Carolina Country Store to buy some sausage. " />

Fortunate Souse


Cruising Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue recently, in the Stuyvesant Heights section, I stopped by the Carolina Country Store to buy some sausage. The residents of the neighborhood are mainly African-American, many with roots in North or South Carolina, and the Country Store caters to southern tastes with slab bacon, extruded hard-candy ribbons, headache powders, arcane soda flavorings, fresh collard greens, and a quirky selection of meats.

As I tried to decide between the sage and the hot sage pork sausage, the butcher nonchalantly handed me a sample of souse cradled in a slip of butcher's paper. Now, souse is one of those organ meats favored by African-Americans from the South. It's a kind of gelatinous headcheese that also contains pig's feet and other porcine parts, always sliced thick and served cold.

I thanked the butcher, took a couple of bites of the rich homemade concoction, then discreetly wrapped it in napkin and put the rest of the slice in my pocket—I didn't want to seem ungrateful, and I'd just had a big Bangladeshi lunch in another part of Brooklyn. By the time I got home, I'd forgotten about the souse.

Later that evening, though, over a pasta alla amartriciana I was making for a dinner party, it suddenly came to mind. I didn't have any guanciale (cured hog jowl), which the dish traditionally calls for, but I'd made up for it by adding some pancetta and a slice of American bacon. The tomatoey sauce tasted good, but it wasn't quite there, and my guests were already arriving. So I threw in a cup or so of good wine from Lazio, the area the recipe comes from, and cooked it down. Even that didn't make me happy with either the texture or the taste—the sauce just wasn't rich enough or thick enough.

But, I realized, the solution was in the souse, still buried in my jacket pocket. I threaded my way through my guests to my coat and withdrew the wrapped slab of jellied meat. Bearing it like a technician would a medical sample, I made sure no one was looking and tossed it into the skillet, then watched, fascinated, as the slab dissolved and the supernumerary pig parts disappeared into the flavorful red mash. Sure enough, when I'd stirred and tasted it, the sauce was leagues better, with just a faint whiff of the barnyard to it. And the dish's new name? Spaghetti with amatriciana souse.

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