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COVER STORY : The BUTCHER'S ART : Add some spice to your Fourth of July by grilling a batch of specialty sausages--from chorizo to kielbasa to bratwurst-- to name just a few. They're churned out daily at stores throughout the Valley.

July 01, 1994|BRENDA REES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Brenda Rees is a regular contributor to The Times

If you fire up the barbecue this weekend you may be engaging in a tradition that stretches back to the ancient Greeks. Homer's "Odyssey," written in 850 B.C., describes cooking "sausages over a scorching blaze."

Less nobly, they are called hot dogs, frankfurters, bangers or meat sticks. They come in thick tire-shaped tubes, marble-sized nuggets and dainty ladyfinger links, and can be made of pork, chicken, beef, duck, turkey, potato or even fish.

Culinary historians believe sausages are the oldest way to preserve meats, and they are a part of nearly every culture. Pick any sausage--Italian pepperoni, German bratwurst or Mexican chorizo--and it will mirror the tastes of a part of the world.

In the San Fernando Valley, butcher shops reflect their ethnic heritage by making sausages fresh daily, so there is no reason to worry about the nitrates and preservatives in mass-produced hot dogs. A controversial recent USC study, which linked eating more than a dozen hot dogs a month with an increased risk of childhood leukemia, could nudge consumers into giving fresher alternatives a try. Buying from these stores may cost a few cents more, but the sausage-makers--who are almost religious about their calling--say you will get a fresher, tastier and healthier sausage.

Sausage-making is the "highest level of the butcher's art," says Bruce Aidells, owner and chef of the Aidells Sausage Co. in San Francisco. "Sausage-eaters are very experimental.

"The great thing about sausages is that if you have a good one, you've got an instant meal," Aidells says. "They can be in a pasta, a soup, or you can eat them by themselves." Aidells has chronicled American heritage through (what else?) sausage-making--all the while encouraging people to try new sausages--in his "Hot Links and Country Flavors" (Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1990).

On this, the traditional hot-dog weekend, it may be time to put aside the Oscar Mayers and try Fat Harold's Bulk Sausage or buffalo jalapeno, or any number of dozens of fresh sausages available across the Valley.

ANTHONY'S OLD FASHIONED MEAT

Anthony Monaco has "been in the business since age 8," he says, when he would help make sausages at his father's butcher shop in Queens, N.Y.

Business has been good for Monaco--his Woodland Hills store has been open for 20 years, and a second store in Northridge opened about two years ago. The original store shares space with Rick's Seafood Emporium, where owner Rick Rittner contributes a sausage to the huge list that hangs on Monaco's back wall.

"Customers kept asking for a fish sausage, so one day I did it," Rittner says. "I make it out of what's available--red snapper, swordfish, Atlantic cod." While Monaco makes a tasty lamb and basil link, his best-selling creation is Italian pork sausage. "It's what I take home to my wife," he says. "She won't let me in the door without it."

Anthony's Old Fashioned Meat, 9129 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, and 19822 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. Open 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Woodland Hills, (818) 884-6666. Northridge, (818) 993-1950.

HOLIDAY MEATS

Mark Bogash left a high-paying property management job two years ago to join the family business to "make sausage. That's what I truly love to do," he says.

Bogash runs Holiday Meats with his brother Michael and father, Harold, who will retire soon but plans to come in at least two days a week to make sausage.

"Our Louisiana-style andouille sausage is awesome," Mark Bogash says of the specialty meat that he often uses in jambalaya and cioppino. New on their list of 23 sausages is a turkey wiener that's 95% fat-free. Their oldest fare is "Fat Harold's Bulk Sausage," which Dad has been making since he opened the shop in 1963. "It's a blend of hot and mild Italian sausage and herbs. People use it for everything, from breakfast sausage to dinner meats," Mark Bogash says.

Holiday Meats, 8344 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park. Open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, (818) 884-1025.

ALPENA SAUSAGE

Fred Thaller remembers the time at Ma Maison when Orson Wells introduced Thaller as his personal sausage-maker. "He was particularly fond of our chicken apple breakfast sausage," Thaller recalls.

Like most sausage-makers, Thaller learned his craft from his father, back in his Austrian homeland. "I am European-trained, but I've converted old recipes into today's demand," Thaller says, citing his fresh chicken and turkey with sun-dried tomatoes, which he makes exclusively for Trader Joe's. Alpena has been around since 1967, but Thaller stopped selling retail three years ago to concentrate on his wholesale business. Find his chicken and turkey wieners at Mrs. Gooch's stores and pick up his other sausage creations at Bristol Farms, Jons and Gelson's markets.

ATLAS SAUSAGE KITCHEN

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