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Roman in the Rockies

August 20, 2007 |  2:46 pm

Roman2_6 The ancient Romans made a sausage called lucanica. It spread everywhere in the Mediterranean back in the day, giving rise to modern sausages from Greece (loukanikes) to Portugal (linguica).

So what was it like?

The lucanica recipe in a 2nd century Roman cookbook reads pretty exotic. It calls for 1) rue (a bitter herb with a sweet aroma like fresh plums); 2) bay laurel seeds (which taste of bay, natch); and 3) salty, smelly fish sauce. You're supposed to mix ground meat and fat with these flavorings, along with cumin, parsley, savory, salt and whole pine nuts and peppercorns, then loosely fill sausage casings and smoke them.

Well, I happen to have a bay tree in my yard, where its mighty roots are slowly destroying a fence, and I have a smoker. Say no more. On the eve of a trip to Montana, I made a couple of pounds of authentic lucanica and smoked it lightly on apple wood. Trusting in south-central Montana's devotion to classical antiquity (I may have been misinformed about this), I took it with me to go with a Roman meal of pork shoulder stewed with apricots, chicken glazed with extreme wine reduction, etc.

People went crazy for it. And here's why: It's salty, fatty, a little pungent and very smoky. It tastes like ... Slim Jims. ("Juicy Slim Jims," one Montanan insisted.)

So now we know why lucanica spread like wildfire 2,000 years ago. It's just darned snackable.

-- Charles Perry

Photo by Charles Perry