Chinese sausage, also known as lap cheong, is a type of sausage that has been around for centuries. It is made with fresh pork, pork fat, livers, and sometimes chicken, and tends to be as sweet as it is salty, with a rich, dense, emulsified texture. Other meats such as beef, chicken, duck or lamb are often added to the mix. Pork liver or duck liver are often added to liver sausages.
The Chinese name for sausages is “Lap Cheong”, which means “winter filled intestine” or “waxed intestine” because “cheong” not only means “intestine”, but also “sausage”. This sausage is normally dried in air or over low heat. It is used as an ingredient in many dishes in parts of southern China, such as Hong Kong and Southeast Asian countries.
As in other countries, there is no universally followed sausage recipe, but each region of the country develops its own variation, even though the name remains the same. Ingredients such as soy sauce and sugar are added to sausages at very high levels. Chinese rice wines, distilled spirits, or even whiskey or sherry are commonly added to sausages.
Traditional Chinese recipes have been passed down from generation to generation without much understanding of the underlying processes. They are modified today to comply with the safety regulations of the China Meat Safety Department. Sausages are consumed all year round, but their consumption is highest in February, during the Chinese New Year. Approximately 6 inches long, Chinese sausage is darker and thinner than Western sausages.
The most common variety is made with pork and pork fat, but you'll also find other varieties made with duck liver or even beef. Manufacturers are also starting to offer varieties reduced in fat and sodium; however, in the West, it is currently easier to find standard pork sausages. If you visit any decent-sized Chinese market, you'll find an impressive variety of Chinese sausages.
The term lap cheong is generic and covers a wide range of sausages, both fresh and smoked, and extends to sausages from Vietnam and Thailand. Some types are made with liver, others will be dry to the point of hardening like a rock, others will use soy sauce and others will use a simpler mix of sugar and fatty pork. To a small extent, the addition of sugar compensates for the roughness of the salt and contributes in some way to the preservation of the red color in sausages.
Chinese sausage appears in turnip cake, for example, and if you frequent dim sum carts, you'll see it in a variety of other snacks, such as the various fried taro root concoctions. A strong air flow can inhibit drying by creating a harder surface (crust) on the sausage, which will prevent the subsequent removal of moisture.
This brief fermentation will produce a negligible amount of acidity and the sausage will not develop any noticeable sour taste. It is sometimes confused with the native Macau sausage (also known as Chinese sausage) and is used instead of it.
When combined with salt, soy sauce, white wine or cereal alcohol and spices, it imparts a very pleasant flavor to dry sausages. The condiments are added to provide a sweet flavor to the meat that is unique to sausages made in other parts of the world.
The only trick to using fresh lap cheong is to carefully control the browning process since the sugar content of the meat makes sausage slices easy to burn.
This is not unusual since there are Spanish sausages that are made only with blood (Morcilla Lustre, Morcilla Lustre Malagueña). Sichuan sausage also contains red chili powder, Sichuan pepper powder and Pixian bean sauce to characterize sausage with a special flavor.
It is also accepted that the Maillard reaction contributes to the development of flavor and aroma in Chinese sausages.
A larger quantity can be introduced into sausages which will dry as their manufacturing process takes longer and the nitrite dissipates rapidly over time.
Chinese sausage complements rice and vegetable dishes very well. The easiest way to cook sausage is to add it to steamed rice (see How to Cook Chinese Sausages for more information). However such a high temperature cannot be applied to sausages stuffed in larger casings for example 40 to 60 mm since the heat will create a hard surface and the moisture inside the sausage cannot evaporate.