Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Local … Artisan … Chinese Sausages

When I was younger living in San Francisco, my mom would always ask me to bring home a roasted duck from Chinatown whenever I visited home in Hawaii. Despite my objections to carrying-on the duck where my seat partners would get hungry from the fragrance, my mom pleaded and I always relented.

But after a few years, I switched to something easier to satisfy my mom’s hunger for authentic Chinese delicacies but still allowed me to check in for my flights without the barking of FDA dogs. I brought home freshly made Chinese sausages, or lop cheung.

The Italians have their salumi and the Spaniards have their chorizo. For the Chinese, the lop cheung is king. Chopped into small pieces, they’re found in all sorts of dishes like sticky rice in lotus leaves, daikon cakes, or any kind of claypots. But more commonly, moms would just steam some lop cheong and serve them over steamed rice for the kids. The lop cheung’s salty flavoring from the curing gives it the distinct flavoring.

At various grocery stores, you’ll find vacuum-packed Chinese sausages, many imported from Taiwan or Canada and primarily made from pork products. But I buy mines from only one place: Wycen Foods in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

The shop is out of the main strip in Chinatown’s Stockton Street, but loyal buyers know where to find it. If you’re looking for any kind of cured Chinese delicacies, you’ll probably find it here.

Their products are made locally at their plant in San Leandro. They sell out so quickly sometimes that they don’t have very late hours (I think the Chinatown store closes by 5:30 p.m., earlier on Sundays).

When you walk in, there’s often only one woman working and she means business. She knows her stuff and works efficiently. So that means you really have to know what you’re ordering.

The traditional lop cheung is what I typically get. Wycen offers two types: lean and fatty. Most Chinese moms will go for the fatty because it has more flavor, but I stick with the lean to be healthier and I still enjoy the nice taste. Wycen’s sausages are on the high end, selling for $7 to $8 a pound.

When you look against the wall, you see all the sausages hanging on strings from a pole. Wycen offers up a lot of other varieties such as duck liver and chicken. (I buy the chicken sometimes because I think it’s even more healthy, but they’re often thicker than the lop cheung.)

Wycen also sells a variety of cured meats, including beef jerky and duck and cow parts that are often thrown into braises or soups. I’m not an expert on using these ingredients, but my mom loves to cook with them and often I’ll just repeat what she tells me to order when shopping for her, not knowing what I’m really buying.

This also means that the woman at Wycen speaks primarily Chinese to the shoppers. She does know some English so she’ll be able to help non-Chinese speakers, but don’t expect to hold a long conversation about the artisan nature or local sourcing of their sausages.

I’ll often buy half a pound because one sausage goes a long way in flavoring a dish, and I’ll put my extra lop cheung in a plastic bag and keep them in the freezer. They’re super quick to defrost.

So the next time you’re traveling to visit family or friends, and you’re wondering what else to bring from San Francisco along with your sourdough bread and Frog Hollow jams, grab a couple of pounds of lop cheung from Wycen.

Wycen Foods, 903 Washington St. (west of Stockton), San Francisco. PH: 415.788.3910.


Passionate Eater said...

Your Mom is one lucky lady to have a loyal and attentive son like you. What an incredible shop Chef Ben! You're right, I usually get my prepackaged and vacuum-sealed lap choeng from Ranch 99, but it definitely seems that a future visit to this gem is warranted!

Mrs. L said...

I haven't had lop cheung in ages. My Filipino grandma used to fry that up with some rice and egg as lunch or dinner all the time. Just the thought of it brings back wonderful memories. Thanks Chef Ben! I'll put this place on my places to visit list.

foodhoe said...

Chef Ben, this is another acquired taste that I should work on. I always think it tastes musty... but maybe from here it's better eh? Do you know if the meat is locally sourced?

Chef Ben said...

PE, Mrs. L, hope you like these Wycen sausages.

Foodhoe, what do you mean musty? Is that after it's cooked or before? I can't imagine it being musky because when you cook it, the oil comes out and it has a nice sheen and flavor. But I can see how before it's cooked it can be musty if it spoils because of improper storage. If not kept in a cool, dry place, it can spoil and smell musky. Or it might also be lap cheung you ate that might have more exotic ingredients in them like the ones that are more herbal. Next time we get Chinese food we should order a dish with it and see! :)

foodhoe said...

Oh Chef Ben, I finally came back to re-read this post because I want to find this place to try good sausage. I can't really explain that musky flavor, it's in some salami's too, but I mostly like salami... anyways, I must have been encountering old lop cheung!