Fabio Sausage (ahem, Hot Italian)
I never thought I’d say it, but I’m pretty much sick to death of pork. Not trichinosis sick, but ughh-god-get-it-away-from-my-nose sick.Through a long twist of fate, my household ended up with a whole pig after our wedding, filling our entire freezer and my brother in law’s entire freezer. Over the last four months, I’ve eaten more pork than probably the last 4 years combined. At this point, the smell of thawed, perfectly fine pork turns my stomach. I’m just over it, and don’t want to kill my love entirely.
Unfortunately, my husband and I haven’t managed to work our way through all of the meat, so it became apparent that we needed a solution. Trashing the meat was out of the question, and I couldn’t deal with more slow cooked roasts. Then one day it dawned on me: disguise the meat via grinding and seasoning.
We make sausage.
The day I decided this was one of those days when I am so glad to live in the Bay Area. I biked down to The Local Butcher after work and got hog casings in water and some fatback, which, incidentally, is fat from the back. Giggle.
While I am lucky enough to have been gifted the ancestral KitchenAid mixer, complete with meat grinder, I didn’t have the stuffer attachment, so the next step was to figure out where to procure one. I called around to a couple of stores, and ended up getting one at a Williams-Sonoma for about $16.
Hot Italian Sausage is a family favorite, so it topped the list of varieties to try. I went rummaging around on the net for a recipe. I hit the jackpot with this collection of recipes with picture instructions. The hunt for a recipe reminded me to put Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book on my wishlist. Our library doesn’t carry it, and I don’t think I’d want to return a book covered in raw meat anyway.
With spicy and hot being synonyms, it wasn’t long into the process that I started referring to our product as Fabio sausage. Come on, what other hot Italians do you know?
Took 2-3 hours from chopping meat to wrapping completed sausages.
1200 g pork
400 g pork fat
28 g salt
22 g sugar
11 g fennel seed
6 g coriander seed
17 g paprika
1 g cayenne
9 g red pepper
4 g black pepper
130 ml ice water
42 ml red wine vinegar, chilled
The first batch of sausage that Russell and I tackled had some failings, mainly insufficient fat and inadequate mixing. We made a second batch a week later that had casing issues, but solved the initial problems.
I started the day before grinding & stuffing, by pulling a leg shank from the freezer to the fridge for a bit of thawing. This cross section of leg had the purple USDA inspection stamp, which I thought was a nice pretty color.
I sliced off the skin all the way around, leaving as much fat as possible. The skin went into a bag of scraps for rendering later. For the second batch, the meat had been thawed a bit longer. I preferred working with the less frozen meat.
The meat was easy to cut into slabs, and then half inch cubes. I cut around the bone in the middle, saving it for stock down the road. The shank yielded less meat than specified in the recipe. Inspired by my friend Jenna’s kitchen math, I pulled out a calculator and figured out the needed proportions of all the other ingredients based on the 70% quantity of meat that I had.
Once the meat and fat were chopped up, I put the bowl into the freezer to keep them cool. At that point I also assembled the meat grinder with the smaller plate and put it in the freezer to get it cold. All the moving parts can warm up, and warm meat won’t grind cleanly.
With the necessary items chilling, I scaled out the seasonings, and minced the garlic. I lightly toasted the fennel and coriander seeds in a dry skillet, and set them aside to cool once they started giving off a scent.
The hog casings came to me in a small tub of water. I selected one piece and measured out around three meters. After willing myself to not be squidged out, I fit one end of the casing over the end of a funnel, and turned on a slow stream of tap water to rinse out the insides.
After draining out the water inside, I let them sit in a clean bowl while grinding the meat. The casings I used for batch number 2 leaked quite a bit at this stage, and when being stuffed, split many, many times. Next time, leaky casings will get the boot right away.
I took the cubed meat out of freezer, added the spices other than garlic, and stirred it all up by hand. This didn’t work great. Turns out cubes of frozen meat stick together and go flying unexpectedly when you try to stir them. I didn’t know what else to do at the uneven stirring beyond shrug my shoulders.
I processed the seasoned meat & fat through the KitchenAid grinder, letting the meat fall into a bowl sitting in ice-water. After the meat was ground, I added the cold water and minced garlic. In batch #2, I skipped the garlic as it got gummed up in the grinder tube while stuffing batch #1. Mixing the ground meat with the mixer attachment was far more effective than stirring by hand.
Now the meat was all ready to be stuffed, but for one little step: trial patties. I took small balls of the ground sausage and fried it up. YUM.
I put the meat back in fridge while I swapped out the grinder plates for the stuffer tube. The casings have to be slid onto the tube, like putting panty hose on your foot before pulling it up your leg. I had a hell of a time with it on the first batch, and a super easy time on the second batch. Either I got better, or the casings got looser. Question mark? I left three to four inches hanging off the stuffer, to tie off.
Up to this point, I worked alone, on both batches. Stuffing was very much a two person job, however. Russell did the work of feeding meat into the hopper while I guided the casings. I’m going to be honest – stuffing these sausages felt quasi scatological and wholly salacious, at the same time. Lots of jokes about “stuffing your sausage” and “handling your meat” ensued. I don’t know what goes on in your kitchen, but ours hears a buttload of dirty jokes.
The first time we stuffed sausages, the casing didn’t split at all. It felt easy and simple. The second time, it split three or four times while stuffing, and then again six or seven times while twisting links. Casing #2, I shake my fist at you.
After no more meat would come out of the grinder, I tied off the casing and twisted it into links the length of the distance between my thumb and forefinger (about 4-5 inches). The links kept untwisting when I would twist the next one. Never really solved that other than a hack of twisting it back again.
Each batch made a total of fourteen links. Two went into the fridge, and the rest got wrapped up in packs of four for the freezer. We fried up the last bits of meat stuck in the grinder and tossed them in the salad. Again, yum.
The first sausages were disappointing. The result of not thoroughly mixing the ground meat, and not using enough fat (10-1 meat to fat is a terrible ratio for sausages) meant that it was dry and less flavorful than the test patties led us to expect. Later sausages, however, did not fail to please.
Serve cut into chunks and sauteed with vegetables, grilled and topped with mustard, pan-fried and served with sauerkraut. Even I won’t recommend them it with ice-cream. Unless it was a nice savory fennel ice-cream. Yum?