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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

America's Other Test Kitchen

It's almost time to make linguica again.

Not like we need to, since we still have plenty in our freezer from last year. However, I realize that not everyone has the skill, equipment, recipe, or family connections in order to be supplied with homemade Portagee linguica each year.

Instead, you're pretty much stuck with whatever is for sale in your local grocery store.

However, I've got some good news for you. And...I've got some bad news for you.

The good news is that Bruce and I stopped at a few large supermarkets in both San Francisco and the Central Valley and bought whatever linguica they had, which we have now finished taste-testing for you.

The bad news is that none of them were “exactly” like the homemade linguica we’ve tasted both at home and at the bullfights.

Essential linguica eating/making condiment/ingredient.

Generally, authentic linguica is pork marinated in red wine with some spices and smoked, and tastes like those things accordingly. When tasting the store-bought linguica, we kept that in mind.

Before we get into the results, a short word on the “science” behind the testing.

For the testing, we cut half of a link from each brand into 4 to 6 rounds and fried them seperately in a little oil on medium-high heat until heated through and crisp on both sides. After each tasting, the oil was dumped out, the pan was wiped clean, and new oil was added to the pan. Also, all utensils were cleaned off between tastings. The cooked linguica were placed on a plate with paper towels to absorb extra grease, with the paper towels changed after each tasting. To keep track of each tasting, scorecards were used to jot down notes on flavor, texture, smokiness, and grading.

We used an academic grading system, with A+ being superior, C being average, and F being failure.

Out of the five brands tested, two (Silva and Wellshire Farms) were fully-cooked. We found no discernable difference in the tasting between the uncooked and the fully-cooked. All of the brands held their shape well while cooking.

All brands ranged in price between $3 and $6.

So now, let’s proceed with the tasting results.


Silva Sausages
Purchased at: Safeway

Grade: C-

This fully-cooked linguica, made by San Jose-based Silva Sausage, was one of the least favorites. It’s packaging claims that it’s hickory smoked, but we could barely taste any smoke flavor. While there were some obvious notes of paprika and sweetness, the sausage was fairly bland and somewhat generic (read: boring). The texture of the meat was ground up and very processed.

I could see this being served at Denny's.


Wellshire Farms
Smoked Linguica
Purchased at: Whole Foods Market

Grade: C

Another fully cooked sausage. Out of all of the brands tested, this had the smokiest flavor. We liked the spicy hot flavor, though technically once the sausage has passed a certain spicy-hot level, it ceases to be linguica and becomes chourico instead.

While we liked the combination of the super-heavy smoke and spicy flavor, we did not like the texture of this sausage at all. It was dry and kind of crumbly and completely overprocessed. I guess that's what happens when you leave the fat out, duh!

Also, the meat didn't resemble pork at all, and at one point I thought it might be chicken. Is this what "natural" pork is like? If so, bring on the Franken-Pigs!

This gets a grade slightly higher than Silva only because it had more character (ie, real smoke flavor).


Fernandes Sao Jorge
Smoked Linguica
Purchased at: Save Mart, Oakdale, CA

Grade: B+

Fernandes not only makes linguica, but also serves as a distributor for Portuguese foodstuffs, such as the really stinky Sao Jorge Lourais cheese (right Chuck?). Out of all of the brands we tried, Fernandes has the least web presence (despite this, oops!) of the bunch and I struggled to find this address for you (you'll have to scroll down a bit).

These linguica links are huge and stuffed with big, meaty chunks of pork and fat, with tiny veins of spice and paprika running through. Heat-wise, the flavor was mild with a strong pork flavor and a slightly winey flavor. It also was visually appealing.

Note: If you click on the picture and read the ingredients, you will notice it contains MSG. I have no problem with MSG, but you might.

The smokiness was moderate; not too noticeable, but not completely absent either. If this linguica were just a little more winey (even though it was the only brand that listed wine at the beginning of it's ingredients) and smoky, it would've easily gotten an A or A+. Instead we rated them B+.

Just don't eat the lupini beans!


Mild Smoked Linguica
Purchased at: Save Mart, Oakdale, CA

Grade: C-

To tell you the truth, I wanted to like this one. However, both Bruce and I thought it was pretty bland and a tinge too sweet. I think the dry milk powder they add to the sausage detracts from the flavor. There was some smoke flavor, but it tasted artificial. Come to find out after reading the package, it was. No noticeable wine flavor. Texture-wise, it was too ground up and processed. And unlike the rest of the brands we tested, the casing was way too tough.

I guess they just do it differently on the East Coast.


Fernandes Sao Jorge
Caseira Home-style Smoked Linguica
Purchased at: Save Mart, Oakdale, CA

Grade: B

Like their other linguica, this has huge chunks of pork interspersed with chunks of fat and spices. This one had a mild, but well-balanced flavor, with noticeable levels of smokiness, but very little wine flavor. While very good, I couldn't really taste a huge difference between this style and their regular smoked linguica.


So, if you haven't guessed, we really liked (ding! ding!) the Fernandes Sao Jorge Smoked Linguica. In fact, Bruce ended up eating the other link shortly after the testing was over.

Fernandes makes a good, hearty sausage that comes the closest to authentic, homemade linguica as you can get from a grocery store brand. Superchunky, with a meaty pork taste, well-balanced flavors, moist, and nicely made. A tad bit more wine and smoke flavor would've given this linguica an A or A+, but for now we'll settle for Fernandes in a pinch.

You go Fernandes!



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