This is the first installment in an every-so-often series where I take on the challenges of charcuterie which, according to Larousse Gastronomique (1961), is “The art of preparing various meats, in particular pork, in order to present them in diverse ways.” The methods used to prepare charcuterie are as varied and nuanced as the end products and include brining, smoking, sausage-making, and making pâtés (for a discussion of these methods and more, see: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn).
I wanted to start the series off with a recipe that I’m incredibly familiar with: fresh Polish sausage. My people are Polish and I have my grandmother’s simple recipe that takes 2 days to prepare, yields 80 pounds, and includes boneless pork butt (with fat cap intact), fresh garlic, garlic powder, marjoram, kosher salt, and black pepper. I also used hog casings. Given the size of my kitchen and the price of pork butt, I started by scaling down the ingredients for 10 pounds.
This project is not for the squeamish. It was awesome watching them break down the hog at Carnivore (an amazing Oak Park butcher shop), but when I brought the pork butt home and hefted it onto my counter, I started to freak out just a little bit. That’s a lot of pork, and it had to be broken down into manageable strips to fit the grinder attachment on my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. I cracked a beer and got to it, successfully restraining myself from removing fat because — ta da — sausage needs fat. Online research warned me that if the mixture didn’t contain enough fat, the end product would be dry and nasty.
Once I ground up the pork, I added the spices and four cups of ice cubes, which chill the meat quickly and help it absorb the flavors of the other ingredients. One recipe I found then instructed me to mix it “until my hands freeze.” So I did. I then transferred the mixture to smaller containers, covered them, and stuck them in the refrigerator overnight.
Yeah! Stuffing day! But before I could get started, I took the internet’s advice and put the mixture in the freezer for about an hour. This ensured the mixture would be easy to manage while stuffing but wouldn’t freeze solid.
If you’re not grossed out by sausage-making by now, this next part might get you. I suggest you open and enjoy a beer, which will help you screw your courage to the sticking-place.
While at Carnivore, I purchased 12 feet of hog casings (a polite name for intestines) to contain the sausage-awesomeness. I gave them a quick rinse in warm water and got to work opening them up and jamming them on the horn of the stuffer, which is just about as sexy as it sounds. I quickly realized this job would be much easier with two people, so I recruited an area young person with clean hands and a can-do attitude to run the stuffer while I kept things in order on the other end of production. Surprisingly, we suffered only two blowouts.
My assistant’s attention waned quickly, so I was left to finish the rest of the sausage myself and, in no time, my kitchen looked and smelled like the butcher counter at our neighborhood Polish deli. I stood back and reveled in my own bossness.
This is where I chose to end my sausage adventure, so I packed everything into Ziploc bags to store in the freezer. I dig the fresh sausage, but am giving my sister a bit to smoke and that should be tasty as well.
When it’s time to cook the sausage up, I can thaw it and simply throw it on the grill. I actually prefer to boil it for 15 minutes, remove it from the water, cut it into manageable pieces, cover, and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until the sausage browns on the bottom.
Up next: I’m thinking cheddar brats.