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What's the story behind Vienna sausages?

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
July 24, 2002
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of New South Restaurant Group. His weekly food column appears in newspapers in Mississippi and Louisiana. If you have any questions or comments, e-mail robert@nsrg.com or call (601) 264-0672.
Do they hail from Vienna, Austria? Are people actually eating mechanically processed chicken in the foothills of the eastern Alps?
In the land of strudel, schnitzel and Sacher torts, have the locals developed an affinity for minced pork with sodium erythorbate? Was a Vienna sausage the inspiration for Beethoven's 9th Symphony? Could the "Ode to Joy" initially have been called the "Ode to Sodium Nitrates"? Are Viennese fishermen using them for bait while fishing the Danube?
Will I ever stop asking silly hypothetical questions and segue into a more meaningful and insightful column?
Probably not, but it's my job to ponder these all-important and life-changing food issues. Besides, I've got plenty of time on my hands.
What I saw in Austria
I have been to Austria. While there, I saw no one eating anything that looked like a Vienna sausage. But they do eat a lot of sausages there. Really big sausages morning, noon and night. In Austria, when you order dessert it comes with a side order of sausage.
I have never eaten a Vienna sausage (pronounced "Vie-yen-nee" in South Mississippi).
The taste of mechanically separated chicken has never been one of my frequent and recurring food cravings. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, mechanically separated chicken is "a paste-like poultry product produced by forcing bones with attached edible tissue through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue." Yummy! Let's all pop a top.
Even if I could get past the bones-and-tissue thing, I am scared of that gelatinous goo on top of Vienna sausages. It looks like some type of slimy pork-flavored jelly.
Did you know that Vienna sausage goo is on the FBI's list of the 20 most dangerous weapons? It can be extremely dangerous.
A case in point
My friend and celebrated watercolorist, Wyatt Waters, talks of a 1964 trip his family took in the Waters' un-air-conditioned Chrysler Windsor station wagon. On the hottest day of the summer, they drove from Clinton to the Six Flags amusement park in Dallas.
From the front seat, Wyatt's mom manned the food rations. Coach Waters drove with the single-minded purpose of a we're-not-stopping-for-anything father on vacation. As Mrs. Waters handed out slices of red-rind hoop cheese and Vienna sausage to her three sons in the back seat, the Coach pressed on.
Wyatt, being one that has always marched to the beat of a different drummer, was more interested in receiving relief from the summer heat than eating lunch. He spent most of the trip holding his head out of the window so the wind could blow his face. Somewhere west of Shreveport, Mrs. Waters held a can of Vienna sausages out of the front window to drain the juice.
Laws of nature
Newton's Law of Flying Sausage Goo #1 states: Vienna sausage slime in a hot can on a scorching day will gradually become less jelly-like and more fluid.
Newton's Law of Flying Sausage Goo #2 states: If one is sticking his head out of the back-seat window of a fast-moving vehicle while another is draining a can of hot Vienna sausage liquid from the front seat window, the person in the backseat will inevitably receive a steaming hot face-full of blistering and putrid Vienna sausage juice.
Wyatt was momentarily blinded. The juice was in his ears and up his nose. His face was red and smelly. To this day, he still claims that Brylcreem can't hold a candle to Vienna sausage jelly, as his hair was permanently slicked back in a James Dean-style sausage-goo pompadour for the rest of the day (Wasn't there a shampoo in the 70s called "Gee, Your Hair Smells like Mechanically Separated Chicken"? But I digress with more silly hypotheticals).
Whether this incident gave Wyatt a new perspective with which to view the world as an artist, we'll never know. However, he no longer sticks his head out of moving car windows in the summertime.
Why ponder? As I said, it's my job and I've got plenty of time on my hands. Have a good week, stay out of the heat and beware of flying Vienna sausage juice.
A final note
Wyatt and I have spent the last 14 months collaborating on "A Southern Palate," a coffee table-style cookbook due in stores this October. It has 135 recipes, 13 short essays and 35 of Wyatt's original watercolors.
You will be relieved to know that none of the recipes make use of Vienna sausage, none of Wyatt's paintings include flying Vienna sausage goo and neither of us likes Polka music.
Sufferin' Succotash
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups squash, diced
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup fresh butter beans, cooked
1 cup corn kernels, freshly scraped
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 teaspoons Crescent City Grill Creole Seasoning
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 Tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add squash, onion and bell pepper. Cook until softened. Add beans and corn. Continue cooking 1-2 minutes. Add the stock. Reduce heat to low and simmer until almost all liquid has been evaporated. Add seasoning, herbs and butter.

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