Secrets to the perfect sausage

July 23, 2009 4:38:26 PM PDT
Chef Bruce Aidells shares his secrets to the perfect sausage!

Village butcher shops in Italy can be very convivial places and often the butcher will greet regulars and friendly looking newcomers with a slice of house-made salami, glass of wine, or even a glass of grappa (a distillate made from grape must) and many times I've been fortunate enough to participate in this ritual. Because of my shared interest in sausage-making , I've been invited to stay to witness the making of the salsicce (fresh sausage) I've noticed that not only does the butcher imbibe in some of the welcoming wine or grappa , but that some of the beverage makes its way into the sausage as well. While the alcohol taste is not overpowering, the wine or grappa provide a great background flavor to enhance the sweetness of the pork in the sausage. Here's my version of great Italian sausage:

  • 2 ½ pounds pork shoulder
  • 6 ounces pork back fat
  • 4 ounces pancetta
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon crushed fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon fennel pollen or 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • 2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 Tablespoons grappa or other grape eau de vie (optional)
Process:

Grind the meat and the fat and mix with the remaining ingredients. Cook a small patty so you can taste it for flavor and make adjustments for salt, pepper, and other ingredients. Stuff the groud mixture into casings.

From Bruce Aidells's Complete Book of Pork: A Guide to Buying, Storing, and Cooking the World's Favorite Meat

Chef's Note:
Italian butchers will often hang fresh sausage in the shop for a day or two to allow the flavor to mellow and develop a slight aged flavor. I don't consider this a safe practice for the home cook but I do like the aged flavor, which is achieved by adding some pancetta (cured pork belly) to the ground pork initially. You may substitute fresh fat or salt pork if you don't want to use pancetta.

To make sausage using a meat grinder: You can use a hand-cranked or electric meat grinder to make sausage ( the grinder attachment to the KitchenAid mixer works very well), but you'll need the type of grinder that has interchangeable plates with several sizes of holes. Cut the meat and fat into 3/4-inch-wide stripes, spread them out on a plate (separating the meat and fat), and put the plate in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up the meat and fat and make it easier to grind. Using a 3/8 -inch plate, grind the lean meat into a large bowl and put the bowl in the refrigerator. Change to a 1/8- or 1/4 -inch plate and grind the fat. Combine the meat, fat, and remaining ingredients and mix everything together with your hands, squeezing, kneading, and folding to blend the mixture well. Do not over mix, however, to the point where the fat begins to melt- you just want the ingredients well distributed. Make a small patty with the mixture and cook it in a small pan over medium heat. Refrigerate the rest. Taste patty and adjust the salt, pepper, spices, and sugar as necessary.

To make sausage using a food processor: Cut the meat and fat into 3/4 -inch cubes, spread them out on a plate (separating the meat and the fat), and put the plate into the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up the meat and fat to make it easier to chop. Put the food processor bowl and blade in the freezer as well for the same amount of time. Set up the processor and add just enough meat to cover the blade (depending on the size of the bowl, about 1 pound). Pulse to form approximately 3/8-inch pieces; transfer the meat into a bowl and put the bowl into the refrigerator. Repeat with the rest of the meat, adding it to the bowl to chill. After all the meat is chopped, process the fat into approximately 1/8- to 1/4-inch pieces and add it to the meat. Combine the meat, fat, and remaining ingredients and mix everything together with your hands, squeezing, kneading, and folding to blend the mixture well. Do not over mix, however, to the point where the fat begins to melt- you just want the ingredients well distributed. Make a small patty with the mixture and cook it in a small pan over medium heat. Refrigerate the rest. Taste patty and adjust the salt, pepper, spices, and sugar as necessary.

How to make sausage links. To stuff sausage meat into castings, you will need either the sausage horn attachment for a meat grinder, or a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip. You'll also need about 16 feet of medium pork casings for each recipe, available from specialty butchers or by mail-order. Soak the casings, which come packed in salt, in warm water in a large bowl for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Then put one end of a casing over the end of a faucet and wash the inside with warm water. Change the water in the bowl and soak the casings again.

If you're using a meat grinder, remove the plate and blade and fit it with the sausage horn. Pull the entire length of soaked casings over the tip of the horn, gathering it up and leaving a little bit dangling. Tie a knot in the dangling end. Fill the bowl of the grinder with the chilled sausage meat and cranked the meat through the grinder to begin filling the casing. Continue to feed the grinder into the casing until all the meat is used. Have a skewer, pin, or needle at hand to prick any air bubbles that form as the casing fills. The casing should be full, but not tightly packed, or it will burst when you make the links. Remove casings from the horn.

If you're using a pastry bag, pull the entire length of the soaked casing over the end of the tip gathering it up and leaving a little bit dangling. Tie a knot in the dangling end of the casing and fill the pastry bag with the chilled sausage meat. Squeeze the bag with one hand to push the meat into the casing while you use the other hand to hold the casing on the metal tip. Fill the casing with all the sausage meat as described above. When it's filled, remove the casings from the tip. Prick any air bubbles that form as the casing fills.

To form links, begin at the knotted end and pinch the casing between your fingers about 6 inches from the end; you may vary the length if you wish. Move down the casing another 6-inch and pinch again, about 12-inches from the knot. Twist the second 6-inch section with your fingers to make the first two links (twisting the like will twist both ends and seal both links). Proceed down the casing, twist every other pinch to make links. When you reach the end, tie another knot.

To separate the chain into individual links, use a sharp knife to cut through the twisted casings. Refrigerate the sausage immediately and use within 2 to 3 days; or wrap the sausage well in plastic wrap or foil and freeze for up to 3 months.

About Bruce Aidells
Bruce Aidells is America's "go-to guy" for all issues involving meat and meat cookery. He is called upon for information and insights for most national newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and many more. Aidells, who founded Aidells Sausage Company in 1983, also has a reputation as an innovator in the gourmet sausage industry. While he left the sausage company in 2002 to continue to pursue his food-writing career, he is still considered a renowned expert on charcuterie and salumi.

Since 1982, Aidells has written 11 cookbooks. Four have received cookbook award nominations. His first book, with Denis Kelly, Hot Links and Country Flavors, received the IACP Julia Child award for best single subject cookbook in 1991. The Complete Meat Cookbook was nominated for a James Beard Award in 1999 and Bruce Aidells's Complete Pork Book received another Beard nomination in 2005. His other titles include Flying Sausages and Bruce Aidells' Complete Sausage Cookbook. In addition, Aidells contributed to The Joy of Cooking, 1997 Edition, writing the meat, poultry and stuffing chapters. Aidells recipes have appeared in over 30 cookbooks as a guest contributor and he wrote the key meat tips for The All New Good Housekeeping Cookbook.

Aidells has often appeared as a guest on TV and for the last 3 years has had a regular cooking segment on View From The Bay on KGO, the San Francisco affiliate of ABC. Aidells has appeared on NBC Today, Martha Stewart Living Al Roker on the Road, The FoodTV Network and many other cooking shows.

Aidells is a frequent guest not only on local Bay Area radio but many national shows including Fresh Air with Teri Gross, The Splendid Table and Everyday Cooking with Martha Stewart.

Aidells is a contributing editor at Bon Appetit Magazine and Eating Well Magazine as well as a regular contributor to Fine Cooking, Food and Wine, Gourmet, Cooking Pleasures, Real Food and Cooking Light Magazines.

Bruce Aidells is married to Nancy Oakes, Executive Chef and Co-Owner of San Francisco's top-rated restaurant, Boulevard Restaurant. Aidells and Oakes live in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sonoma Wine Country.


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