Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Homemade sausage. Me likey the sound of that!
As much as I distrust folks with hyphenated surnames (my ami Mordecai once stated, quite correctly, that it's difficult to take anyone with a hyphenated name seriously), I think I'm gonna follow Mr. Matthew Amster-Burton's lead and make me some sausage. Check this out:
I often make my own sausage, and if you love sausage, you should do the same. You can control exactly what goes into it. You can make a variety of sausages unavailable in your local market. You can begin with the best local meat. You can use tons of homegrown fresh herbs.
You can make fresh sausage so flavorful that a little goes a long way, and thereby encourage yourself to use meat as a flavoring rather than the main event, just like Mark Bittman told you to.
Wait, where are you going? Look what I’m not going to ask you to do:
Stuff casings. I’ve done it once. That was plenty. Now I make bulk sausage, which is extremely versatile.
Smoke or dry sausages. Not in my apartment. (In fact, as much as I like you, readers, I’d rather you didn’t do any of your sausage-making in my apartment.)
Work with pork fatback. I do buy and use pork fat regularly, but it’s not necessary for good homemade sausage if you start with the right cuts of meat: shoulder cuts of beef, pork, and lamb, and leg and thigh meat of duck, chicken, and turkey.
Now that you’ve calmed down instead of fleeing in terror, let’s begin.
You’ll need two pieces of equipment to make sausage: a stand mixer and its food-grinder attachment. Grinders are available for KitchenAid, Viking, and Cuisinart stand mixers. The stand mixer attachments work better than inexpensive standalone electric meat grinders; they’re also easier to clean and store.
Some people grind meat in the food processor. I have never mastered this and wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re already doing it successfully. For your first forays into home sausage making, you’ll want a foolproof setup.
A third, optional piece of equipment is a spice grinder, as freshly ground spices really shine in sausage. Get one of those cheap little propeller-bladed coffee grinders (your local Goodwill will probably have one, if you’re über-cheap) and use it for spices, not coffee.
No matter what kind of sausage you’re making, here’s the procedure:
Cut the meat into 1-inch chunks.
Season with herbs, spices, aromatics, and salt. (Not to mention dried or fresh fruit, roasted peppers, and any member of the onion and garlic family.)
Grind through the fine plate (the one with the smaller holes).
Stir in a bit of flavorful liquid (wine, vinegar, beer, cider) to help bind the sausage together.
At this point, you can cook a small patty of sausage, taste it for seasonings, and stir in whatever else it needs.
Like cookie recipes, most sausage formulas yield enough to feed a crowd. But I’d suggest making a pound at a time until you find a sausage you really love. Then you can make more and freeze it. I’ve had great luck freezing sausage with my vacuum sealer, the Reynolds Handi-Vac that I paid $9 for when I was experimenting with cilantro preservation.
You’ve probably heard that it’s vital to keep everything cold while making sausage. This is true up to a point. You’ll want to start with refrigerated (or even lightly frozen) meat, and it can’t hurt to put the grinder attachment in the freezer while you’re prepping ingredients. But it takes about one minute to grind a pound of sausage, not enough time for the materials to heat up. So you don’t need to bother using an ice-water bath as long as you get the sausage right into the fridge when you’re done.