Growing up, my family did not do Christmas. We celebrated Chanukkah until adolescence and then kind of remembered it’s not an important holiday anyways and forgot about it. Though my mother made sure we all knew everything Christmas-related was verboten in our house (she became especially militant after my sister and I learned and incessantly sung The Christmas Song by Alvin and The Chipmunks), we were not denied the ecstatic childhood pleasures of frantic wrapping paper ripping, eggnog gulping, and carol singing. As I mentioned before, my dad comes from a large Irish Catholic family, where Christmas is without a doubt the most important, and stressful, day of the year. Every Christmas morning, my father, just barely masking his excitement, would pile us into the minivan to head to my aunt Ann’s house, where the world’s biggest Christmas tree was always propped up to the ceiling by the enormous amount of presents underneath. You can tell that my aunt Ann starts planning for Christmas early – the sheer amount of food would require a few weeks’ preparation, not to mention the cress, the wrapping, the Secret Santa, the pristine strings of holly snaking up the banister. I, too, would start planning early, sending each aunt a detailed, numerated wish list sometime around mid-September. But even more than the presents, eggnog, custard pies, honey hams and ridiculously catchy songs, our hands-down favorite part of Christmas was the kielbasi.
Sometime after the cheese balls, cream cheese stuffed dates, shrimp cocktail and crudité, and sometime before the formal meal, the kielbasi would be served. The bowl of steaming hot smoked sausage rings cooked in a delightfully sticky sweet and savory sauce would be gone before the complimentary toothpicks even hit the coffee table. This is also around the time that my dad, after looking around to make sure my mom was out of earshot, would lean back, lick his fingers, and sigh, “Man, I love Christmas.”
Thanks to Ann, who so graciously shared the recipe with me years ago, I serve kielbasi at the beginning of most dinner parties because if all else fails, the kielbasi will not. Most people ask what’s in it, and I’m always hesitant to answer. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because the ingredients, to me at least, scream “I’m American!!!!” or maybe because I’m scared no one will come over for dinner anymore if they can make their own kielbasi whenever they want. But I think the real reason is that this kielbasi is special. It’s that special moment on that special day when you’re 7 years old and surrounded by family, and, no matter how stressed or pissed or both they may be, everyone comes running, toothpicks be damned.
Just a disclaimer: I’m not pretending to know hot to spell kielbasi. I’ve seen kilbasi, kiolbassa, kilbasa, kielbasa, kolbasa; here in Australia it’s called kransky; in Canada, according to wikipedia, kubasa. What I do know is it’s smoked (or partly smoked) Polish sausage, about as thick as a silver dollar (or an Australian 50 cent piece) with a reddish casing and a pinkish interior. And it’s the best.
this makes enough to put out as an appetizer at a party of about 10, but you can adjust the measurements as you like
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup cranberry or grape juice
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp mustard
3 kielbasi (kransky, colbassa, polish sausage), sliced into 1/4″ (1/2 cm) rings
Put all ingredients in a pot and cook down on medium heat, stirring often, until sauce is almost burning and the sauce is really thick. This will take between 20-30 minutes.
It can be made a few days ahead and reheated.