Last year, my lovely assistant gave me the grinder attachment for my KitchenAid Artisan mixer as a gift. I think it may have been for our wedding anniversary, which should tell you something about us.
Grinders are fantastic. I don’t know that I would call it a versatile tool, per se, because it only does one thing. It does it really well, though, and there isn’t a multitasker on the market that does it better.
Basically, the function of the grinder attachment is to use the power of the mixer motor to turn a big piece of meat into little more than a paste. I use mine to make burgers, chili, and above all, sausage.
Italian-style pork sausage is extremely simple and tastes amazing in lots of applications. With the grinder alone you can make loose sausage, but if you pick up the sausage stuffer attachment and some casings you can make links.
Here’s my basic recipe:
- 1 tsp fennel seed, toasted
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper, finely ground
- 2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes (for hot – leave out for mild)
- 1 lb of pork shoulder, cut into 2″ chunks
I scale up each of the seasonings in relation to the amount of meat I have. For a ten pound slab of pork shoulder, I use ten teaspoons of fennel seed, etc. Don’t sit and measure out ten or fifteen teaspoons of whatever! There are lots of great conversion calculators out there that can help you.
Tiny plug (and I have no vested interest in this): there’s an app for Android called Convertr. I got it as the free app of the day one day on Amazon, but I would gladly pay the $1.99 for it. I’ve used it for everything from home improvement projects to how many airline-sized bottles of scotch it takes to fill a 6-oz. hip flask (slightly less than four, by the way).
Here are all my ingredients. I put all this into natural hog casings, which I soaked in water for 10-15 minutes to get rid of the salt they’re packed in.
First, grind your pepper. A coffee grinder works great for this – mine has never touched coffee. I also grind my red pepper flakes, but you can leave them whole. This batch ended up being mild, since that was the consensus of the craft night folks.
Toast your fennel seeds lightly. Just dump them into a pan and let them sit over low heat until they start to release awesome smells, then shake them about a bit and put them back on the heat. Get them nice and roasty. You’ll actually start to hear noises from the seeds, a little like Rice Krispies in milk. They do start to brown a bit.
You can also grind your fennel seeds, but I prefer them whole.
As you can see in the photo, I cut the pork shoulder into strips so it could be fed easily through the grinder. Remove any connective tissue and large sections of fat, although you want to leave a certain amount of fat in the meat or the sausage will be dry when cooked.
Mix your parsley and spices evenly through the meat.
Cover tightly and return to the fridge for two hours or more.
When the meat has cured, get your grinder set up and go to town. I use the coarse grinder plate.
Everybody took a turn in the prep. Sometimes you’ll need to pause and disassemble the grinder – connective tissue that didn’t get carved out during the cutting will get wound around the blade and slow the grinding process.
Eventually, everything is ground. Time to shift over to stuffing mode.
If you’re using natural casings, grease your stuffing tube with shortening. Thread the casing onto the tube carefully.
If you use a collagen casing, it will come already spooled and you can just slip it onto the nozzle without and greasing or effort. If you do choose to use collagen, keep it dry until you fill it.
There are pros and cons to both kinds of casings. Ease of use is a definite pro of collagen casings. They don’t have the same “snap” as natural casings once cooked, though. I’ve tried both, and I generally prefer the natural hog casings. And yes, they’re intestines.
Use a bit of kitchen twine to tie the end of your casing.
Making links is a two-person job. One person pushes the ground meat back through the grinder and the other guides the casing and twists the links. I find it useful to have a raised sheet pan below the stuffer tube – rest it on your can of shortening or something of a similar height.
One advantage of hog casings is that they’re more stretchy than the collagen equivalent. You can stuff them tight or let them stay a little soft. It is possible to overstuff them and have the casing split, and occasionally you’ll encounter a small hole in the casing that will result in a rupture even if you don’t put too much pressure on it.
Once you get a satisfactory length of filled casing, press down on the casing until you have a short length of empty space and then twist 3-4 times to separate the link from the next. Tip: alternate the direction of your twist. Towards yourself, then away, and so on. If you twist the links all the same direction you risk untwisting the ones you’ve already finished.
This is another area where I think hog casings have the advantage. If you twist a hog casing and let it sit for a couple of hours, the twist will harden. When you cut it, it stays closed. Collagen casings don’t seal as well using this method.
If you get air bubbles, use a toothpick to make a very small hole in the casing. Squeeze out the air and then press down on the hole gently to make the edges of the hole stick to each other. When you get to the end of the casing, pinch it off and tie it again with twine.
We cased ten pounds of ground meat and set aside five pounds as “loose” sausage. I used about one and a half pieces of hog casing on this. It’s not advised to try and save unused casing for later. The first time I made sausage I soaked the whole tub of casing and wound up throwing a ton away – now I just soak one or two to start and then more if needed.
I formed the loose sausage into 1-lb patties, about 1″ thick, and wrapped these securely in foil. They’ll get used to make things like meatballs and pasta sauces, and in one case Scotch eggs. Packaging them this way makes them easy to store and quick to thaw.
The links went into the fridge overnight in the pile seen above, loosely tented with foil. This is the lazy approach – ideally you would wrap them in parchment paper and not allow them to touch each other. They “sweat” a little, and with them touching you get some soggy dampness where they’re in contact with other links. Don’t leave them uncovered, they dry out too much (and make your fridge smell). The links on the bottom of the pile came out a bit squashed, partly because they were the first links made and my friends hadn’t gotten comfortable stuffing the casing tightly yet.
After a couple of hours (or in this case overnight), you can cut the links apart. I just use kitchen scissors. Snip away the twine and cut in the center of each twist to leave the links closed.
I find that two links to a packet is a good size – a nice fat link, about 5″ long, is plenty of meat for one person. They weigh about a third of a pound each. I wrap them securely in foil, label them, and stack them in the freezer until I’m ready to use them.
The simplest way to cook these sausages is to fill a deep pan with water and simmer them until they’re cooked through, then pour the water off and increase the heat to brown the outside of the link. The sausages will be fully cooked once the center reaches 160°. You’re looking for opacity and no pink. They’re really good with some high-quality mustard.
Each of the five participating households got a pound of loose sausage and two pounds of links (six links). The cost came out to around $10 for each parcel. Prices vary from place to place of course, but pork shoulder is generally quite cheap. I recommend trying to find a local ethnic grocery store to buy your fennel seed, because it’s much cheaper and comes in larger packages.