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The tiny fruit pods (often referred to as seeds) of ajwain, an herb in the parsley family, are common in Indian cuisine. Brian Huston of Boltwood, challenged by Found Kitchen's Nicole Pederson to create a dish with ajwain, says it smells like thyme (it contains thymol, the essential oil that gives thyme its flavor). "You taste it, and it kind of explodes in your mouth. It's a menthol-y flavor, it really grabs you."
Huston did some research on ajwain and learned that it's traditionally used in bean dishes, but he didn't want to go the traditional route. "I thought it could be kind of cool to light something on fire," he says.
Inspired by the fennel flavor of the ajwain, he incorporated it into a lamb and pork sausage, which he grilled and served with breaded and fried Brun-uusto cheese from Brunkow in Wisconsin. Then he made a salad of fennel root, oranges, and olives—"things that can handle being burnt"—placed it on top of the sausage and cheese in a ceramic dish, and poured ouzo over it, hoping to create something reminiscent of flaming saganaki. "I have no idea how much [ouzo] they put in there, but we'll just douse the whole thing," he says. "This could work, or it might not."
He held a lighter to the dish, producing a tiny, nearly invisible flame. Adding more ouzo didn't help it burn better. Tasting it, Huston said, "It's got a lot of ouzo in it. It's good, but we've got to figure out the ouzo problem. I don't think we could do this at the table. People wouldn't be as excited as I am."
Huston tried again with more cheese and sausage, baking the dish to get it "ripping hot," then dousing it with higher-proof absinthe instead of ouzo. That made it burn better, but Huston still wasn't sure he'd serve it. In one form or another, though, Huston says the sausage will make it onto the menu: "I have a pound of [ajwain]."
Huston has challenged Vince DiBattista of Campagnola to create a dish with pig's tails. Huston just got a batch and is planning to experiment with them and "see how Evanston takes to pig's tails." He's already tried and failed with duck hearts. "At my last job [at the Publican] I could sell 20 pounds of duck hearts in a night," he explains. "I can't get rid of five pounds of duck hearts a week in Evanston."
Ajwain seed sausage
2.5 pounds ground lamb
2.5 pounds ground pork
1/4 cup red wine
5 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon ajwain seed
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh marjoram or oregano
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Combine all ingredients and place in freezer until almost frozen. Mix with paddle attachment in mixer until sausage becomes tacky, about three minutes.
If stuffing sausage, soak pork casings in orange juice for 30 minutes. Stuff sausage and tie off into six-inch lengths. Otherwise the sausage can be formed into patties. Grill sausage.
Serve with Brunkow Brun-uusto cheese that's been breaded and fried. To flambee, heat dish with sausage and cheese in a hot oven, douse with ouzo or absinthe, and light on fire.