Time to make the sausage

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A beginner’s guide to great homemade sausages

You may have always heard that nobody wants to see how the sausage is made. But today, that’s not necessarily so. As more people commit to locally grown or made foods and realize that preparing foods at home can be a regular and fulfilling part of their lives, the list of readily available local products has come to include meats. Butcher shops now specialize in locally produced choices, and nearby farms sell meats in large freezer quantities and as direct retail cuts. All offer the opportunity to take local eating — and your own connection to the food you eat — to the next level.

You can make your own sausage. When you do, you’ll know exactly what’s in it: wholesome, delicious, high-quality cuts — plus the seasonings you include to your own taste. Can it be time-consuming? Yes. But one of the fun things about making your own sausage is that you have to taste as you go along! Also, it’s almost impossible to fail, since good sausage is sausage made the way YOU like it.

As with most traditional foods, stuffing natural casings with sausage is something of an art, so reading up or watching a couple of videos on proper technique will go a long way toward making sausage links that don’t burst or tear but instead turn into long, even loops fit to hang in a butcher shop window. A good butcher will have natural casings available for purchase along with your meat or will know where you can get them. Grinding sausage meat and stuffing links require specialized equipment, too, so while making your own links is an interesting and fun way to package your own foods, it’s not necessary. Smoking sausages is also a great — but still not crucial — element to successful sausages.

Pictured are sausages made into natural casing links, but your homemade sausage will taste great whether you pat them into individual patties, roll them into little logs wrapped in wax paper or just fill small freezer bags. The point is that sausages freeze very well, so one day spent making them translates to many days with truly high-quality sausages you can feel great about eating.

The Basics:

These sausages all start the same way: ground pork or lamb with a ratio of 70 percent lean meat to 30 percent fat. If you are grinding sausage meat yourself, you may need to ask for extra fat from your farmer or butcher. Lots of people use pork fat for whatever sausage they’re making. As for the cut of meat, every part of a pig makes great sausage. There’s no need to use leaner, more expensive cuts, however, so choose a Boston butt or shoulder. When using lamb, shoulder is again a good choice. Keep all meat refrigerated right up until the moment you’re ready to begin; meats will be firmer and therefore easier to handle and cut if they are cold. If you’re grinding your own, you’ll have to cut the meat away from bone, then chop the meat into small strips and cubes to fit easily into your grinder. Make sure to remove any connective tissue or gristle from your cubes before starting. Still, be prepared to stop your grinder occasionally to clear its pathway. Cube up the extra fat as well, and add it in a consistent way between meat chunks so that your ground meat will be well blended.

The alternative is to skip the grinding part of the process and simply ask your butcher or farmer for ground pork or ground lamb with a 70-30 mix of lean to fat.

Making sausage is a learning process; as you make each batch, it’s important to fry up little tastes as you add spices. You can easily add more salt or spice, then take another taste. Before committing to an entire batch when adding spices and herbs, you might even want to set aside the sausage in the fridge for a few hours to see how flavors “marry” over time. A flavor can seem stronger or weaker after the mixture has been sitting. All the recipes included here require dried, not fresh, herbs and spices unless specified otherwise.

See for yourself how these sausages are made, and you’ll feel like an artisan in no time.

Classic Country Breakfast Sausage

1 pound ground pork
½ teaspoon thyme
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1½ teaspoons dark brown sugar
1½ teaspoons ground cloves
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon rubbed sage

Mix together well. Wrap tightly and freeze or use fresh within one week.

Here, one basic recipe for Italian sausage can be tweaked for two famous varieties:

Italian Sweet Sausage with Fennel

3 pounds ground pork
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
4 cloves dried garlic, medium size
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons basil
1½ teaspoons fennel seed
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅓ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Mix together well. Wrap tightly and freeze or use fresh within one week.

Classic Hot Italian Sausage

Eliminate the fennel in the recipe above and increase the original ⅓ teaspoon of red pepper flakes to 1½-2 teaspoons, depending on your own preference for heat.

Merquez (a North African lamb sausage)

2 teaspoons whole cumin seed
2 teaspoons whole coriander seed
2 teaspoons whole fennel seed
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3 pounds lamb shoulder, cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 pound fat (lamb, beef or pork), cut into ¾-inch cubes
2 tablespoons freshly minced garlic (about 6 medium cloves)
⅓ cup harissa (a North African pepper paste available in many stores; can be mildly hot to very hot)
⅓ cup ice water

Place cumin, coriander and fennel in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and toast until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and grind into a fine powder. Transfer spice mixture to a small bowl and add paprika, salt and cayenne.

Place lamb and fat in a large bowl. Add in spice mixture, garlic and harissa. Thoroughly coat meat and fat in spices. Place in refrigerator to chill until ready to grind.

Grind mixture through a meat grinder fitted with small die into a large bowl nestled in a larger container of ice. Mix with large fork or the paddle of a standing mixer, not by hand. Mixture should remain as cool as possible. Add water and mix until liquid is incorporated and sausage is uniform and sticky, about 1 minute.

Test a small patty by frying in a pan over medium-high heat until cooked through. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Using a stand mixer attachment or other machinery to evenly feed sausage into casings, stuff sausage into casings and twist into 6-inch links. Refrigerate until ready to cook or wrap tightly and freeze.

Mexican Pork Chorizo

2½ pounds pork shoulder, cubed
½ pound pork fat, cubed
6 tablespoons ancho chile powder
1½ tablespoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
⅛ teaspoon cloves
⅓ cup cider vinegar, chilled

Natural casings, soaked in lukewarm water for 30 minutes minimum and rinsed prior to use

Place chilled pork and fat in a large bowl. Add dry ingredients and toss together to coat meat and fat. Return to refrigerator until ready to grind.

Grind mixture through the small die of a meat grinder into a bowl sitting in a larger container filled with ice. When ground, use a fork or mixer’s paddle attachment to mix on low speed for 1 minute. Pour in vinegar, increase speed to medium and mix until liquid is incorporated evenly into the sausage, about 1 minute. Chill until ready to stuff.

Form a small patty of sausage and pan-fry until cooked through. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Stuff sausage into casings and twist into 6-inch links. Refrigerate until ready to cook or wrap tightly and freeze.


About Author

Tammy Algood

Tammy Algood develops for The Tennessee Magazine recipes that feature farm-fresh Tennessee food. Those fresh, local ingredients will always add cleaner, more flavorful foods to your table. We recommend visiting local farms and farmers markets to find the freshest seasonal produce. For more information about our recipes, contact Algood at talgood@tnelectric.org.

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