If he didn’t exist, you’d have to be Hunter S. Thompson to make him up. The owner of two beloved, eponymous sausage carts and a brand-new brick-and-mortar establishment in downtown Denver, Biker Jim Pittenger grew up in and around Anchorage, Alaska, eating such military family favorites as “creamed crap on crackers.” Moving to Colorado to study journalism, he wound up working as a repo man.
The Meals That Made Them
An occasional series by Ruth Tobias and Louisa Kasdon about American chefs and the meals that changed their lives.
Instead, he’s been at the receiving end of beaucoup kudos, appearing in Food & Wine as well as Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” and upcoming episodes of both “Ludo Bites America” and “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” singled out by celebrity chef Susan Feniger for his elk-jalapeño-cheddar sausage. We turned the tables to ask Pittenger about the meal that changed his own life:
“I have no real professional culinary training or anything like that. The only time I ever cooked professionally [before launching the cart] was in Wasilla [Alaska], at Big Lake Lodge. It was a stoner haven. The owner would start drinking Oly [beer] at 9 a.m., and by 11 he was switching to 7&7s. And he was the owner, so you can imagine how twisted the rest of us were. I cooked breakfast there for a month before I quit.
“My mom was a horrible cook, but she belonged to the Cookbook of the Month Club for many years. She had this Vincent Price cookbook, I want to say from like ’71 or ’72, and because she was such a horrible cook I used to look at these cookbooks all the time and try to make stuff.
“They were out of town one time, so I had a dinner party at the house. I was 15, 16 — you know, old enough to know how to get into their liquor cabinet and water down the bottles once I was finished with them. That night, I made [Price’s] oyster-stuffed New York steak, a wilted spinach salad and Grand Marnier soufflé. They seemed sophisticated, so I could show off to my friends. My best pal Marc the narc and his girlfriend Candy were there, and I invited a girl named Karen, but she pronounced it Kah-ren. Sheesh.
“I set the table; we cracked open wine; it was a 16-year-old’s version of a real dinner party. You know, half a dozen high school students; they were just as happy eating McDonald’s French fries. But it got me laid. I ended up marrying a girl named Karen, what do you know about that? And I learned that it’s just not that hard to put together a meal — that cooking is one thing I’m pretty good at.”
Biker Jim has gone on to offer every kind of sausage from red-wine and black-pepper yak to herbed duck with caramelized apples and wasabi aioli. But the concoction that reminds him most of that moment in his teens when he discovered that “I actually have a rather discerning palate” is his “upscale pig in a blanket,” a hand-held take on beef Wellington with Dijon cream, mushroom duxelles and Bordelaise sauce. Though it starts with exclusively sourced ribeye bratwurst, you could, he assures, “get away with a really good, artisanal beef brat.”
The Wiener Wellington
For the Bordelaise:
For the duxelles:
For the Dijon cream:
For the dogs:
- Place vegetable oil, bouquet garni, shallots and garlic a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until shallots are translucent. Add wine and bring to a boil; cook until liquid has reduced by one-third, about 6 to 7 minutes.
- Add stock and return to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until reduced by two-thirds, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat, strain through a fine sieve, and set aside to cool.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, sweat the onion, then add mushrooms and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Reduce heat, add cream, and allow to thicken 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, and season to taste.
- In a small bowl, thin mustard with cream and pour into a small skillet. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Heat oven to 400 F.
- Take one bratwurst and roll it in the Dijon cream. With a spatula, apply the duxelles to cover. Wrap it in a sheet of puff pastry and brush the exterior with egg yolk. Repeat with the remaining brats, place on baking sheet, and bake for about 15 minutes, or until pastry is golden-brown.
- Using a squeeze bottle, drizzle Bordelaise on top of the pastries in a zigzag pattern and serve.
Zester Daily contributor Ruth Tobias is assistant editor at Sommelier Journal as well as a seasoned food-and-beverage writer for numerous city and national publications; she is also the author of the upcoming “Food Lover’s Guide to Denver & Boulder” from Globe Pequot. Her website is www.ruthtobias.com or follow her @Denveater.
Photo: Biker Jim Pittenger. Credit: Ruth Tobias