When the weather starts to get colder and the days shorter, there is one Dutch product, one delectable indulgence, that constantly preoccupies me. It may well be one of the few things I love about autumn and winter, and it is as much an iconic part of the country’s culinary fiber as stroopwafels (syrup-filled wafers), raw herring or chips with mayonnaise. Only it’s that much better, if you ask me.
I am, of course, referring to Dutch rookworst. The thick, juicy and delicately spiced sausage always manages to tempt me and occasionally makes me forget any kind of dietary restraint.
By mid-September, I start to come up with excuses to visit the HEMA, just so I can score a half a rookworst, piping hot and ready to be devoured with a generous amount of yellow mustard.
I’m not alone in my love for the Dutch sausage. The HEMA reportedly sells one rookworst (one of their most popular products) approximately every three seconds. And I’m not even counting the vacuum-packed varieties sold at the supermarket, which find their way into Dutch winter food staples such as stammpot (potato and vegetable mash) and erwtensoep (pea soup).
But what about the history of rookworst? How far can we trace back the love affair between the Dutch and their favorite sausage? It is believed that the first people to ever make sausage (the non-smoked kind) were the Babylonians. That was roughly three thousand years ago. Their method was later copied by the Romans, who some say, began smoking sausages after they learned the technique from the Gauls.
It wasn’t until the 18th century, though, that Dutch cookbooks first made mention of smoked sausage. Back then, it was only prepared in the month of November, the traditional butchering month or ‘slachtmaand’. In De Volmaakte Geldersche Keuken-meyd, dating to 1756, precise instructions are given on how to smoke sausages by the fireplace or in special smoking rooms using oak or beech wood. Gelderland was the province that had the largest supply of these types of wood. There, pigs were also treated like kings and fed an exquisite diet of acorns, buttermilk, potatoes and rye bread, making for much tastier meat. It isn’t any wonder then, that the province became the leader when it came to smoking sausages. Interestingly enough, ‘Gelderse’ rookworst, doesn’t have to come from Gelderland anymore!
Dutch rookworst really became popular during the Second World War. At the time, the list of ingredients included everything but meat; it was actually marketed as an inexpensive product. After the war, meat – at first, predominantly waste products from the industry – was gradually added. There was little ‘smoking’ involved to speak of. And that’s still pretty much the case today. As a matter of fact, many Dutch smoked sausages aren’t even smoked! Instead, they get their smoky flavor from additives. Luckily these days, rookworst is made of pork, beef or even chicken, and for the real connoisseurs, finer varieties with better quality meat can be found at butchers and delicatessens.
As for me, I’ll always have a soft spot for the ones from the HEMA when it comes to sinful wintertime snacking. When cooking, however, I prefer to visit a good butcher. As a properly Dutchified woman, I love a good rookworst atop a plate of zuurkool (sauerkraut) on a cold, winter’s day. I like to stick to traditions. Although, there’s nothing wrong with a little creativity in the kitchen every now and then. For those who agree, here’s one of my favorite recipes – a French clafoutis, made with the ‘oer-Nederlandse’ rookworst.
Eet smakelijk, or bon appétit!
PS: In case you’re wondering… yes, I’ll skip the ‘rookworst chips’ that are currently causing a buzz, thank you very much!
Serve this easy and delicious dish with a green salad and a crisp, white Pinot Grigio.
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 500g leeks, white part only, sliced
- 500g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
- 1 Dutch rookworst, cut in small pieces
- 4 eggs
- 80g flour
- 1 tbsp grainy mustard
- 100g freshly- grated old Dutch Boerenkaas (or cheddar cheese)
- 200ml milk
- salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 200°C and lightly oil a 25cm quiche pan or round oven dish. Heat one tbsp of the oil and sauté the leeks for five minutes. Transfer to the quiche pan, add the other tbsp of oil to your hot pan and sauté the mushrooms for 3-5 minutes. Transfer them to the quiche pan as well. Add the sausage to the vegetables. Beat the eggs, flour, mustard, cheese, milk and salt and pepper. Pour this over the veggies and sausage and bake for approximately 40 minutes.
*NOTE: The clafoutis will puff in the oven and deflate as it cools.