I've been on the hunt for a really good, rustic Hungarian sausage called kolbász seasoned with paprika, the peasant kind of sausage that you'd find still made in villages. Storebought Hungarian is just not it. I was able to find several recipes and references to how this sausage is made by locals that put me on the right track and here it is - a really, really good traditional Hungarian sausage recipe.
How traditional Hungarian sausage is made
Mind you, this recipe is not exactly how they'd typically make kolbász in rural Hungary. There, this sausage would be cold-smoked for at least 12 hours, then hung to dry in a 'cool, airy' place. This type of 'smoked and dried' sausage making would typically take place in cold weather, mostly in winter, to keep the sausages cold at all times to 'prevent spoilage'. I'd say spoilage should be as much of a concern as contamination with harmful bacteria.
Regardless, all this is done without the help of nitrates, nitrites, or bacterial starter cultures. I've made several sausages like that but did it only with heritage pork purchased from a small trusted farm and I did all the butchering myself with sterilized knives and kept the pork as clean and cold as possible. Was it worth it? Probably not. I like the color and the flavor that sausages acquire when using nitrites/nitrates. I also like the comfort of knowing that with nitrites/nitrates my sausages are 100% safe to eat.
About this recipe
That said, this Hungarian sausage recipe is for a fully cooked, smoked type of sausage, made following the current USDA safety guidelines. I adjusted the level of salt to be in line with my smoked sausage recipes as traditional Hungarian sausage that is cured is saltier.
If you want to make a 'fresh' version of this sausage, substitute Cure #1 with an equal amount of salt.
If you want to make your Hungarian sausage more like the traditional 'smoked and dried' version, substitute Cure #1 with Cure #2, add a starter culture, and add more sugar or dextrose, depending on what starter culture you will be using. You'd also want to bump the salt up to 2.8% - 3.25% for safety.
Spices and seasonings
The spices are true to what you'd find in a traditional Hungarian kolbász - hot and sweet paprika, caraway, and garlic. I've seen recipes with black pepper and without and with and without garlic. I went with what I personally like, so 'yes' to pepper and garlic. Some recipes I found used cumin but I am not a fan so I use freshly ground caraway seeds.
Sugar is not a common ingredient in this sausage though I did find a couple of recipes using it. My recipe does too as I find that it improves the overall taste of any pork sausage and it certainly does in this one.
The proportions of hot and sweet paprika vary to suit a butcher's/customer's personal taste, there is no standard here. Typically, you will find hot paprika constituting anywhere from 20% to 30% of the total amount of paprika. Some sausages use only sweet paprika. My personal preference is to use about 18%-20% of hot paprika and 80% sweet paprika which gives me a pleasant mild heat. Without it, this sausage tastes boring. More hot paprika begins to turn some people off. So, 18%-20% is a good starting point.
Using fresh, good-quality Hungarian paprika in this sausage is crucial. The fresher it is the more aromatic it is and it makes a huge difference to the final taste. I think the color of the sausage is better too when using fresh paprika.
- 4 1/2 lbs pork butt
- 1/2 lb back fat or pork belly
- 2 1/4 Tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp Cure #1 level
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 3 1/2 Tbsp sweet paprika
- 2 1/2 tsp hot paprika
- 3 cloves garlic pressed
- 3 tsp caraway seeds ground
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 cup ice water
- Cut the meat, and the back fat, into 2" (5-6 cm) pieces, mix with salt and Cure #1. Place in a container, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
- Grind the pork and the pork belly/back fat (partially frozen for 20 min in a freezer) through a medium-size plate - 1/4" (6mm). You can also chop the meat and the fat finely with a knife.
- Mix the ground meat with the seasonings, adding a cup of ice water. Mix well until the meat becomes sticky.
- Stuff into hog casings (28-32 mm), making 1-foot lengths and tying them into rings. Prick any visible air pockets with a needle.
- Hang the sausage to condition in a cold room at 33F - 38F (like an unheated garage in winter) or refrigerate overnight. Do not let the sausages freeze.
- Dry for about 60 minutes in the smoker at about 110F - 130F without smoke. The sausages should be completely dry before applying smoke.
- Smoke at around 130F for 2-4 hours or until the casings develop a nice brown color. Use oak, beech, cherry, hickory, or pecan wood.
- Next, poach at 161F - 165F for 25 - 35 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 154F -158F. Alternatively, bake in an oven with convection, with a hot water pan below the sausages, at 175F for about 30-50 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 154F - 158F. You can also finish cooking the sausage in the smoker/smokehouse by gradually increasing the temperature in the smoker to 165F-175F-185F and up to 195F. This method is not as easy and may take a long time depending on weather conditions and humidity inside the smoker.
- Cool the sausages down in an ice bath or shower them with cold water and dry them with paper towels. If you have access to a fairly cold room, again, like an unheated garage in winter, just hang them there to cool down.
- Optionally, hang the sausage in a cool room or a curing chamber for 5-7 days to dry at about 55F and 75% relative humidity. This will prolong the shelf life and intensify the flavor of the sausage.
- Store in a refrigerator.