Has to be one of my favorite things. So pretty was that piece of Hidden Stream Farm shoulder from Clancey's , it almost put me off my mission, which was sausage. I could see that layer of fat browning, crisping in a slow oven, I could smell the drippings crystalizing in the pan, and I could taste the rich, yielding meat, flavored with nothing more than salt and pepper and its own innate, juicy porkiness....
I should have bought two roasts. Well, I know where to get more. I carried on with the sausage plan. Some people might look at the task of sausage-making and ask, "Why?" I look at a beautiful piece of pork, some hog casing, my KitchenAid meat grinder, and ask, "Why not?"You see, in keeping with the Alsatian theme introduced in the previous post, I was going to make a choucroute garnie, sauerkraut simmered with wine and aromatics, served with various sausages and smoked meats. I made the sauerkraut myself, and the bacon; it seemed only fitting that I should go whole hog (pun purely intended) and stuff my own sausages.
There is also the matter of what I might call the modern "sausage paradox." To wit: There have probably never been more kinds of sausages available to us, from hot italian to andouille, wild rice bratwurst, sun-dried-tomato-turkey, blueberry-lamb; bangers, merguez, chorizo, boudins blanc et noir, swedish potato; there are fresh, smoked, dried, cured, fermented, natural, organic, free-range, grass-fed, humanely-raised and gently-slaughtered (!) sausages. Sausage, sausage, everywhere!And yet, I have found it impossible to find the kind of sausage I often crave: a simple fresh pork sausage, with a good aroma of garlic, a side note of shallot, and the slightest wafting atmosphere of spice. Sufficiently fatty; not too salty. Where you taste the meat, exalted by its companionable flavorings, not the sausage-maker's overbearing hand. It comes down to DIY.
(As a side note, I'd like to point out, in this time when "charcuterie" is all the rage, that making fresh sausage is not that. The word comes from the French chair, flesh; and cuit, cooked. So smoked meats, dried and cured sausages, patés, terrines and mousses; rillettes, rillons, grillons, rillauds--these qualify as charcuterie; stuffing ground meat in casing does not. I bring this up spurred by the bitter memory of driving across town some years ago in avid anticipation to a restaurant where there worked, said one food writer, a "master charcutier," turning out exquisite examples of that ancient art. Turned out what they had was a guy with a meat grinder, and not much skill at using it. Anyway....)The main thing I want to say about sausage is this: It is not at all difficult to make. The only complicated part of making this sausage was getting it in the casing (Clancey's sold me the casing, BTW; a lot of butchers make their own sausage, and will be willing to sell you natural casing). For that you need the pig guts, which might make you a little squeamish--they do me, I admit--and the equipment--the meat grinder and the sausage-stuffing horn. But you don't have to stuff it in casing. You can make patties, just like a hamburger, or those "Jimmy Dean"-type breakfast sausages. You can form a larger sausage by wrapping the ground, seasoned meat in plastic wrap, tying off the ends with kitchen twine. Then you can steam or simmer the whole thing, in the plastic, and either serve it straight away (without the plastic, of course!), slices on a lovely bed of lentils or a big frisée salad; or, let it cool, then slice it and brown the slices, serve aside a French potato salad, whatever.
These turned out just gorgeous, in looks and flavor. There are good sausages out there, from the smaller, artisan-type butchers, but there's nothing like knowing that only the best ingredients have gone into your sausage.
And just think of the foodie street cred you'll get from stuffing your own....
Good Fresh Pork Sausage
2 pounds fatty pork shoulder, or a mix of leaner shoulder and pork belly--it should be at least one-quarter fat
1/4 cup dry fragrant white wine, such as Alsatian "gentil"
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 Tbsp)
1 tsp butter
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1/8 tsp quatre-épices (recipe in this post)
1/8 tsp piment d'espelette
1/2 tsp black peppercorns, crushed (as for mignonette)
2 bay leaves, broken in pieces
a few sprigs fresh thyme
Cut the pork into strips small enough to fit into your meat grinder.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for just a minute, to soften slightly and take off the raw taste. Remove from the heat and let cool a few minutes. Add the vinegar and swirl it around. Add to the pork along with the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and let marinate several hours or overnight.
Remove the bay leaf and any thyme stems. Grind the meat: I like some texture to my sausage, so I use the coarse blade on my KitchenAid grinder. I run all the meat through once, and then run most of it--2/3 to 3/4--through again. For a finer texture run it all through twice; for even finer sausage, switch to the fine blade after the first grinding and run some or all the meat through again.
Work the ground meat with your hand or a spatula for a minute or so, until it is well mixed and starts to stick to your hand.
Remove the blade and the cross-shaped grinding doo-hickey from the mixer. The screw mechanism, the thing that fits into the mixer body and turns to move the meat through the grinder, will be just sort of hanging there. Make sure it's pushed all the way back into the mixer, and tighten the fastening screw very well. Put on the sausage-stuffing horn. Fit the casing over the horn, gently working it on until it's all snugged up to the end of the horn nearest the mixer. Tie a simple knot in the dangling end. Have at hand something to poke little holes in the casing as you stuff, to let air out and get the meat packed tightly in. I used a bamboo skewer.
Now turn the mixer on to 1 or 2, and feed the ground meat into the feed tube, pushing it down with the plunger. Take your time. If you haven't done this before, it might be a good idea to have someone help you. As the meat starts to come out the horn and into the casing, work it to the far end with your hand. Use your skewer to poke out the air pockets. You want the meat in there good and tight. Keep feeding, poking, packing, until all the meat is in the casing. If you still have air pockets, or the meat isn't in as tight as you want, you can still fix it once the sausage is off the machine. Tie off the loose end, squish, push, poke until your sausage is nice and plump, then retie the end to keep it all together.
I did not have good instructions for making the links; it did not matter. I simply decided how big I wanted the sections--five to six inches--and pinched and twisted at intervals. The casing was surprisingly durable. I made several twists at each interval, then set the whole thing on a rack set on a baking sheet.
Now let the sausages sit out at room temperature for a couple of hours, then stick the whole thing in the fridge, uncovered, to dry out a bit overnight. This drying process did the trick in having the links set up and keep their shape. I was then able to cut them into individual sausages.
Keep in the fridge to use within a few days, or freeze for later use.
Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw