North Eastern Thai Sausage, Isan Fermented Sausage Sai Krok
Updated: Jun 30, 2022
After three months of sheltering in place due to COVID19, my Thai Cuisine program has started again and my classmates and I have returned to the kitchen. Our fist week consisted of getting back into the swing of things with an overview of Northern Thai cuisine. We made pork larb, noodle soups (Khao Soy and Khanom Jin Nam Ngiao), Northern Pork Belly Curry (Gaeng Hung Lay) and the famous delicious amazing Sai Oua (sigh-oowa) sausage. While I had made Sai Oua patties before, after my first trip to Thailand in 2017, I hadn't done the full job of stuffing the sausage in casings, so that was my big learning opportunity for the lesson. Using the meat grinder and the natural casing seemed like a lot of work that week, and didn't really leave me feeling too inspired to ever do it again- I peel off the casing anyway! But when we arrived at the North East Thailand / Isan region, my feelings towards the meat grinder changed.
This is when I discovered Isan sausage, Sai Krok. I had seen Isan style sausage sold at street food stands but it never really caught my eye. Visually, compared to Sai Oua, Sai Krok appears... not very special. Sai Oua is so packed with herbs and spices that you can see it through the casing; it's seasoned with so much fresh turmeric that when sliced open, the meat has a rich golden hue. By visual comparison, Sai Krok is a run of the mill pink dog.
However, I sort of knew that Sai Krok couldn't be a plain Jane boring dog - because we're talking about Thailand's Isan region; a place where people create delicious complex cuisine in a largely barren landscape. They are a shining example of creating something from nothing.
So I arrived in class with my curiosity peaked. What will my friend's in Isan have in store for me? What invisible ingredient could they be using to make their local sausage something special? The answer, I learned, was microbes.
Sai Krok is a fermented sausage. As all of us home picklers and fermenters know, microbes aka fermentation is THE magical invisible ingredient that takes an ingredient from just fine to really amazing. Fermentation turns cacao into chocolate and grape juice into champagne! I don't think I need to go on to name a million other fermented foods, I think we're all familiar by now!
I've been experimenting with fermentation since 2012. I cut my teeth on dill pickles and then moved into kimchi, hot sauces, water kefir, kombucha, krouts and yogurts. The one thing I hadn't tried fermenting was meat products, until now.
In class, we sat through our Sai Krok demo as usual, watching the demonstration on the seasoning, working with the natural casing and meat grinder and tying the sausage into links using string. We were given samples of fresh sausage and fermented sausage so we could decide which we preferred. (Spoiler: everyone preferred the fermented version). For the purposes of grading our work, we would be grilling the sausages we made that same day, obviously without fermenting. However, the Chef encouraged us to try fermenting our sausages at home, and said she only required us to present 2 sausages for her to grade; that would leave us with a long link of sausages to hang.
Her instructions for fermentation were very simple. Find a well ventilated area outside of direct sunlight, and hang them to ferment for 2-3 days. Thai people do this outside, so that's at the 85-100'F temperature mark; leaving them out during the day when they can keep an eye on them, and bringing them inside at night to keep them safe from neighborhood pets and pests. She advised if we were to do this in a cold country, the fermentation would happen much slower and we might not see any flavor development for 4 days.