Sausage is like the chicken soup of the meat world. From juicy Italian pork sausages, to spicy Mexican chorizo, to the firm and dry sausages in Asia, almost every culture has their version. Most likely this widespread culinary theme comes from frugality. How better to use all the odds and ends of the animal?
Making bacon from scratch last summer was a revelation. Not only was it great tasting, but it was easy and soon we were on the hunt for what to make next. My mom wanted to make prosciutto, but I thought trying to cure an entire pig’s leg was a bit ambitious for our next porktastic project. I bought her Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie for her birthday and since then we’ve been talking about making sausage from scratch at home, including stuffing it into casings. Fortunately, I already had the grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid Mixer but I did have to buy the sausage stuffer attachment.
Because I’ve been trying to eat healthier, which includes eating less meat, when I do eat it I not only want it to taste good, but be good for me (well, as much as 25% fat sausage can be). Making sausage at home is a great way to have control over what goes into your food. I’ll admit, this time we did not go so far as to source out naturally raised pork, but at least I know the quality of the meat and every other ingredient in the sausage. I can also be sure there’s no filler, no by-products, no preservatives, and no unidentifiable or unpronounceable ingredients.
We started by reading the chapter on fresh sausage making in Charcuterie for inspiration and information on the basics. I highly recommend this. Then we gathered our tools, supplies and ingredients.
We started with 8.5 lbs of pork shoulder, which when cleaned of any sinuous pieces and large fat pieces, yielded approximately 6.5 lbs of meat.
To this we added extra fat, taken off the shoulder pieces and purchased pork belly fat so that we could have the proper ratio of fat to meat. In the end, we had slightly more than 8 lbs total of pork and fat cut into 1″ pieces.
Tools and supplies:
KitchenAid Standing Mixer*, bowl and paddle attachment for mixer
sausage stuffer attachment
Bowl large enough for ice, to set under the bowl with ground meat.
Casings for the sausage
Meat and seasonings
Sharp knife & cutting board
*When looking for the links to the Kitchen Aid items on Amazon, I noticed they are currently offering a free Grinder Attachment (via mail in rebate- $49 value) with a purchase of a standing mixer before 5/29/2010!
Grinding the meat:
The first step is to make sure everything is very, very cold. This will make the grinding process easier and is better for health and sanitation reasons (bacteria multiplies in warmth). I cut the pork into slices, laid it on a sheet pan and put it in the freezer for about half an hour. This made it very firm and much easier for us to cut into the 1″ cubes. We then laid the cubes of meat back on the sheet pan for another 1/2 an hour to get them firm again. I also put the metal grinding blades in the freezer.
Get your workstation set up, clean and ready to go before you start grinding:
- Set the bowl into which the meat gets ground on ice.
- Assemble the grinder attachment onto the Kitchen Aid
- Take a portion of the meat out of the fridge/freezer. We divided our meat into 3 batches so we could have 3 different sausage flavors; each batch was 2.5-3 lbs.
Follow the instructions with the kitchen aid and be careful. The wooden pusher comes in really handy. If you are short, like we are, you may have to stand on something to get enough leverage to push down on the meat.
Make sure you have a good mix of meat and fat as you push it though the grinder. Watch your fingers and toes!
We ground the meat into the bowl, added our seasonings, then mixed it with the paddle attachment for about 2 minutes as per the instructions in Charcuterie. What we did not do was season the meat before grinding it, as the book suggests. I don’t think skipping this step changed anything as we let the seasoned ground meat rest overnight anyway.
Once the meat was seasoned, we cooked up a little patty so we could taste it and check. This is an important step. With each batch we added seasonings to correct to our palate.
We made three flavors; Garlic and Fennel Seed Sausage (see recipe below), Spicy Sausage with Smoked Paprika and Italian seasonings, and a Thai inspired sausage with Ginger, Lime Zest and Cilantro.
This cutting, grinding and seasoning process took us about 3 hours on a Saturday. Obviously, it would have been less if we’d started with a smaller amount of meat, but we figured if you are going to do it, go big or go home!
Garlic and Fennel Sausage Recipe
3 lbs pork (meat and fat combined, about 36 oz meat, 12 oz fat for a 25% ratio)
2 Tbsp fresh minced garlic
2 Tbsp fennel seed, toasted and ground in a spice grinder
2 Tbsp Kosher salt
1 Tbsp black pepper
1/2 cup red wine (some sort of liquid is important)
Grind the pork and the fat. Combine with seasonings using the paddle attachment and bowl of the Kitchen Aid mixer. Mix on medium for about 2 minutes and chill.
The next day was the stuffing process. My mother ordered 100 feet of natural hog casing from Butcher & Packer, a sausage making supply company online. You would think in a city the size of Los Angeles, it would be possible to buy it here, but we didn’t have an easy time finding a place near us. The casings come vacuum packed and salted. They have been cleaned, but need to be soaked for 30 min to 24 hours and then rinsed in cool water before using.
Put the casings on the extruder tube. This was a bit arduous as the natural casings have variations which make it difficult at times to slide them on to the tube. Many jokes of questionable taste were made during this process.
The stuffing process definitely had a learning curve to it. This is where it pays to have two people; one to push the meat into the extruder and the other to pull the sausage off at the same rate it’s being extruded. It is possible to twist the sausage into links as it comes off, but this is not a skill we mastered the first time around. Instead, we let it coil into one long length and then formed the links later.
The bulk of these sausages were frozen and then grilled at a dinner party we had a week later. They thawed beautifully and grilled up perfectly. My mom made home made marinara and pasta to accompany the sausages and everyone loved them.
- Have two people for this process, it’s much easier. We spent a few hours each on a Saturday and Sunday for this, but it can be done in one day.
- Use a ratio of at least 25% fat to 75% lean/regular meat or the sausage will be too dry.
- Wear plastic gloves. I didn’t, and even though I washed my hands about 1000 times that day, I had a few little cuts which were not happy the next day after being exposed to all that meat bacteria.
- Don’t overstuff the casings; they may burst and it makes it very difficult to form the links.
- Buy the book Charcuterie. There is way more detail and information than I can possibly provide in this blog post.