Alchemy in the kitchen
There’s a air of mystery and magic that surrounds sausage. Taken on its own, the loose, ground pork and hog casings fail to inspire, but combined, mixed, stuffed and knotted? Sausage is elevated into an art form, a mystical craft of flavor, nuance and anticipation.
Considering all that, it comes with little surprise that I had built up a mental block to making sausage. First, I needed a grinder, then I needed a sausage stuffer. Finally, where was I going to hang them? Did I have the proper humidity and temperature? Would I need to purchase a smoker?(actually, I ended up doing so. I talk about it here)
Sausage, and Charcuterie were originally invented to use up the scraps of meat leftover after the prime cuts. The life essence of sausage is economy. Yet even before starting, I had already anticipating needing hundreds of dollars of equipment to begin.
The Lost Art of Real Cooking
Thankfully, The Lost Art of Real Cooking saved me from myself. This splendid little tome was actually written by a relation of a friend who happens to also be my wife’s second cousin (Mennonites, I tell ya). This cookbook shuns formal measurements, exact cooking instructions and finickiness to get back to how cookbooks used to be: a narrative for home cooks that trusts in our innate ability. Rosanna and Ken avoid kitchen gadgets, doodads and gizmos. If there are two options, they choose the simpler, more rustic. Overall, I find this cookbook fantastic: They remind us that even complicated food creations like beer, wine and bread, are actually at their heart based on simple concepts and encourage customizing recipes to your liking.
Ken and Rosanna cover sausage making (god bless ‘em). They call for a knife and a funnel. I was flummoxed: could it be possible? Could I really make sausage without buying a single new gadget?
Yes, it’s possible. Moreover, its freakin’ easy. As the recipe below proves, you don’t even need a funnel!
Making Sausage the minimalist way
I ended up using a food processor to grind my meat. You could also do as The Art of Real Cooking suggests, and simply cut the meat into eraser sized nibs with your chefs knife. In place of a funnel I used a film canister. Using a sharp utility knife, cut the bottom out of the film canister so that you have a tube with two openings. You are now ready to make sausage.
- 5lbs boneless fatty pork butt (also called pork shoulder butt, or sometimes boston butt)
- 1.5 oz (approx. 3 tbsp) kosher salt
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 3 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 cup chilled red wine
- 10 feet hog casings (usually these come dried and salted in a package. Check with your butcher, Italian import stores, or online.
Step One. Soak hog casings in lukewarm water for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours (longer the soak, the less odor). Place your meat in the freezer for about one hour. Remove. Ideally the meat should be partially frozen, but not rock hard. Cut the meat into a small dice (1/2-1/4 inch), removing any gristle and bone as you go. If you’re going to use a food processor like I did, you can stop at this point. If, instead, you’ll be going full rustic with a knife only, continue dicing the meat until you get down to eraser nub sized pieces.
Step Two. Pulse meat in food processor. Don’t over process. You’re looking for a amalgamated mass, not a smoothy puree. Partial chunks and bits mixed with finer grind is perfectly OK.
Step Three. Remove ground meat to bowl. Add wine, garlic and salt. Vigorously mix. This mixing process will help develop the myosin proteins which will act as a binder. This step is complete once the ingredients are thoroughly mixed and beginning to stick in a cohesive mass similar to wet dough. Take a small sample of the sausage and fry it. Taste and adjust seasoning to taste.
Step Four. Get your sausage funnel or film canister ready by pushing the hog casings all the way on, until the excess is all bunched up on the stuffing device. Leave 1/2 inch or so of loose casing. Begin stuffing. Start out slow and experiment. I found that the handle of my rolling pin worked well as a plunger for the film canister. Pack the meat in tight and press. It’s important to keep the ground meat mixture cold so that the fat doesn’t smear. I recommend having two bowls of ground meat. Alternate one in the fridge and one working bowl on the counter. Every so often switch them out.
Step Five. Continue stuffing until you run out of meat. Tie off the end of the sausage. At this point you should have one large spiral of meat. If the sausage is not stuffed too tightly, you should now be able to twist links. Start by twisting one link towards you and then the next away. Any size will do, but 6-8 inches works well for personal sized links. Continue like this until you complete the whole spiral. If you’re sausage bursts during twisting like mine did, simply cut it there, tie off and keep going. Alternatively if you like having one huge link you could just leave it in this spiral form.
Step Six. If you’re not smoking, then congratulations, you’ve finished! For those looking to cold smoke the sausages for extra flavor, proceed to my post on smoking meat.