I come from a glorious tradition of Sausage Makers. Sausage was the comfort food that we had at midnight on New Year’s Eve, at Gatherings of La Famiglia, at family picnics, and rescued out of the tomato sauce on Thursday night. Now we have them for the summer variant of “Chicken Soup Night” on Sunday – which looks a whole lot like Sunday BBQ. Randomly, throughout the year throughout my childhood, the menfolk would gather around a table and The Uncles would get out their “sausage maker”. The sausage maker was a terrifying contraption made of cast iron bits and bicycle chains and it had a kill switch that you leaned your hip into in order to make the motor go. This was one of those things that you’d find as a prototype in Sweeny Todd’s granddad’s basement. Or Vincent Price’s mantel place as his favourite movie prop. Necessity is the mother of invention, and La Famiglia needed their sausage.
The Making of the Sausage was traditionally (in my family at least) an adventure split along gender roles. The menfolk carved the meat off the pork shoulder bones, mixed the spices in, and worked the sausage maker. The womenfolk rinsed the casings and set them up for the menfolk to thread onto the nozzle. This all happened way before I was old enough to participate in the process, but I was aware enough to know that much.
My gentleman associate became a hunter when we lived in the Great White East of Ontario. We borrowed the sausage maker and made venison/pork sausage. After a few times with Uncle Jack and my dad at driving the process, we knew we could do it ourselves. We got our own official-like factory-made CSA Certified grinder/stuffer, Then we expanded our repertoire to include Kielbasa (that we freestyled every year based on a combination of several recipes) and pepperettes. Mostly, though, we watch the weekly grocery flyers and when Dipietro’s has pork legs on sale for $1.00 a pound or so, we check the calendar. If we’ve got some uninterrupted time in there, we get a couple of legs and it’s Sausage Party time!
Sidebar: My dad still uses pork shoulder, but Mike likes pork legs. Your mileage may vary. But I suggest you be VERY EXPLICIT with your dad when you say that there are LEGS on sale, and when he says “Get 2” You ask him at least 12 or 15 times if he means LEGS (which are about twice the amount of meat as SHOULDERS) or SHOULDERS. This is critical to your sausage success. Why would I lie about what I said was on sale? #reasonsigetkickedoutofthewill
But I digress.
To the method!
Let me start by saying that this is not a solo endeavour. You need a partner.
Debone your pigparts and cut them into pieces that are the right size to feed into your grinder.
Then, grind, grind, grind the meat.
The sausage that Mike and I make is Italian style. It’s made of pork, salt, pepper, fennel, and crushed chili flakes. That’s it. No filler, no mad-scientist recipes… easy-peasy. We sometimes put some garlic salt in there too. If you just want Plain-Jane sausages, you don’t have to put anything in there. If you want to make honey garlic or something fancy like that, maybe you talk to Dr. Googlez. Or, wing it. You’re going to do test tests before you start pushing the sausage into the casing, so you can adapt if you want. Anyway, gather the ingredients you’re going to add to your sausage. We don’t set things out in a fancy mise en place process, but you could, if you wanted to be precise. We’re about the handfuls, not the careful measurements.
We use our biggest metal mixing bowl and fill it 3/4 or so with meat, then add palm-fuls of spices. I’d say we use maybe a third of a cup of salt, about 30 cranks on the peppermill, 2 tablespoons of fennel seeds, and 1-2 tablespoons of crushed chilis. You’ll also likely need to put a bit of water in there. Add it by the half-cupful to help the mix come together. For each “batch” in my biggest mixing bowl (which is, perhaps, 18 inches across the top), I add about half a cup. If you’re mixing it in a bigger vessel, you might need more.
While one of you is stirring up the mix, the other one can prepare the casing.
When you buy sausage casing, it comes in a plastic tub, covered completely with salt. The butcher will put the casings through a loop so that they don’t just end up in an unholy tangle. At DiPietros, the tub makes 18 meters of sausage. It’s shrivelly and sad looking to start with.
Rinse the salt off the casing and put the whole loop of them in a bowl of cold water.
Remove one casing from the loop and open it from one end (this is sometimes furymaking. Take deep breaths) and fill it with water. This task will explain why you don’t make water balloons with balloon animals. As you get a few inches of water into the casing, push it down the length of the casing to prime and soften the full length.
Rinse it several times. After the first time or two, you can just let the tap run right into the casing and it will fill in the length on it and empty out the bottom. When the casing is pliable and ready, put it in a bowl filled with water, and rest the end over the edge (so you can find the end later).
When you’ve got half a dozen casings prepared, put the first casing over the sausage stuffing nozzle. Try to not overlap the casing, or it can tear when you’re filling it. Ask me how I learned that. *sheesh*.
Back to the mixer’s job. Take a golf-ball sized bit of seasoned meat and cook it. We do it in the microwave for expediency’s sake, but you could fry it, too.
Everyone gets a little bite to ensure that it’s well mixed and appropriately spiced for everyone’s liking. Once everyone agrees that it’s good, it’s time to make the sausage!
One person pushes the meat back through the grinder (now outfitted with the stuffer and the casing), and the other kind of controls the speed at which it comes out the end. You want the sausage to be firm, but not burst the casing. That said, it’s going to burst sooner or later, either because there’s a nick in the casing to start with, or because you overstuffed it, or the person feeding the ground meat through pushed an air bubble in that you couldn’t spread out, or you twisted the casing on the way on. I try to twist it into a coil as it’s coming off the grinder to managing the natural inclination it has to twist.
And that’s it. Fire up the bbq and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Happy bbq season, friends!