Kulen and kulenova seka
Kulen and kulenova seka
Kulen, or kulin, is the most prestigious, most appreciated and yes, the most expensive sausage-type product, not only in Slavonia but across Croatia. The recipe to which it is made seems very simple: the best parts of pork cleaned of all fatty and connective tissue, ground paprika, garlic and salt are the ingredients used to fill a meticulously cleaned intestine. But as they say, it is not what but how something is made; every nuance is important in the making of kulen and can be a crucial factor at the Kuleniada – a national competition of the grand masters of the makers of kulen.
The pig must not be too young, but rather large, weighing over 180 kg. The breeds most sought after are Mangulica and the black Slavonian pig. Its diet is the key to the quality of meat, the best being from pigs allowed to freely roam the forests and copses of Slavonia and feeding on, among other things, acorn of the famous Slavonian oak. It is believed, and for quite a few it is the normal practice, that the best results are achieved if meat is chopped by hand rather than minced, but there is also a school of compromise: the best parts of meat are chopped by hand for taste, while the rest is minced in order to achieve the consistency that kulen should possess. Garlic is usually strained into the mixture. Of particular importance is the right choice of top quality ground paprika, and the ratio of sweet and hot paprika used, since it is this spice which ultimately gives the product a sharpness that is mild, noble and in no way aggressive. The quantity of salt requires a precision that allows for not the minutest mistake.
The prepared mixture is stuffed into different natural casings, but the best for kulen is a meticulously cleaned and treated blind gut of a pig. The secondary choices are the bladder and the small intestine of a pig, or a large bovine’s intestine. When the kulen mixture is stuffed into smaller intestines it is known as kulenova seka (kulen’s sister).
Kulen being a thick sausage, and kulenova seka also never being a thin one, special care is required when filling the casing; this has to proceed slowly and carefully, since a single small air bubble can prove disastrous during the curing period. Once the filling is completed the casing is additionally salted in brine for up to five days; then, the casing is rinsed well and tied in order to retain the traditional shape even after a curing period of several moths. If the winter is cold and dry kulen is smoked every third day, if it is warm and damp, smoking is carried out every day. The smoking period takes a month, or longer, until it acquires a dark brown colour. The optimum curing period in cold, airy premises, primarily attics, is about half a year, but it is a longstanding tradition in Slavonia that kulen is eaten at Easter. When the curing is completed, the kulen is stored, and the best way of storing it is in cereal grain or in bran. Discussions and squabbles extend from the optimal methods of preparation, making, curing, storage to serving; they are vigorous and never ending.