Kulen – A Central European Sausage

Doubtless you know all about chorizo, saucisson sec, maybe kabanos, but kulen? Let Marija enlighten you…

The northern part of Serbia (Vojvodina province), the Slavonia region of Croatia, and Hungary are proud to share the honours for making kulen, maybe the best flavoured sausage in the world (but I am biased).

Kulen originated in the 18th century and was made by Slovaks who migrated from the region that is present-day Slovakia south to Hungary, Vojvodina, and then later in the 19th century into Croatia. Along with the colourful furniture for which they are probably most recognizable nowadays and their amazing culture and history, the Slovaks also brought us some culinary delights, like this wonderful cured dry sausage.

Depending on the region where it was produced, local varieties of kulen took on slightly different recipes, and geographical names such as Petrovački kulen, Sremski kulen, Slavonski kulen etc.

Interestingly, the etymology of the word kulen gives it three potential meanings/origins:

  1. From the greek word kolon meaning large intestine

  2. Derived from the word kula meaning tower, which might indicate the high ceilings used for drying kulen

  3. From kulen or kulien meaning, simply, sausage made of stomach

What’s in a sausage?

Since the beginning kulen has been made simply of chopped high quality pork meat, mixed with salt, pepper and spices. One of the main characteristics of the sausage is its deep red colour, which comes from the substantial amount of paprika that is added. Original recipes for kulen were prepared without garlic, but nowadays many recipes will have garlic added. The only problem with garlic is if you really want to taste the meat in your kulen, then the garlic can be overpowering.

Those of you who have a problem with offal, may not love this part, but, like most sausages, in the 18th, 19th and beginning of 20th century this mixture was stuffed into natural casings that were actually cleaned pig colons. In modern times, to prepare kulen you don’t actually need a pig’s colon, but can instead find industrially manufactured sausage casings. To tell you the truth though there are still plenty of small villages that produce kulen in the original way with all natural materials.

The most important thing to pay attention to while making kulen is to make sure not to leave any air in the colon (or other casing), and the mixture must be placed firmly and carefully. After filling, the sausages are tied with rope which enables them to be hung, traditionally from tall ceilings in order to allow the sausage to dry. Nowadays we have refrigeration and air conditioning, but traditionally winter was the best time of the year for making kulen because of the cold weather. Once dried the kulen is cold smoked for a couple of weeks. The wood selection for smoking kulen plays a very important role, because not all of wood types provide a good taste, the best smoke comes from beech and sometimes cherry wood.

So, once you have your sausage, the big question is how you should eat your kulen. In Serbia and Croatia we serve it as cold cut on plate with some other cooked meat products; hams, bacon, maybe some cheese and hard boiled eggs. And that is just an appetizer. You could also put thin slices on a pizza, basically treat it as you would a French saucisson sec, or a cured chorizo.

…and then take some blood?

In some regions of Serbia and Croatia the basic kulen recipe was “upgraded” to become something called krvavica. The recipe is very similar to kulen, just that in addition to the normal mixture a small amount of pig blood is added. I need to confess that I have only tried that sausage once, and never more. I simply don’t like it. Maybe some of you will find it interesting though, who knows, tastes differ.

Oh, and one more interesting little bit of info about the history of kulen that I found during my research: In 1873 kulen had its first official appearance at an agriculture product exhibition in Vienna. Pretty cool, right?

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