Sausage is the star when it comes to Chicago's iconic foods. From hot dogs and Polish sausage for sure, but even pizza, and arguably Italian beef when a combo co-stars with a taut skinned, deeply tanned, charcoal grilled, Italian encased meat.
With the jibarito - the sandwich made with fried plantains - steak or pork in the form of lechon may get top billing, but one sausage should rule them all: morcilla. The Puerto Rican variation of the big, fat blood sausage may look forbidding, but the flavor is quite mild.
At the Logan Square restaurant Jibarito's y Mas, owner Yelitza Rivera makes her own morcilla, but even she understands the concerns.
"Morcilla is not for everybody," said Rivera, with son Jesus Arrieta translating Spanish to English. "It's an acquired taste. People are scared to try it at first, but after they try it, they like it."
"It's filled with rice, pork, blood and secret spices," said Arrieta. "A lot of people buy it from suppliers, but we make it here from our own recipe."
After Rivera makes the raw links, she cooks the morcilla by first poaching them, then deep frying to order for the jibaritos. The result is crispy skin, which breaks to reveal soft, gently spiced rice stuffing. Rivera slices the sausages lengthwise then nestles them on a bed of mayo, lettuce, tomato and American cheese. Sandwiched between garlic-sauced yet crunchy plantain planks, they make sense culinarily and culturally speaking, as you will discover from the first mouthful.
In a jibarito, inexpensive steak is often too chewy, and lechon chunks too hard. But morcilla is just right, melding together the unlikely elements cohesively.
Morcilla can be found at most shops serving jibaritos, and even on a stick at food trucks in Humboldt Park.
While I might believe the morcilla jibarito is the best jibarito, surprisingly not everyone agrees. "It's very good," said Rivera. "My favorite is the steak."
"I like all of them," said Arrieta. "But I love the roasted pork one."
Jibarito's y Mas, 3400 W. Fullerton Ave., 773-799-8601, www.facebook.com/Jibaritosymas