Nduja (pronounced en-doo-ya) is Calabria’s contribution to the long list of preserved Italian meat products. Spicy, aromatic, and flavorful, Nduja is well-beloved in its native Italy, though it isn’t all that well known outside the borders, which is a shame.
In the article below, we’ll be breaking down what Nduja sausage is, what makes it unique, and how it’s best utilized in the kitchen.
What is Nduja?
Nduja is a unique type of smoked Italian sausage made of pork. While it looks similar to other Italian salume (if somewhat larger) from the outside - bright red and encased in a pig’s intestine - its texture and flavor significantly differ from other Italian cured products. Where most Italian preserved meats tend to be hard and chewy, Nduja is soft and spreadable, easily scooped out of the casing with a butter knife or a spoon.
Nduja is also brighter red color on the inside due to the high concentration of Calabrian chilis that act as the primary preservative and seasoning for the sausage.
The origins of Nduja are unclear. It’s thought to be based on the French andouille. Still, as with many foods initially made from lesser-quality ingredients and consumed by peasants, historical sources cannot verify when they popped up and how they were first made.
What is known is that it was initially made from leftover trimmings from various parts of the pig, fat, and skin mixed with chilis.
Nowadays, it’s customary to use meat from the head (sometimes even whole, though jowls are traditionally reserved for guanciale), fatback, clear skin, and a hefty amount of roasted Calabrian chilis. Nduja sausage has a very high-fat content that helps it keep the texture and flavor over a long period.
How is Nduja Sausage Made?
Nduja is usually made in the winter. The cuts from the head (sometimes the entire thing, sometimes without jowls if they’re reserved for guanciale) are combined with other fatty cuts, minced and kneaded together with Calabrian chilis.
Unlike many other fermented meat products, it’s the chilis, not the salt, that act as the primary preservative in Nduja sausage. The chilis to meat ratio are traditionally around 30% to 70%, which results in bright red color and highly spicy flavor.
Once the mixture has attained a smooth, creamy, entirely homogenous consistency, it’s stuffed into a cut of a pig’s large intestine, typically a hog middle cap, a durable portion of the intestine also known as Orba.
In the end, it’s lightly smoked, sometimes with some herbs, and left to cure for a period between 3 and 6 months, after which the Nduja sausage is ready to hit the market.
What Does Nduja Taste Like?
Due to the high amount of Calabrian chilis, Nduja has a very robust, meaty, and highly spicy taste. The short smoking period adds a light but not overwhelmingly smoky and slightly herby flavor. It’s somewhat similar to Spanish chorizo in flavor but tends to be spicier.
Is Nduja Safe to Eat Raw?
Yes, Nduja is absolutely safe to eat raw, as is. It’s preserved, fermented, and smoked, all of which make it safe for raw consumption and one of the most shelf-stable Italian salume varieties.
Can You Cook with Nduja Sausage?
Yes, you can cook with Nduja sausage. That’s one of the greatest things about it: while it can be safely consumed as is, raw, with only a cracker or a piece of bread to accompany it, unlike many other smoked and cured meats, it doesn’t lose flavor qualities when utilized as an ingredient in a more complex dish.
Considering its complex - deeply meaty, spicy, herby - flavor, Nduja may not be the most versatile of ingredients there is, but when utilized in moderation and paired with the right foods, it can create unique and delicious flavor combinations that many find appealing, even if they’re not particularly fond of spice.
Nduja can be cooked in a pan, stove-top; can be mixed straight into the dish and fried, baked, or broiled; can be added as a rub or a marinade ingredient; or can be cooked into a thick emulsified sauce.
What Do You Use Nduja Sausage For?
Its ability to maintain flavor qualities when treated with heat makes Nduja sausage quite a versatile ingredient in the kitchen - as long as it’s paired with the right ingredients.
Here’s the thing to keep in mind when deciding what to par Nduja with: you need to catch the right balance with the flavor complexity of the dish.
Nduja is plenty flavorful itself, so adding it to more delicate dishes won’t just add a bit of spice and complexity; it will upset the entire flavor balance of the dish. Think pasta Cacio e Pepe, a simple but delicious dish that’s supposed to be light and peppery. If you add a dollop of Nduja to it, you’ll undoubtedly get a delicious dish, but it won’t be Cacio e Pepe anymore.
On the other hand, adding Nduja to dishes already plenty complex by themselves will likely cause it to be overwhelmed and lost. You can add a dollop of Nduja to Pasta alla Bolognese, but it’s already plenty flavorful, and meat as is, and Nduja’s signature taste would likely get lost.
What Do You Eat Nduja With? 8 Ways to Serve It
If you’ve never used Nduja in the kitchen before, here are a few great ways to serve it, accentuating its flavor and adding complexity and depth to your cooking.
A Spread for Crackers or Toast
At its most traditional, Nduja is a thick spread, typically eaten smeared atop crackers, toast, or sometimes even soft, fresh bread. The great thing about Nduja’s intense flavor is that it pairs well with most types of bread and crackers, so you don’t have to worry about getting the “right kind.” Be it flavored or only lightly salted, white, multi-grain, or sourdough; Nduja will go well with it all.
A Rub or a Stuffing for Meat and Seafood
Adding meat on top of meat may sound ridiculous, especially after I already talked about not pairing it with other strong flavors, but with lighter meats like poultry and seafood, it works great! Think of Nduja as a seasoning, not an independent ingredient in this case. You need only a little bit to rub on top of the chicken or salmon in a thin layer before popping the dish into the oven.
You can also amp up the dish by stuffing a few spoonfuls of Nduja right into the fish you’re roasting whole (like sea bass, trout, or mackerel) or carefully spreading it under the chicken skin with a butter knife. But be mindful of the amount.
Alternatively, if you’re using the pan-roasting method for the chicken breast, shrimp, or octopus, you can just stick a dollop of Nduja in the pan and toss them with it.
A Flavorful Addition for Butter or Oil
If you want to amp up the flavor of your dish with ease, Nduja sausage can be a great shortcut! Just melt some in a pan with butter or olive oil, and there you go, you’ve got a ready-made seasoning. Toss anything you want in the pan, from chicken to potatoes to eggplant, and roast as you would if Nduja weren’t there in the first place. You’ll easily have a more spicy, flavorful dish on your hands.
An Ingredient in Pasta Sauces
While it might not be the best addition to more delicate (i.e., Cacio e Pepe or Pesto) or heartier, meat-based (i.e., Bolognese or Ragù alla Romagnola) sauces, there are more than a few that would benefit from the addition of Nduja sausage.
For example, simpler tomato-based sauces like alla Vodka, alla Sorrentina, or alla Puttanesca would all get deeper, smokier, and more flavorful with the addition of a few spoonfuls of Nduja.
Or you can swap other cured meats with Nduja in classic recipes, adding it to a pan instead of guanciale in Carbonara and Amatriciana or pancetta in Pasta alla Gricia and Ragù alla Pugliese.
A Base for Thick Salad Dressings or Vinaigrettes
Nduja will work fantastically as a dressing or vinaigrette ingredient for salads made up of more neutral ingredients like leafy greens, zucchini, cucumbers, potatoes, eggplants, etc.
You can use Nduja sausage as the primary ingredient, melting it with some olive oil and lemon juice and just pouring it over your salad as is. Or you can use it as a seasoning ingredient for other sauces, like blending a bit of it with balsamic and olive oil or mixing it up with mayo to add spice and meatiness.
A Sauce for Loaded Sandwiches and Paninis
As we've already mentioned, smearing Nduja sausage on top of a slice of bread is the traditional way of consuming it, but it can be the beginning of a more complex sandwich.
It will work particularly well for grilled cheese:
- Smear Nduja on both bread slices.
- Add a few slices of flavorful cheese with good melting qualities (Havarti, Provolone, Gruyere, etc.).
- Stick it in a pan with lots of butter.
On the other hand, the complexity of its flavor allows Nduja to hold its own against multiple ingredients, so you can easily use it as a substitute sauce in a stacked burger, a hot panini stuffed with roasted vegetables or a classic BLT.
A Pizza Topping
The good ol’ pizza is, unsurprisingly, one of the easiest dishes to incorporate Nduja sausage into. I’d advise using another, more robust cheese alongside Mozzarella so that it doesn’t get overwhelmed. Scamorza Affumicata (smoked Scamorza), Provolone, or Gouda would all do an excellent job. Then just add a few dollops (one per planned slice would do) of Nduja on top, along with other toppings (I, myself, like classic Italian sausage and mushrooms), and pop into the oven to bake.
An Addition to Egg-Based Dishes
And last, but not least, Nduja sausage can be easily mixed into most egg-based dishes. While it’s not a great addition to a classic French omelet that is supposed to be airy and delicate, anything less rigid will do. Just mix a dollop or two into cracked eggs and make your own version of omelet; add some to a thick frittata; mix into tomato sauce for Shakshuka, or use the “pan flavoring” method we talked about earlier: just melt some Nduja on the pan with butter or oil and make your favorite scramble or sunny-side up.
How Long Does Nduja Last?
Commercially packaged Nduja sausage or sauce will have a “best by” or “expiration” date marked on the label. As long as the package isn’t damaged, Nduja will remain good for consumption until that date, which is typically between 12 to 24 months from production. If you notice any damage to the package, contact the manufacturer immediately to learn how it may have affected the product.
If you purchase Nduja at an artisanal store, its shelf life will likely be much shorter. Once the Nduja package is opened, it typically lasts between 3 and 4 months, which is the likely shelf life you should assume for an artisanal product. But, still, ask the seller what timeline you’re working with to be sure.
How Do You Properly Store Nduja Sausage?
Nduja should be kept in a cold and dry environment whether the package is sealed or open. For most of us, that means keeping it in the refrigerator.
Once the package is unsealed, transfer the sausage to an airtight container to better protect its texture and flavor qualities and maximize its shelf life. Kept this way, Nduja will last for about four months.
If you want to keep unsealed Nduja for longer than that, you can separate it into portions, wrap it in plastic wrap, and freeze it. Frozen Nduja can last up to 6-8 months, but keep in mind that thawing will likely influence its flavor and texture. While Nduja sausage’s high-fat content means the texture and flavor can both stand this treatment better than more delicate meat products, it still won’t be as robust and smooth defrosted as it was before freezing. Thawed Nduja might be better used as a cooking ingredient than a raw spread.
Visit Yummy Bazaar’s Italian Store for More Salumi Options:
Yummy Bazaar hosts a wide range of gourmet-quality smoked and cured meats from some of the best Italian producers at our Italian food online store! Assemble a charcuterie board, experiment with the dishes, or enjoy them with some crackers and wine. The choice is yours. All you need to do is check out the selection, stock the cart, and we’ll deliver your favorites right to your doorstep.