Hot Dog of the Week: Kielbasa from Swiacki Meats in Philadelphia

[Photographs: Hawk Krall]

Every year around this time I rack my brain trying to come up with some sort of holiday hot dog. Most Christmas-themed franks are pretty similar to the Thanksgiving dogs. We've done reindeer hot dogs and last year I created a ridiculous venison chili dog topped with mint aioli, cranberry mustard and crushed candy canes.

While not really a "hot dog," kielbasa is definitely a holiday tradition that any encased meat lover can appreciate. Especially in Philadelphia where the lines at Swiacki Meats are out the door pretty much from Black Friday to New Year's day.

Swiacki Meats is tucked away on an industrial block of the Port Richmond neighborhood, only a few blocks away from a couple of other well-known Polish kielbasa spots. At 10:30 in the morning the line was already almost out the door. As you wait for your turn at the meat counter in the back, pick up rolls, barrel aged kraut, or homemade pierogi in a dizzying array of flavors from traditional potato to blueberry and, because this is is Philadelphia, cheesesteak pierogies (more on those later).

About halfway through the line you come to the horseradish, there's a variety but everybody goes for Zayda's, an awesome local brand ("fresh ground in small batches") who also make great pickles. The guy behind us in line said to get the "extra hot" denoted by the black "X" on top of the jar.

He also suggested the smoked hot kabanosy (pictured above right) a super spicy "Polish Slim Jim" that you can eat cold or cooked, great for snacking with a cold beer.

Finally you make your way to the meat counter where four or five people are furiously weighing and bundling massive ropes of kielbasa and passing out samples of everything. Swiacki sells all sorts of deli meats and a variety of sausage. I didn't see one person walk out of here without at least a few pounds of kielbasa, made and smoked on the premises, under their arm.

Upon getting my haul home I boiled a foot-long stretch of sausage just until warm before finishing it off in an iron skillet with some imported Polish butter I grabbed from a different market. The kraut was warmed up with a few splashes of Polish beer and everything jammed into a roll with lots of "X-hot" horseradish.

The kielbasa was awesome, only mildly smoky but super garlicky and with a crazy snap to the casing, which got even snappier while browning in the skillet. Ridiculously better than anything from a supermarket. Perfect with the kraut and soft roll, nothing really overpowering the sausage if that's even possible.

The "X" hot horseradish was surprisingly bearable (according to the counter guy "the root is weak this year") pretty spicy but my eyes didn't water or anything. The Kabanosy was great too, insanely hot and even hotter when cooked.

Last but not least I cooked up some of Swiacki's housemade pierogies in more of the Polish butter. The more traditional "PCO" (potato cheddar onion) pierogies were delicious, mostly potato with just a hint of cheese and onion. The cheesesteak pierogies were exactly what you'd expect, American cheese and chopped steak meat tucked inside the dough. Awesome. Both could have used a little more salt but nothing a few bites of sausage can't take care of.

Pretty much everything here is amazing, and if you've been putting off checking out Port Richmond kielbasa, like I was, you need to get over here. There's a handful of other Polish groceries, restaurants and kielbasa spots all within a few blocks also worth looking into (which might also be featured here in the near future).

Stan & Ed Swiacki Meats & Provisions

3623 Salmon Street, Philadelphia, PA 19134 (map) 215-634-0820;