I’m not a fan of brisket and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day. My dad’s Irish, when I was a kid I lived in Dublin for a while, but the traditional dinner has never been my go-to St. Paddy’s Day dinner. I’m a fan of bangers and mash. Delicious sausages and mashed potatoes, rounded out by a nice pint of Guinness. In the past I’d always bought Richmond Irish Sausages from one of the British stores around town, because that’s what I remember eating in Dublin. But this year, I have become obsessed with making my own sausages.
While the Internet is a great resource for most things, it’s also a minefield of misinformation, so I bought Charcuterie, a book by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. It has recipes for everything from prosciutto, to bratwurst and weisswurst, to salami and pepperoni. This was my starting point.
Now, you might think that sausage-making takes some fairly specialized equipment, and you’d be right. But with a little extra effort, there isn’t anything that can’t be worked around, it seems.
First, a word on safety, because there’s a recipe coming up. Bacteria loves pork. Anytime you’re not actively working with the meat, keep it in the fridge. Clean up as you go — you don’t want uncooked meat littering your kitchen. That’s how you get ants. Or worse.
To make sausages, you should ideally have a meat grinder, or a KitchenAid stand mixer with a grinding attachment. You should also have a sausage stuffer, to ensure even filling of your links.
I have neither of these things. What I do have is a food processor, and a canvas piping bag. These are, I think, the minimum requirements, but only because I can’t imagine using anything less robust. If you’re thinking you’ll just use a plastic piping bag, that’s a bad idea. When it comes to stuffing the casings, the sausage meat is quite thick and will destroy your plastic piping bag before you can say “Holy pig, my piping bag is totally destroyed.”
If you feel like spending some money, you can get a basic sausage stuffer for a little over $100. If you’re like me you’ll head to the nearest cooking store (Cooks Warehouse, Sur la Table, Williams Sonoma or the little cooking equipment nook at Dekalb Farmers Market, which is where I went) and pick up a plastic-lined canvas piping bag for about $6.
Now the good stuff. This is my adaptation of Ruhlman and Polcyn’s recipe. It’s really, really cheap, but fairly labor intensive for a while. Give yourself a couple of hours in the kitchen, and get to work…
This recipe, can be halved pretty easily, but as-is it makes about a dozen good-size links.
3 pounds of pork cheek meat
Yes, you read that right. You can get it at Buford Highway Farmers market. It’s got a great flavor and a good blend of fat and meat. You might think going leaner is better, and for most things you’d be correct, but making your sausage meat too lean will result in chewy, or even “broken” sausage, with a dissatisfying texture that you probably won’t want to eat. If you want to spend a little more, go with boneless pork butt (ironically from the pig’s shoulder), but you’ll need to add in some extra fat, so grab a pound of pork fat back.
1 pound of boneless veal shoulder
This is the high ticket item for this recipe, but it’s worth it for the flavor it brings.
You’re going to want to dice all those cuts of meat so that they go in your grinder or food processor. 4-5lbs of meat is more than most food processors can stand, so you’re going to go in batches if you’re using a food processor.
1 1/2 ounces of kosher salt
2 teaspoons of white pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons of ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons of ground nutmeg (freshly ground if you can)
These ingredients can be found in most grocery stores. If you can’t find something, it’s a good bet that the Dekalb Farmers’ Market and Buford Highway Farmers’ Market have them, or take a trip to Penzeys on Roswell Road.
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup cold heavy cream — put it in the freezer when you start grinding the sausage
10 feet of hog casings
Ten feet of what? Go to Whole Foods and hit the butcher counter. They sell the sausage casings they use in-store for $19.99/lb. You’re going to need about 10 feet, which will cost you about $2.50. These casings are made from the inner lining of pig intestines, and they need to be soaked in cold water for a couple of hours, or warm water for at least 30 minutes, before you fill them. They also need to be rinsed on the inside (to remove salt), and to do this you’ll want a bowl of cold water (maybe the one you were just soaking them in). Fill the casing from your faucet like a water balloon and watch it expand in the bowl. Then drain the water out. Good, they’re ready.
Now the instructions…
Combine all the spices in a small bowl.
Combine all the meat in a big bowl.
Toss the spices over the meat, and toss to make sure there are no dry spices in the bowl, and that the meat is evenly coated.
This is where you have to keep the meat you’re not actively working in the fridge.
Get a second and larger third bowl. Put the second bowl in the third, and fill the third with ice.
As much or as little at a time as your grinder/food processor can comfortably handle, grind/process the meat into a the second bowl. If you’re grinding the sausage, use the small die. If you’re food processing, process it until there are no chunks, not even small ones.
If you’re fancy enough to have a grinder on your KitchenAid you can go ahead and switch to the paddle mixer. The rest of us will need to use a sturdy wooden spoon for this next part.
Add the eggs and cream to the processed meats, combine on low for one minute and then speed up to medium if you have a KitchenAid. If not, stir. And stir. And stir. Until the cream and eggs are uniformly incorporated into the meat, and the sausage is sticky.
This is where the fun really begins. If you have a sausage stuffer…I’m assuming you know how it works. If you’re using a canvas piping bag you’re going to want to widen the opening to a diameter of about an inch. This will render the piping bag useless for anything but sausage-making. Also, filling it with raw meat will probably discourage you from using it for frosting cakes.
Spoon the sausage mixture into the piping bag. It’s going to take several goes around, so don’t overfill the bag.
Now take your sausage casing and load it onto the piping bag like you’re putting on a sock. Filling the casing can be tricky. It’s better to fill too slowly and too full than too quickly and too scant. You can always redistribute by hand. Air pockets are your enemy, and if you can’t avoid them you can pierce the skin with the tip of a knife. Just a tiny hole.
When you run out of meat in your piping bag, you need to tie off your links. Hold the casing at each end of the sausage firmly and twirl it in front of you like a jump rope. Now you can cut the casing and refill the piping bag. If you want to make traditional bangers, twist your filled sausage into 6-8 inch links like you’re making a balloon animal. Remember to put your finished sausage/bangers/brats into the fridge while you finish the remaining sausage.
These sausages are freezable, but are great when used fresh. You can bake them, pan-fry them (remember to prick the skin with a fork a few times), or you can grill them. Imagine being able to provide foot-long brats for your next cookout!
When you do cook them, though, please remember that you can’t always tell when things are done by looking. Use a reliable thermometer and be sure that the internal temperature of the sausage is over 165F.
Yes, it’s labor intensive, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.
For St. Patrick’s Day pan fry these bad boys and serve them with mashed potatoes seasoned with garlic and chives, and some onion gravy.