Extremism in defense of tastiness is no vice.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Veritable Sausage Fest

Otto von Bismarck famously said that the less people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they sleep. Then again, do you really want to take culinary advice from the man who refused to compromise with the National Liberals on the issue of expelling socialist agitators? We all know how that turned out.

It was thus largely out of spite for the Prussian Ministerpräsident that I spent the weekend turning my kitchen into a makeshift summoning chamber whence to call forth that blackest and most delicious of provocative meats. Armed with my trusty stand mixer, new meat grinder and sausage stuffer attachments, and a grimoire of allantoid evocations, I was ready to make the next step. No longer would I be among the unwashed masses of those who merely ate sausages. I would become one of the transcendent few, one of the keepers of the eldritch secrets; I would become a sausage maker.

For my first effort, I turned to the most traditional of all sausage fillings, the storied and magical pig. Little did I know what was in store for me. First, it's nigh impossible to obtain fatback in this city without a special order. Thankfully I keep an emergency reserve in my freezer for a third World War or zombie pig outbreak, but it's a shame that Madison doesn't have a butcher one can turn to at a moment's notice for something so fundamentally sublime as pork fat.

I also learned that seasoning is an interesting process when one is dealing with raw pork. To the fat and shoulder, I added a sautéed and chopped Granny Smith apple and an onion along with healthy additions of rosemary, marjoram, and sage. While it didn't prove a problem in the end product, I found the inability to taste throughout the process a bit frustrating; in fact, the entire operation felt a bit closer to baking than cooking, though your sausages hopefully won't melt if the seasoning is off. I have no doubt that this aspect of sausage making would punish inexperienced cooks but reward the cultivation of actual recipes.

Finally, if you're anything like me (which is to say that you don't know what you're doing), your virginal sausage making endeavor will be something of a mess. Forget the stately, lily-white appliance you've seen in the catalogs. My kitchen counter more closely approximated an estate administrated by a porcine Elizabeth Bathory. Casings slipped. Porky juices accumulated. The procedure of tying off links was, shall we say, inelegant.

The resulting sausages, however, were quite tasty. Better yet, subsequent efforts become quickly easier. Once the basic techniques are mastered, the process is simple and rewarding, and by the time I'd moved on to poultry, my kitchen bore markedly less resemblance to a medieval battlefield. (Except for the traditional rubber chicken, of course.)

With fresh and cooked sausages down, curing and aging will be my next step on the sausage maker's path. But for tonight it's boudin blanc--French style.

Boudin blanc

1 pound skinless chicken breast, cubed
1 pound veal shoulder, cubed
4 feet medium casing
1/2 pound pork fat, cubed
(good luck finding it)
3 large onions, sliced
1 cup milk
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1 tbs chopped chives
1 tbs chopped parsley
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1 cup heavy cream

Finely grind the pork fat, and render half of it over medium heat. Add the onions to the fat and cook slowly, covered, until translucent. Cool. Bring the milk to the boil in a saucepan and add the breadcrumbs. Cook, stirring constantly,until the mixture will coat a spoon, about five minutes. Cool.

Grind the meats and combine with the onions, fat, and other dry ingredients, mixing well with your hands. Finely grind the mixture, then beat thoroughly with a mixer or food processor, adding the eggs and whites. Continue beating and gradually at the cream.

Stuff the mixture into prepared casings and twist off into 4-inch links. (Don't separate the links.) Regrigerate, covered, for one or two days.

Prick the casing, and place the sausages in a large pot covered with a mixture of half milk and half water. Simmer gently for 30 minutes until cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Drain the links, cool, and separate. Then refrigerate, covered, for up to three days. Grill or pan fry until just heated through.

(This recipe is an abbreviated version of one from the excellent Home Sausage Making, 3rd Edition, by Susan Mahnke Peery and Charles G. Reavis. It's a great primer on basic techniques and has a fairly comprehensive selection of recipes. However, I've found the seasoning to be a bit light in the past, and will increase it here as well.)


Brian said...

Update, sausage fans:

Metcalfe's Sentry at Hilldale has proven a reliable source of that finest of ambrosias, pork fat, and an occasional source for hog casings. (Other purveyors will generally be willing to sell you some with advanced orders, and some butchers may be able to provide you with it on the spot as a special request.)

CD said...


He did famously state that he'd rather be late 10 times than run once. Surely you can't blame him for that little spat with the socialists. Besides he had an excellent wine cellar.

Chef Andy said...

Keep a skillet on the stove with a little oil in it, and fry a half dollar sized patty to check for seasoning/flavor.

Andrea said...

You can also get casings at Fraboni's! And the owner's son will get pretty excited when you inquire about them. So you might make a friend, too.

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