There are more than a few guarantees to an Alaskan summer, the endless sunlight, late night hikes, salmon runs, traffic on the Seward Highway, and baseball at midnight. Speaking of baseball, what better way to watch America’s pastime under the midnight sun than with another guarantee from Alaska’s summer months: the beloved caribou sausage.
Though they may be scarce in the winter, caribou sausage carts come out of hibernation around April, and I couldn’t be happier. Seeing one in the wild is a treat that never gets old, to both tourists and locals, and I love seeing someone grilling up their own caribou sausages at a cookout. However, when that beautiful, plump, juicy sausage is plopped in a cakey bun and topped with yellow mustard and ketchup, a small part of me dies.
So let’s spruce up your barbecue game with a sourdough pretzel bun and some of my favorite toppers for caribou sausage: pear chutney, roasted onion relish, and pickled mustard seed. These are great dishes to bring to any cookout or barbecue. They go great on hot dogs, hamburgers, charcuterie boards, or your favorite Alaskan sausage. Put down the ketchup and elevate your caribou sausage experience.
For the pear chutney
- 2 firm brown pears, diced in ¼ inch cubes
- 1 sweet yellow onion, diced
- 6-8 sprigs of thyme, stems removed and lightly chopped
- ¼ c apple cider vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
Remove the core from the pears and dice into 1/4 inch cubes. I like to use firm pears because soft pears will break down in the chutney, resulting in a saucier relish. Add two tablespoons of oil to a skillet over medium-low heat and begin to sweat the onions with a bit of salt. Continue cooking the onions, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. Try not to brown the onions, keeping your temperature low will help bring out the sweetness. Add the pears to the skillet and adjust your flame to medium. If your pears are firm they should start to just break down after about 10-15 minutes of cooking. At this time, raise the flame to medium high and add the herbs and cracked pepper. Once the pan is hot, add the vinegar and deglaze the pan, stirring until the vinegar is nearly evaporated. Taste for salt and pepper and transfer to a plate or cookie sheet to cool. Serve hot or cold on anything from caribou sausage to pork chops.
For the roasted onion relish
- 8 oz pearl onions, peeled and halved
- 8 oz grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if necessary
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 2 sprigs of rosemary, stemmed and finely chopped
- 1 c apple cider vinegar
- 1 c water
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp cracked pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat a cast iron skillet with a little oil and place over a low flame, while the pan is still cool, arrange the onion halves cut-side down on the skillet. Gently crush garlic cloves, leaving mostly intact and place on top of the onion halves. Roast the onions and garlic in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the onions begin to caramelize and brown. Mince the now roasted garlic and add to a mixing bowl along with the roasted onions, tomato halves, chopped rosemary, and cracked pepper; toss to combine and transfer to a pint sized mason jar. In a medium saucepan, bring the water, vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil and set aside for 5-10 minutes. Pour the brine over the relish and allow to pickle for at least 3 hours. Serve over your favorite caribou sausage or hamburger. This relish is best served within the first 2-3 days, as the tomatoes break down in the brine, however, it can then be used as an amazing addition to bruschetta or a great way to liven up a tomato sauce.
For the pickled mustard seed:
- ⅓ c whole mustard seeds
- ½ c white wine vinegar
- ½ c water
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 shallot, finely sliced
Bring the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Add shallots and mustard seeds, and simmer on low for 20-30 minutes or until the mustard seeds have absorbed all the liquid and become soft. This is a powerful condiment and adds a wonderful texture and flavor explosion to any meal. Outside of barbecues, try it on steak, eggs, potato salad, or my favorite: roast chicken.