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There’s just nothing quite like homemade Italian sausage. By controlling the ingredients you put in, you can flavor it however you like,adding everything from juniper berry to fennel and red wine.
As daunting as it sounds (cubing meat, grinding it, seasoning it, and stuffing it), once you make your own sausage, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ve caught on.
So it tastes great AND it’s a confidence booster – what more do you want from your cooking?
What follows are some tricks of the Charcuterie Trade that you may find handy, especially if you’re preparing for your first go-round.
The Cut of Meat
Pork shoulder, all the way. Also called ‘Pork Butt’ or ‘Boston Butt,’ pork shoulder contains roughly a 25-30% fat to 75-80% meat ratio that is ideal for sausage.
When ground, the fat not only helps flavor the meat, it also keeps it moist during cooking and lubes your grinder while it does its job. If all you have on hand is some pork loin or other lean cut, grind in some raw, uncured bacon or fatback (lardons).
Assuming you’re going to be grinding your own meat for Italian Sausage, be sure to cube your meat into pieces small enough to fit into the hopper that feeds the grinder.
Ideally, you want to be able to just drop the meat in and watch it sink down while the auger pushes it to the blade and out the grinding plate. A tamper accessory is available that allows you to push the meat down the feeding tube, but avoid it if you can.
If you have to shove the meat down, you’re going to be creating friction, and that causes heat, and heat is your worst enemy.
Keep Things Cold
As we just mentioned, you want to keep heat away as far away from your sausage as possible. If things get warm, you’re essentially sending an invitation to all bacteria in the area to come in and join your sausage-making party.
Keeping things as cold as you can keeps bacteria at bay, helps ensure a healthy end product. That means you’ve got to store your grinding parts (auger, knife, plate, etc) in the freezer, and keep the meat you grind as cold as possible while working with it.
Always – ALWAYS – grind the meat into a clean, stainless steel bowl sitting atop an ice bath of ice, water, and a pinch of salt.
Once you’ve ground the meat and seasoned it, take a sample spoonful from the bowl and fry it up in a pan. Taste it, and you can judge if it needs more salt, or if it falls apart in the mouth too quickly. Give yourself a little preview before you commit to an entire batch.
There are beef casings available for huge-diameter sausages and lamb casings for those of smaller girth, but for true Italian sausage, pork intestine is king.
It’s strong enough to hold a good amount of meat, and when you cook it, it crisps up into that crunchy film your teeth have to punch through with every bite.
You can order pork casings from places online such as Amazon.
And just because it’s not stuffed doesn’t mean it’s not genuine Italian sausage.
You can grind and season it, and then just store it in an air-tight container as a free, loose sausage perfect for adding to pizza or just about any soup you could imagine.
So we hope you take on making your own Italian sausage. It’s a time-honored tradition in which every cook – professional or home – should take part.
Plus, it’s fun!