As the years go by, I find it increasingly difficult to come up with gift ideas for my parents, especially my dad. There isn’t a whole lot that he needs or wants that he wouldn’t just pick up for himself, so when it comes to gift-giving time, I’m always a bit stumped. To make matters even more difficult, his birthday falls within a week of Fathers’ Day. This year I decided I was done going to the mall and spending money on some useless object that would end up in the back of a closet. So for Father’s Day I planted some herbs in his garden, and for his birthday I made him a few pounds of sausage!
My dad is very health-conscious- he rarely eats red meat, and usually goes for the low-fat option when possible. He also loves to grill, so I thought what better gift than a bunch of homemade chicken sausage? I found out through reading online that most of the chicken sausage you buy in the store is actually not that low fat, but by making it at home, you can obviously control what goes into it and make a much healthier product. Milk powder is supposedly the “secret ingredient” to keep things moist. (Also, apparently cooked white rice is a great fat substitute, although I didn’t try it.)
I’m not going to lie- making sausage at home is a labor of love, and the two main reasons to do it would be a) controlling the ingredients, and b) making some creative flavors that you couldn’t find in a store. The meat counter at my local grocery makes sausage on-site, and has a decent variety, so until now I never felt much need to make my own. But I always like to try new and challenging food projects, so this was as good an excuse as any! I made two varieties, a chicken “bratwurst”, and a sweet Italian-style sausage. The bratwurst recipe was adapted from this one, and I didn’t use a recipe for the Italian sausage- I just added a bunch of fresh garlic, fennel seeds, a few red chili flakes, basil and oregano. I used a 2:1 ratio of boneless thighs and chicken breast- I wanted it lean but not totally dry.
I’ve used my meat grinder attachment before to make chorizo, but had never used the sausage stuffer before, so that was a new frontier. The first time around, I had some trouble with getting the timing down, and ended up with some air pockets, etc. Fortunately, the second time went a lot more smoothly, which encourages me to repeat the experiment, knowing it will get easier with practice. The directions tell you to grease the nozzle before putting the casing over it, but I found that if the casing is wet, that works much better than grease.
You have to really be cool with playing with intestines to make your own sausage. It’s fun, once you get the hang of it and get over the fact that what you’re putting meat into was formerly a thoroughfare for “waste material” as we’ll delicately refer to it. Rinsing the casings is entertaining- you fit one open end over your faucet and let the water flow though, and it inflates like a water balloon. Fun stuff!
I haven’t gotten any feedback yet from Dad, as I think he put the sausages in the freezer for later, but Marvin & I grilled a few leftovers the other night and I was pretty pleased for a first-time effort; enough so that I’m inclined to attempt it again before grilling season is through. I’ve been dying to try a Vietnamese sausage, and maybe even a boudin noir if I can get my hands on some pig’s blood (anyone having a hookup should email me!). If you want more info on making your own sausage, check out the blog Saucisson Mac, or if you’re really serious and don’t already have the book Charcuterie, go pick that up at your local bookstore.