Sunday, December 23, 2012

Rainy Day Recipe: Sweet Italian Sausage

According to NOAA, this isn't an El Niño year, but looking out the window..?  It sure looks like one!  Holy hell, has it been raining!!!

And, I think it was Friday night, I was lying in bed - trying to fall asleep, when it suddenly occurred to me that - ahem! - Christmas is on TUESDAY and I hadn't procured the necessary ingredients for our Mini-Christmas Feast!

So, THE SATURDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS, I decided to tackle the grocery store.  I was practically having cold-sweats and heart palpitations in the friggin' parking lot!  Gawd, do I hate crowds!!!

If there are any of you out there who are facing a similar dilemma and have to hit the grocery store these final days, two words:  Protective Gear!  I'd hate to hear of anyone ending up in the hospital due to a dispute over the last can of sliced pineapple!

But I digress....................

I *did* survive my assault on the grocery store and we *do* have everything we need for our Holiday Repast.  Spreckles *will* be served!

Okay!  So the shopping (assault) got done and I found myself with an entire Saturday afternoon to kill.  The utterly crap-tastic weather outside severely limited my choices of leisure activities.  :::sigh:::

I had been perusing various recipe sites - looking for New and Exciting Ways to utilize some of the ABUNDANT pork in my freezer.  In fact, awhile back, I found a *most* interesting site on Sausage-Making: Lets-Make-Sausage.  What the hell, right?

About a year ago, I purchased a manual meat-grinder/sausage stuffer.  It was fairly inexpensive (I wanna say around thirty bucks), and it looked a lot like an old meat-grinder that my dad used whenever he had a hankerin' for fresh roast-beef or corned-beef hash.  When my mom died, and we were cleaning out her house, I was really-really hoping we'd stumble onto it - because I really WANTED it.  Unfortunately, it was long-gone.

Anyway, in a fit of nostalgia, I decided to order my own, new, meat-grinder thingie - thinking it would be the same as my dad's.  And yes, it does *look* like it.  But that's where the similarity ends.

Weapons of Spreckles Destruction

Firstly, my dad's grinder had a built-in C-clamp so you could firmly affix it to the edge of a counter-top.  Mine has four legs with holes so you can bolt-it-down.  Somehow, I don't think I want this as a permanent fixture in my kitchen!

Secondly, my dad's grinder could grind meat like nobody's business!  My grinder's box said "Grind 5 lbs of meat in one minute" so, naturally, I thought....  Well...  Let's continue the rambling, shall we?! ("Oh please!")

Okay, so anyway, when we picked-up Spreckles, both Finny and I ended up with something like 10# of Hot Smoked Italian Sausage apiece.  Hubs and I aren't big into spicy so I figured I'd make a batch of Sweet Italian Sausage using my handy-dandy/Just-Like-Dad's meat-grinder/sausage stuffer.

I used the "Gina's Sweet Italian Sausage" recipe from this page.  I'm not gonna bother re-posting the entire recipe, but here is the general gist of it:  5 lbs pork shoulder roast, cut into one-inch-cubes, then ground (I ended up using 2 store-bought roasts :::gasp:::) (Hey, they were on-sale and I wanna save the Spreckles roasts for smoking next summer!).  Then there's the seasoning which I prepared using the following ingredients:

Seasoning ingredients:
  • 5 tsp cracked fennel (I found whole fennel seeds and I lightly crushed them with a mortar/pestle)
  • 1 TBS salt (I would definitely recommend cutting back on that)
  • 1 TBS fresh ground pepper (I think I used about 1/2 TBS - and that was fine)
  • 1-1/2 TBS garlic powder (I used 1 TBS garlic powder and 3 large, fresh cloves finely minced)
  • 2 tsp rubbed sage
  • 1 cup cold white wine (I used Kendall Jackson Chardonnay - but I wonder if a sweeter wine, like a white riesling, might be better)
You can get the step-by-step directions from the sausage site........

Let's do pictures, k?

Soaking the pure hog casings in warm water

While I was cutting/cubing the roasts, I soaked the hog casings (I bought mine as part of a sausage kit on Amazon).  The really grody part was rinsing the INSIDES of the casings.  We're talking about pig intestines here - just FYI - and they're slithery and slimy!  It was challenging to separate the casings, and then to pry one end open and keep it open under a running faucet to let the water run through it.  Then you have to squeeze-out all of the water by pinching/sliding down the length of the casing...  Yeah!  Gross!

Okay, now back to the meat:

This requires a super-sharp knife!

All ready for the grinder!

All right!  
So far, so good!

Wellllll....  It started out all right, but....  Let me just say this:  Whoever came up with that claim about being able to grind 5 lbs of meat in one minute was - for lack of a better word - full of sh*t!  I suppose if I had bolted the damned thing down, it might've gone a little bit easier.  It's extraordinarily difficult to stuff AND crank AND hold the thing steady (in spite of the fact that the grinder weighs a freaking ton!).  Alternatively, maybe having a second person to turn the crank might've helped a bit as well.  But let me tell you: Whoever has crank-duty had better have Popeye arms!

I'm strong to the finitch 'cuz I eats me spinach!

Yeah, so, 30 minutes later (with sweat dripping into my eyes - EW!),  I noticed that I was turning the crank and nothing new was coming out the other end.  In fact, the stuff I was stuffing into the grinder was simply oozing back out the top of the grinder.  WTF?!!

Yeah, the grinder plate kept getting jammed up with fatty connective tissue from the roast.  Sh*t.  So I had to keep stopping, removing the grinder plate and blade to de-gunkify them (had to use a knife and a strong-stream of running water), then re-assemble the unit.  I repeated that process, several times, and - ohhh maybe after an hour, total - I ended up with a bowl-full of freshly ground sausage. 

(which I forgot to take a picture of - but I think you can imagine it, right?!)

So then I pulled the hog casings from their soaking bowl and began the tedious task of separating them.  I had no clue how many casings I would need, so I started out with five:

Gross, right?!
(I ended up using only one! HA!)

Okay, then I mixed up the seasonings:

The trick - at this stage - is to have the liquid seasoning mixture COLD so that the meat and fat solidify a bit. The other trick is to do your final mixing with your bare (or gloved) hands so that the seasoning gets evenly distributed.

I didn't take pictures during the stuffing phase because I'd need to sprout more arms!  But I removed the grinding plate and blade, and replaced it with the sausage stuffer tube.  I smeared the outside of the tube with a little olive oil so I could more easily slide the hog casing onto the end of the tube.  And it really wasn't easy at all - particularly since my fingers were super-slimy (no way to avoid that!  I think I went through a whole roll of paper towels!).

The stuffing of the casings really wasn't very difficult (after the prep-work was done!).  Pull the end of the casing off the feed-tube and start turning the crank.  The casing fills with air at first, but then the sausage starts coming out.  Right hand gently tugs the casing, guiding the sausage, while the left hand turns the crank.  Once you've got one sausage length, stop cranking, tug the sausage away from the stuffer and give it a couple-three twists.  Then resume tugging/guiding and cranking for the next sausage...

End up with this:
Yummy Sausage!

I ended up with 9 links appx 3-4" long (from one hog-casing).  I could have kept going with the casings, but I actually prefer bulk Italian Sausage (and didn't want to wrestle with more pig intestines!!), so I also ended up with two vacuum-packed 1-lb bags of bulk Italian sausage for the freezer - and one smallish bag (maybe half-a-pound?) that I tossed in the fridge.

I left the stuffed sausages to air-dry on the plate in the fridge overnight (since I don't have a cool dry place to hang them).  This morning, I vacuum-sealed them (2 per bag) for the freezer...

* * * * *

I did cook-up one link and some mini-patties for brunch this morning since I was dying to see how they came out.  The flavor of this recipe is good - but not well-suited for breakfast (Hubby agrees!).  I am SURE that this will be awesome in tomato sauce, though...

Now I can't wait to make a batch o' spaghetti sauce with my very own Frozen Squozen 'Maters, home-grown herbs, and home-made Italian Sausage!

So: What's the final verdict on Sausage-Making?!
  • I wish I had my Dad's old grinder - This one sucks!
  • The fact that it got jammed-up, early-on, meant that the meat inside the grinder got super-smushed.  And not in a good way.  
  • So, for Round I of sausage-making, it really didn't have the proper "chunky" texture throughout.
  • Sausage-making seems like a lot of work to me (right now) and I am not super-eager to attempt it again anytime soon!
  • Bottom Line:  I need a better grinder (and I think I've decided I also need a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer.  Hello Amazon Wish-List!)
I DO have a whole lot of hog-casings to use up, however.  And I DO want to try more of the recipes on the sausage-making site (Mmmm...  Bratwurst!), so I suspect I may end up buying some plain-ol' already-ground-up breakfast sausage from the store (::::GASP:::).  Using the grinder as a sausage-stuffer really isn't all that bad (I might ask hubby to run the crank next time!), so I probably WILL attempt this again.

Hope you've enjoyed my Culinary Mis-Adventures.  I'm not calling this one a "Win" - but definitely worthy of more experimentation - once I get the proper equipment!

And now I will leave you with a picture of a blown-glass snowman that I made at Bay Area Glass Institute a couple of weeks ago:

"Merry Christmas!"

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