Making the Perfect Italian Sausage
Often when things quiet down for a minute on the homestead, we take on a new challenge. This usually happens in late winter, when we have had enough of the snow. We just want to stay by the wood stove drinking coffee all day. A few years back we decided to try our hand at making our own sausage. Because I am Italian we started with sweet and hot Italian sausage.
In our minds we could see sausages hanging everywhere, maybe we would even branch out into a sausage business. We do love to dream big, usually we are brought back to earth very quickly. We did some research, and found that there was a large price range for the equipment needed. We dream big but don’t spend big, so we chose a meat grinder that attached to our kitchen aid mixer. After that we ordered our natural hog casing, picked up some pork shoulder and wine, then waited for the weekend. As it turns out red wine is a must when making sausage, it makes the whole process feel more like a party rather than stuffing an animal back into its own intestine. We make our own food because we like to know what goes into it, so instead of ordering a spice mix we came up with our own recipe. We used as many ingredients from our garden as we could. Then we set out to make a sausage you could not buy from a store. We set up the mixer, cut up the pork shoulder, and poured the wine. It is definitely best to keep the meat very cold this makes it grind much easier.
We used two pork shoulders which gave us 15 lbs of ground pork . The casing comes packed in salt, so while the pork was being ground we took the casing out of the salt, and soaked it in cool water. Something we learned right away was that casing gets tangled. We found that if you put it in a big metal bowl, and untangle it before soaking you will save yourself a lot of trouble. Once the pork was ground, we mixed in the spices by hand wearing rubber gloves. Pork is fatty, and its hard to wash all that fat off of your hands. We then took the casing out of the water and put it in a strainer, next you have to run water in one end of the casing and push it through the entire length of the casing. This helps get the salt out of the casing, we usually run the water through three times. Then came the moment we were waiting for, it was time to do some stuffing. We lubed the stuffing tube with oil, slid on the casing, tied the end, and poked a small hole with a knife in the casing to let the air escape. I pushed the meat through the grinder with the stuffing tube attached, while Tracy caught it and twisted the sausage into links. It is important to twist the links in the opposite directions each time you make a link, or they will come undone. We then poured our second glass of wine. Very quickly it became apparent that the stuffing was going to take a long time. The stuffing tube on the grinder was not the best tool for the job, but this didn’t stop us from enjoying the time spent together. If you can make sausage without making inappropriate jokes you are a better man than me. We spent the next half hour laughing, sipping wine, and stuffing our first batch of sausage.
Finally when all of the sausage was stuffed, we placed it in the refrigerator to sit overnight. This allows the flavors to come together. The next day, we pulled some peppers out of the freezer and grilled up our first batch. We were pleasantly surprised, it was good, but we wanted great. Over the next several months we made sausage tweaking the recipe each time. Finally we arrived at the perfect recipe.
Along the way we learned a few things. The first was that a real sausage stuffer was a must. It makes the whole process quicker and easier. Second, the casing needs to be soaked for at least an hour to make it easier to work with. Third, casing comes in packages that make 25lbs and 100lbs of sausage. The 100lb is much more economical, but the 25lb is easier to work with because the lengths are shorter. Fourth, fresh ingredients matter, we always use fresh garlic, and as many fresh herbs as possible. Finally, wine will make the whole process easier on you and your spouse. There is no wrong recipe for sausage, everyone has different tastes. But when you make it yourself it will always be just right.
Once we made one type of sausage we could not stop. We now make kielbasa for Oktoberfest, breakfast sausage, venison pepperoni, and have even dabbled in andouille.
It is always fun to learn a new skill, especially one that involves eating delicious food. So the next time the winter blues have you down. Get some wine and pork and make your own perfect sausage.