game soup is complete without a thickened broth, I stirred up a roux until it browned enough to add a nutty taste, and stirred it into the soup. It was still a little too sweet. I added a bit of rice vinegar until the sweetness settled down.
The result was not Paris. And it was not the best sausage soup I have made. But it is very good.
Because I cook as if I am making dinner for a Thanksgiving crowd, Omar and I will be eating sausage soup for a couple of days.
But it is better than ham sandwiches.