I’ve never spent much time thinking about sausages. Eating them, you bet, but really thinking about what goes into making one – not so much, at least not since I read The Jungle as a teenager. We read Upton Sinclair’s classic in history class; and at the time I believed that concerns about food safety, contamination and inhumane conditions for meat packers were just a part of history. And I probably never stopped to think about the lives of the animals. What can I say? Clearly I was a child of the eighties.
Grinding fresh sausage is the current Charcutepalooza challenge. And thanks to our fearless leaders, The Yummy Mummy and Mrs. Wheelbarrow, and the challenge text book, Charcuterie
by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, I’ll never look at breakfast sausage, chorizo, kielbasa, peperoni or salami the same way again. (Peperoni and salami are a way off yet in the book. I like to read ahead.)
Now I know how to grind meat. I bought the grinding attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer a few months ago in anticipation of this challenge. I was more than a little worried that it would be such a pain-in-the-ass to use that I’d end up using it once and tossing it to the back of the pantry.
Not so. It’s a snap; easy to use, easy to clean. And it’s helped me clear up another chink in my sustainable food armor. The grinder gives me the power to turn local, sustainably raised turkey thighs into burgers. And now I can grind up similarly sourced chicken necks to feed the dogs. But that’s two separate posts.
The grinding challenge was bracketed by two holiday meals – Easter and Cinco de Mayo. As soon as I read Charcuterie’s recipes for kielbasa, particularly Brian Polcyn’s description of his family’s holiday kielbasa, I knew that was the Easter sausage for me. I had to adapt the recipe – I wanted to smoke it, but keep the spicing of the holiday kielbasa, and I wanted to include K.M. in the feast, which meant working with chicken and duck fat, rather than pork. I mixed everything together the night before I wanted to grind, and left it in the refrigerator overnight. And I followed the grinding procedure outlined in the book and by Mrs. Wheelbarrow with no problems. The kielbasa made a wonderful Easter soup.
I’m glossing over the sausage stuffing process. For now, I’ll just say I did it, but I didn’t love it. Or the god-awful mess I made. I’m hoping that by the time the stuffed sausage challenge officially comes around, I’ll have the knack. I’m not scared off for life, but it’s clearly a technique that requires practice.
The high point of my Charcutepalooza month was making, eating (and not stuffing) Mexican Chorizo. Again, I used a combination of chicken and duck fat and added a lot more spice to
the recipe in Charcuterie, but other than that, I left the formula alone. How could any sausage with tequila in it go wrong?
We made pizza with it, and the results were spectacular; no need for extra red pepper flakes on that pie.
But the Chorizo Stuffed Poblano Chiles we had for Cinco de Mayo really brought out the best in my homemade sausage. It takes two days to bring this recipe together (I’ve simplified it a lot from Rick Bayless’s original appetizer), but it is an entire meal in a dish. And worth every minute you put into the process. Just like making good sausage.