My husband and I both love sausages! German landjager and weisswirst and leberkase, North African Merguez, Croatian Cevapcici, Spanish morcilla, Cajun Andouille, Thai sai oua and good old Vienna Beef hotdogs! But one of our favorites is a juicy and flavorful hot Italian Sausage. Nothing beats the snappy casing or the scalding hot juices shooting out of this tasty encased meat.
THE PROBLEM: commercial hot Italian Sausages never seem to be spicy enough and we both like it HOT!
THE SOLUTION: We'll make our own!
This past Christmas, I got my husband a meat grinder. It was one of those things that I knew he would like, and that I really wanted anyway and had not previously been able to find a legitimate enough excuse to purchase. Hence, the perfect gift. I bought the Sunmile Electric Meat Grinder and Sausage Stuffer for $60 along with some salt-packed Natural Hog Casings and Sausage Making: The Definitive Guide which seemed pretty promising for sausage making newbies. That being said, this account is not a "definitive guide," just an overview of the basic steps to all sausage making. i highly recommend you pick up a book and read through the detailed process before getting started!
The great thing about sausage making is that you don't need many special ingredients. It's a nice way to use up spices, herbs and even frozen meats. We didn't have the right kind of meat for this particular sausage in the freezer, so had to make a quick trip to the store, but everything else needed was just a pantry staple.
First off, cleaning the natural casings! The natural casings came packed in salt and carried with them a smell only a dog could love (and mine did!) Rinsing them consisted of sticking one end on the tap and letting the casing fill up 'til water shot out the other side--Nature's water gun!
After the casings were rinsed, it was on to grinding the meat and making the "farce" (that's the word for sausage stuffing, as well as what this whole endeavor had the potential to turn into!).
I started with one large pork butt (does not actually come from the butt end of the pig, but from the upper front shoulder) cut into 1"x1" cubes and semi-frozen on a sheet tray. Optimal freezing takes about 30-45 minutes and should result in cubes of meat that are crystalized on the outside without actually being frozen through. The partially frozen meat is easier for the grinder blades to cut through, making for a cleaner grind and better texture. But be careful, too frozen and the grinder blades struggle to get through the meat making a horrible sound and potentially killing your grinder. To help keep everything cold, I also put all of the grinding and extruding blades, plates and parts into the fridge before use.
Now it's time to GRIND!
This part is pretty easy. Just force the meat through a few chunks at a time. Let the ground meat fall into a bowl set in another bowl full of ice.
And now it's time to make the FARCE!
Adding spices (I concocted my own special blend of cayenne, cumin, fennel, salt, pepper and extra-spicy dried chiles from my garden), wine and water to the ground pork. the farce is blended gently until it sticks to a downturned palm like this:
Take that little patty and fry it up to taste-TEST your farce for salt and spice. I had to do this several times adding more and more hot peppers and salt. You're also checking to see how the patty holds together as it fries. It should stay together like a breakfast sausage patty indicating that the farce is well-mixed.
Now it's time to get STUFFED!
Sausage stuffing is a bit of an art. Too much stuffing and you'll get a blowout with stuffing oozing out of a hole in the casing. Too little stuffing and you end up with a flaccid encasement instead of a turgid tube. Tie off one end of the casing and let the meat start flowing. Keep a loose grip on the the casing, letting the meat build up inside until it's nice and firm then let a little more casing out until all the casing is full. I ended up with about a foot and a half of sausage that neatly coiled itself up on my sheet tray.
Now TIE THEM OFF:
aim for 6-7 inch long sausages. Twist the first sausage forward 7 times then the next backwards 7 times, alternating until all sausages are formed. Once they are all shaped, allow them to sit uncovered in the fridge overnight to set up and dry out the casing.
Then FRY 'EM UP!
Sausage-making was really fun and I definitely learned a few lessons from my first pass at it.
Lesson #1: Sausage making makes a big mess. Just be prepared with extra bowls, lots of soap and water, paper towels and a splash zone. Every time I pulled the plunger out during the stuffing phase, it was flinging sausages all over the kitchen. Unfortunately, I didn't realize this 'til the next day when I caught my dog licking dried sausage chunks off the wall!
Lesson #2: Don't over-mix your farce. I added several rounds oF seasoning and spices, REQUIRING RE-mixing each time which resulted in my farce being a bit over-mixed. This gave the sausage a good flavor but a smoother texture than I wanted for these rough Italian sausages. Next time I'll start with more spices.
Lesson #3: Take notes. Each round of sausage making is a chance to experiment with different amounts of seasoning, liquids and fats. So take careful notes. If you really liked something, you want to be able to recreate it. And if you didn't like something, you want to avoid doing it again.