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May 29, 1986|MINNIE BERNARDINO | Times Staff Writer

They're back . . . rich and earthy . . . robust, unpretentious sausages.

Indeed, for some it's a delicious revival. For aficionados, however, sausages have always been around--to relish each time with renewed gusto.

The California trend is for fresh homey sausages, a betrayal of the influence of country-style French charcuteries. Unsmoked, uncured, nitrite-free--these are the bywords for freshness.

Although pork is still favored by many, the contemporary fresh sausage now bursts with a variety of chopped meats--there's rabbit, veal, duck, chicken, lobster, shrimp, fish and crab. Other than being partners with potatoes for hearty meat and potato eaters, sausages have gone nouvelle, too. They're in the meticulous hands of fine chefs who zest up composed salads and entrees with thin slices of herbed-seasoned meat or seafood sausage. Furthermore, duck and rabbit sausages have certainly given an upscaled exotic savor to pizzas.

And it isn't that pates and terrines are passe , but . . .

"They're intermittent like the weather, but, sausages you can enjoy them all year," says Eric Gerber, chef charcutier for Le St. Germain To Go.

Gerber, a skilled sausage maker from Switzerland, showed us how to prepare the lightest, creamiest, most delicate boudin blanc of veal and chicken.

"Sausages are less formal," says Joe Venezia, a young executive chef at Hotel Bel-Air. "On Saturdays and Sundays we put our homemade sausages out by the pool to grill and serve with crusty sourdough rolls, roasted peppers and relishes. Pates and terrines are generally not spicy, so I prefer sausages because you can make them as spicy as you want."

Victoria Wise, author of the highly informative, delightful new book, "American Charcuterie" (Viking Penguin: $20), commented, "Most popular at first, pates and terrines, I think, have leveled off."

Michel Richard seems to have a different opinion.

Admitting that he was partial to pates, the good-natured French chef declared: "I've been making sausages back in Champagne country, France, since I was 14 years old. And the only reason I enjoy making them is that people like them so much."

Aside from not being laden with preservatives, the trendy sausage can also be simplified.

"We're not only going back to the old-fashioned way with no curing salt but we're also preparing sausages the easy way," Richard said. His easy way eliminates any entanglement with natural casings, which is not only difficult to find but can be tricky.

In a skillful, swift manner he stretched out a long sheet of clear plastic wrap, neatly rolled up his lamb sausage mixture and tied a whole length of links in no time. "This technique came about some five years ago when I got an order of sausages and I didn't have any casings in storage," he said.

Following this technique, Richard created a delicately light vegetable sausage made with ground chicken, red and green peppers, zucchini and fresh herbs. Given all the fat involved with most sausage mixtures, which is important for succulence, the vegetable sausage is a nice change to please people on low-calorie diets. A tangy fresh tomato salsa vinaigrette makes a pleasant tasting accompaniment.

Richard plans to include light entrees like this for his forthcoming restaurant called Citrus (on Melrose and Citrus avenues). The new restaurant, which will open in the fall, will feature moderately priced California-French food items, he said.

Going back to the casing-less technique to simplify sausage making, the French-style crepinettes is a good example. Victoria Wise demonstrated how to prepare these patties wrapped in caul fat at the Beverly Hills Williams-Sonoma store in conjunction with her book promotion.

She did not use a sausage grinder. Instead, she used a knife to chop the chicken breasts and skins and mixed it with ground pork bought from the grocery store. Not only does that produce an interesting mix of textures from the patties but the hand chopping is good for the triceps, she said.

The net-like caul fat, which is my favorite wrapping for sausage-like meat loaves and terrines, is wonderfully easy to work with. In charcuteries, it is the lacy fat membrane that encloses the lower stomach of a pig or cow. Although perishable and requiring freezer storage, caul fat melts to a nice golden brown while protecting the meat mixture against losing its juices.

Aromatic fresh herbs and vegetable greens are innovative additions to trendy sausages. Spinach and basil not only added color to the crepinettes, but enhanced their flavor as well. I also particularly liked the tomatoes and basil added to Wise's Tuscan Sausage, a pork and mozzarella combination.

In Mario Sosa's ( sous chef at Crown Plaza Hotel) succulent duck sausage, these ingredients provided fresh-tasting appeal: cilantro, thyme and marjoram, with Anaheim chiles for a little bite.

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