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MARKETS : It’s Polska Time

J & T European Gourmet, 1128 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (213) 394-7727. Open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

On a Westside street lined with office buildings, banks and voguish-looking stores, you wouldn’t expect to find a couple of old-country Polish butchers tending a brick smoker. Certainly J & T European Gourmet is no funky neighborhood butcher shop--it’s a high-style mirrored store that fits right into this Santa Monica neighborhood--but it does have that smoker, and John Pikula and Ted Maslo have been turning out Southern California’s best Polish-style cured and smoked meats here for almost a decade.

From chrome racks dangle a dazzling assortment of sausage ropes, rings and sticks. Pikula and Maslo also make Polish-style hams in a modest kitchen at the back of the store. And there’s more: classic Polish dumplings; portly stuffed cabbage rolls; and bigos , the meat, sausage and sauerkraut stew that Poles have enjoyed for centuries.

Until January of this year, J & T was known as Andrzej, after its original owner, Andrzej Domanski, who opened the shop with his wife Irene in 1981. Pikula and Maslo, both graduates of Technikum Przemyslu Miesne, a college of meat technology and production in Krakow, Poland, were the butchers for the Domanskis from the beginning. They took over ownership of the business in January of this year.

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Both men know the ins and outs of meat grading, selection and cutting. They buy high-quality primal cuts and separate them into lean and fat parts (no byproducts enhance their hot dogs).

But small-batch meat curing is as much art as knowledge. Because meat varies from animal to animal in taste and water content, and because spices also vary, no batch is seasoned exactly alike. The meat for sausages must be dry-cured several days to reduce its water content and intensify its flavor; a good sausage maker can judge exactly when the meat is ready for the next step. He must then sample each batch of sausage in the raw state and estimate how it will taste after losing about 20% of its moisture during smoking and curing. The seasonings are adjusted accordingly. J & T makes batches of hams and sausages so frequently that they require little or no nitrate-containing curing salts and the seasonings don’t obliterate the meat’s flavor.

HAMS AND OTHER MEATS

J & T’s hams are treated to a well-balanced cure and smoked over oak wood. Some are cold-smoked at a temperature of 90 to 115 degrees while others are hot-smoked at about 180 degrees; each method produces its own flavor and texture (think of the difference between cold-smoked lox and the drier hot-smoked salmon). Since uncooked meat absorbs flavors more quickly, cold-smoked products have a more intense smoke flavor. A smokier effect can also come from double smoking, which means smoking for a longer time than single smoking.

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* GYPSY PORK: A double pork tenderloin shaped into a round and cured as a ham. Its excellent smoky flavor comes from double hot-smoking. Like all the hams at J & T, gypsy pork is sold by the piece or sliced.

* BALERON: Cut from the pork shoulder and known as pork butt, baleron isn’t as lean as true ham or gypsy pork. It is thinly veined with fat and hot-smoked.

* BLACK FOREST HAM: These lean hams, cut from pork leg, are double hot-smoked, then cooked.

* LEAN HAM: The same cut as Black Forest, but single hot-smoked and cooked.

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* SMALL HAM: This is lean ham butchered into smaller segments.

* GARLIC HAM: Strips of pork leg are compressed with whole garlic cloves into a long loaf and coated with cracked black pepper. It’s cured and then boiled, rather than smoked.

* SZYNKOWA: Pronounced “shin-KOH-va,” szynkowa is a huge cold cut with a diameter larger than bologna. It’s actually a sausage made from coarsely chopped fresh pork put in a large beef casing and cured like ham. It is single hot-smoked and cooked.

* ZEBERKA: These are the small smoked and cooked pork ribs often used for flavoring Polish split pea and vegetable soups. The ribs also make fine munching. Poles don’t usually serve the ribs as the main part of a meal. Pronounced “zhe-BARE-ka.”

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* GOLONKA: This smoked pork shank gives a wonderful smoky flavor to bean and grain dishes, or it can be combined with other meats in stews. It’s pronounced “go-WOHN-ka.”

* HOMEMADE PASTRAMI: J & T’s version is beef marinated in red wine and seasonings, then hot-smoked.

* BACON: The several varieties of bacon available include smoked Canadian bacon, cold-smoked regular bacon, smoked cooked bacon and raw bacon. With the exception of the Canadian bacon, which is made from the eye of the loin, the bacon chunks come unsliced--they even have bits of rib sticking to them. Slicing them by hand yields a slight unevenness that I feel enhances the flavor. You’ll find these bacons less salty than the American pre-sliced sort. They are generally used for flavoring cooked dishes.

* ROLLED VEAL: Breast of veal, rolled around cracked pepper and then cooked, makes a delicious cold cut with horseradish mayonnaise (sold here) and sliced ripe tomatoes.

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* SLONINA: Pronounced “swoh-NYEE-na,” this smoked lard with the rind still on has many uses in Polish cooking. The rendered lard imparts a lightly smoky flavor to fried onions, which in turn do wonders for soups, simmered meats or vegetable dishes. Russians often eat slonina sliced on black or rye bread.

* HEAD CHEESE: One of Poland’s favorite cold cuts, head cheese can be made in infinite varieties. J & T makes four of the most popular styles, including tongue head cheese--cooked tongue in savory aspic, meant to be cut into beautiful mosaic-like slices. The deep-orange Hungarian-style head cheese is spiked with paprika; black head cheese is a blood-sausage cold cut flecked with chopped pork and tongue.

CURED SAUSAGES

These hang on drying racks behind the deli cases.

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* WIEJSKA: Many Polish sausages are laced with garlic, but wiejska (“VYAY-ska”) or farmer’s sausage is the most garlicky of the lot. Long (about 18 inches) and the diameter of a quarter coin, it’s a lean, meaty sausage of coarsely chopped pork, single hot-smoked and then cooked. Poles eat wiejska cold with hearty rye bread and butter, or they pan fry or barbecue it to eat with grilled onions as an entree.

* MYSLIWSKA: Hunter’s sausage is a non-garlicky link about the length of a hot dog, but thicker. The primary flavoring, ground juniper berries, recalls the way Polish hunters would cook over juniper wood during their long expeditions in the forest. Smoked and then cooked, mysliwska (“mish-LEEV-ska”) is served the same way as farmer’s sausage. It’s made in single hot-smoked (fresh) and double-hot smoked (dry) versions that are both cooked. The dry has a more intense flavor and less juicy texture.

* JALOWCOWA: This fat, 18-inch link comes tied into a ring. Like the hunter’s sausage, it’s composed of coarsely chopped, lean pork without garlic, but is doubly flavored with juniper. The rings come both single hot-smoked (fresh) and double hot-smoked (dry). Pronounced “yah-wove-TSOH-va.”

* LWOWSKA: Another firm, hefty sausage of roughly chopped lean pork. It is slightly less garlicky than farmer’s sausage, but the addition of allspice and black pepper imbues it with a delicious, pungent flavor. The sausage is made in one continuous link and, like most of J & T’s other sausages, is sold in whatever portion is requested. Lwowska (“l’VOOF-ska,” believe it or not) comes both single hot-smoked (fresh) and double hot-smoked (dry).

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* KABANOS: This long, skinny, snake-like sausage resembles a thin salami and is eaten much the same way. Poles like to slice off half-inch chunks to spear with small squares of cheese for the zakaski table--the traditional pre-meal collection of appetizers--or they may eat kabanos (“kah-BAH-nohs”) out of hand as a snack. All-pork with a low fat content (about 10%), kabanos is made in both single hot-smoked and the drier double hot-smoked versions. The predominant flavorings are garlic and ground caraway seeds.

* FRANKFURTERKI: Similar in composition to kabanos, with the same skinny shape but shorter links, frankfurterki (“frahnk-foor-TARE-kee”) are made without garlic and simply but amply flavored with white pepper and salt. The sausage comes in single hot-smoked and double hot-smoked versions and, though not cooked further, can be eaten without additional cooking.

* WEGIERSKA: The hefty, russet-colored links of this Hungarian-style sausage get their color from paprika. J & T makes these sausages in sweet-paprika and hot-paprika styles and both have plenty of garlic. This is one of the shop’s few cold-smoked sausages. Wegierska (“veh-GYARE--ska”) is double cold-smoked and not cooked. Nevertheless it can be eaten as is. Or it can be cooked with vegetables, simmered with meats and used in soups; it’s especially delicious with bean or pea soups or with boiled potatoes.

* KIELBASA: Kielbasa means “sausage” in Poland and doesn’t necessarily refer to any particular kind. What we know as kielbasa in this country is properly called krakowska (smoked sausage Krakow style). It’s Poland’s best-known and most versatile cooking and eating sausage. J & T makes three varieties of it, all pungent with garlic and a touch of sweet Hungarian paprika.

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* The cold-smoked variety, termed “raw-smoked” kielbasa, has the most pungent smoky flavor and moist texture. Use it with other meats and sausages for a mixed grill or country-style boiled dinner. Raw-smoked kielbasa may also be eaten without further cooking; it’s delicious with sturdy rye bread slathered with fresh unsalted butter.

* Regular kielbasa has been lightly hot-smoked and is an excellent all-around cooking sausage. It can also be served as an entree or used in soups and hearty stews, with or without other meat.

* Dry kielbasa has been double hot-smoked, making it an excellent sausage to eat cold.

* CRACOWY’S KRAKOWSKA: Composed of lean, chunky pork with a hint of garlic and black pepper, this two-inch-thick salami-shaped Krakow-style sausage is an excellent sandwich meat. J & T makes single hot-smoked (fresh) and double hot-smoked (dry) styles. Both versions are cooked.

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* MOSCOW SALAMI: Looks similar to the Krakowska but its composition of 25% beef and 55% pork includes 25% fat. Its richness makes it an ideal cold cut with dark or black rye bread.

FRESH SAUSAGES

These uncured sausages, made without nitrates, must be kept refrigerated. Look for them in the cooler case.

* BIATA KIELBASA: This is a raw, uncured and unsmoked pork sausage. Polish cooks put it in barszcz zurek , a creamy beef-stock-based borscht. J & T carries a mix for barszcz zurek among its soup mixes.

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* KNOCKWURST: This is another unsmoked, rough-textured sausage, this time a mixture of pork and veal flavored with parsley and onion. It’s a Polish-style knockwurst, not the smooth-textured, garlicky German or Hungarian sort. It looks like a fresh Italian sausage. J & T sells this knockwurst cooked and it need only be heated for serving.

* SERDELOWA: A fat, knockwurst-shaped veal sausage with the smooth texture of a hot dog. Serdelowa (“sare-deh-LOH-va”), which contains no garlic, is gently flavored with nutmeg and white pepper, lightly hot-smoked and cooked. Traditionally Poles boil serdelowa and eat it with bread and butter; its mild flavor makes a great backdrop for mustards of all kinds.

* METKA: Shaped like a small salami, this semi-smooth sausage is 40% beef and 60% pork, with a slightly spreadable consistency. It has a deep, pungent smoky flavor, a result of its double cold-smoking. Though kept refrigerated, metka should be brought to room temperature before it’s spread on bread--the traditional way to eat it.

* VEAL HOT DOGS: J & T’s hot-smoked and cooked pure veal hot dogs have a creamy beige appearance. They’re as much at home on a china dinner plate as on a bun at the ball park. These come in a standard hot-dog size and a much longer version that’s over a foot long.

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* POLISH BOLOGNA: This smooth, beige cold cut, 80% veal and 20% pork, tastes nothing like super-market pink bologna. It has a rich, buttery texture although its fat content is low--only 10%. White pepper, the principal seasoning, gives a little zing to this otherwise mild meat.

* KISHKA KASZANKA: Kishka (properly spelled kiszka in Polish) is a rich, hearty blood sausage beloved of Europeans everywhere. This version adds cooked buckwheat groats ( kasza --hence the name) for a bit of interesting texture and nut-like flavor.

PREPARED FOODS AND POLISH SPECIALTIES

To round out its selection of meats, J & T stocks a small selection of Polish specialties and groceries. In the deli case look for:

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* SMOKED AND CURED FISH: A fine assortment of cured fish includes smoked eel and sprats (a tiny, herring-like fish), both favorites on the Polish appetizer table. Herring, Poland’s most popular fish, is cured numerous ways to keep during the long, severe Polish winters. The salty sharp flavors of smoked or brined herring make a pleasant change from the winter staples, meats, root vegetables and cabbage. You’ll find cold-smoked whole herring, cured Matjes herring from Holland or Germany, Bismark marinated herring in jars and also hot-smoked mackerel.

* HOME - CURED SAUERKRAUT: This finely shredded demi-pickled cabbage flecked with bits of carrot and kale bears little resemblance to the canned variety. J & T’s crunchy sauerkraut, flavored with allspice berries and bay leaves, may be cooked or eaten as a salad or condiment. Also look for the house-cured pickles and pickled tomatoes.

In the upright freezer cases look for:

* PIEROGI: These large, substantial stuffed dumplings may be boiled, then fried in butter and served with sour cream or eaten with meat juices or sauces. Bags of pierogi tied with a white band indicate cheese-and-potato filling; a red band indicates meat filling; a blue band indicates a mushroom-and-sauerkraut filling.

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* GOLABKI: Cabbage leaves rolled around an ample, well-seasoned filling of rice and lean meat, in light tomato sauce. Pronounced “goh-WOHMP-kee.”

* BIGOS: Poland’s national stew, often made with such ingredients as goose or game and sausage, is less opulent but very good here. It’s a mixture of sauerkraut, sausage and fried lean pork.

In the grocery section look for:

* POLISH DRIED WILD MUSHROOMS: Poland’s marvelous collection of wild forest mushrooms is esteemed by cooks throughout Europe. Poland exports wild mushrooms that come dried on a string like a small necklace. With a quick soaking these add a potent wild-mushroom flavor to meat sauces, soups (especially barley and mushroom soup) or stuffings.

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* PICKLED MUSHROOMS: The shop carries half a dozen kinds of pickled wild mushrooms including chanterelles, cepes and flaming orange gaska.

BREADS AND PASTRIES

Hearty breads from the Baltic Bakery in San Pedro include Baltic rye in round and long shapes and a slightly heavier country-style rye. Another loaf, whole-grain rye, is dense with rye chips.

A few items from Victor Benes Bakery include babka (Poland’s favorite Easter sweet), a panettone- like yeast-risen cake whose eggy, lightly sweetened dough holds golden raisins. There are also a number of poppy-seed confections: yeast-risen poppy-seed loaf, a poppy-seed ring made with flaky pastry dough, poppy-seed strudel.

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RECIPES

Los Angeles author Linda Merinoff contributes this recipe from her book “The Savory Sausage”: “This was obviously a poor man’s dish to begin with, although richer Poles soon caught on and began enjoying it too. I usually serve it to friends for a late supper, accompanied by several kinds of cheese, coleslaw, pickles and dark beer, with honey cake for dessert. The seasonings in the bread, which dissolves completely, richly flavor the soup.”

LINDA MERINOFF’S BREAD SOUP WITH POLISH SAUSAGE (Zupa Chlebowa)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

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6 slices of fine-quality pumpernickel bread, roughly chopped

6 cups homemade or canned beef stock

6 ounces smoked kielbasa or other smoked sausage, thinly sliced

Salt

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1/8 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add bread and stir until all butter has been absorbed. Stir in beef stock. Bring to boil over high heat. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Uncover and whisk well to break up bread. Stir in sausage, salt to taste, pepper and chives. Heat through, about 1 minute. Makes 6 servings.

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Here is the perfect accompaniment to any cold sausage or ham.

WARSAW SALAD

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

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1/16 teaspoon sugar

6 ounces French green beans, cooked and drained

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and chopped

2 ounces pickled cucumber, finely chopped

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1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 tablespoons sour cream

2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

Salt, pepper

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Combine lemon juice, mustard and sugar and pour over beans. Toss and let stand hour. Mix apple, cucumber and onion with beans. Stir in sour cream and eggs before serving. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 4 servings.

POTATO GOULASH WITH SAUSAGES

1 1/2 pounds potatoes

3 ounces lard, butter or margarine

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1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

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1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds

1/4 teaspoon crushed marjoram leaves

6 ounces regular kielbasa, thinly sliced

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Stock or water

2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons tomato paste, optional

Peel and cube potatoes. Melt half lard in deep skillet or Dutch oven. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add garlic, salt to taste, pepper, paprika, caraway, marjoram and sausage. Cook aboout 4 minutes, then stir in potatoes. Pour in enough stock to cover. Simmer until potatoes are tender.

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Melt remaining lard in small saucepan. Stir in flour. Cook stirring until flour begins to turn golden. Remove from heat. Add about 1/2 cup water from potato mixture and tomato paste. Cook, stirring until mixture is very thick, then stir into potato mixture. Bring goulash to boiling point and remove from heat. Makes 4 servings.


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