Chinese Sausage – What It Is and How to Use It

All of my best memories with family center around food: getting up early with my parents on a brisk October morning to catch a street vendor selling jianbing, my dad’s favorite breakfast growing up; drinking tea with aunts and uncles while eating our body weight in lychee; lingering at the dinner table, bellies full from a meal by the best chef in town—my mom.

After moving away from my North Carolina home, recreating the flavors of my family’s cooking has helped me keep them close. I’ve found that nothing beats lap cheong (the Cantonese name for Chinese sausage) for a quick fix when nostalgia hits, reminding me of the fried rice my mom makes whenever I visit.

Add Chinese sausage please!

Chinese sausage dates back to the period of Northern and Southern Dynasties (~300–500 AD). An almanac from the period describes a unique starch-free sausage-filling-technique that was developed to preserve meat and is still followed to this day. Southern families traditionally made a supply of sausages in preparation for the new year, and many still consider homemade sausages a New Year’s dinner staple.

Chinese sausage is a broad umbrella category encompassing many types of sausage, both air-cured and smoked, from all parts of China as well as Vietnam and Thailand. It can be made from fresh pork, pork fat, livers, and, sometimes, chicken, and tends to be as sweet as it is savory, with a rich, dense, emulsified texture. According to Baidu, Chinese sausage falls into two big categories: a sweet variety from the Canton region, often preserved with soy sauce, salt, and sugar, and a spicy one, made with chili, from Sichuan. Since the sweet kind is by far the most prevalent in Chinese supermarkets in the U.S., I normally compensate by adding plenty of spicy ingredients.

In terms of brand preference, my local Chinese supermarket carries Kam Yen Jan, and I’ve been happy with the pork-and-chicken variety. The kind made with only pork is more authentic, but those made with both pork and chicken have a lower fat content. In general, look for a dried sausage with a marbled pink-and-white exterior in the refrigerated section.

This version is made with pork and chicken.

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