Monday, May 24, 2010

Homemade Southwestern Pork Sausage

I didn't set out to make sausage myself. Originally, I was looking to serve some kind of game meat at my daughter's bear birthday party. Sometimes, after the spring thaw, bears eat animals that were trapped in snow or ice, so I thought game meat would work nicely with the theme. I tried to find venison or elk meat to serve, and thought that sausage would probably work best for grilling. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a source that I trusted, and buying wild game from hunters is illegal. Having gotten excited about the idea of serving sausage at the party, I went in search of some local, sustainable sausage of the more domestic kind. I found some, but none that really spoke to me.

What to do? What to do? A crazy voice inside of me blurted, "Make your own sausage!" "Yeah, right!" I said back (to myself). "I don't know the first thing about sausage-making, and this is an expensive undertaking for me to possibly louse up!" So, I did a little research ... very little research, and I made some calls to see if I could get my hands on some sausage casings (pig intestines). I scored some free casings at a local butcher shop, and I knew that was sign that I had to make sausage, know-how or no.

The general consensus about making sausage seems to be that it is necessary to have a meat grinder, or that meat must be ground to specification (coarse grind or fine grind) by a butcher. I found nearly universal recommendations to use a sausage stuffer, as well. One butcher practically bet me that I would be back to ask him to make my sausage for me. I nearly spent quite a lot of money on equipment, very unnecessarily, until I had a epiphany. I didn't want to invest $50-100 on stuff that I might never use again. Instead, I took a chance and decided to buy ground meat (coarse? fine? eh, whatever ...) and stuff the casings using a pastry bag fitted with a large tip. If even a pastry bag is an iffy investment for you, try just buying the tip ($1-2) and use it with a plastic bag.

I was absolutely exhilarated by the prospect of making something so out of my element. What an incredible experience! It was messy, to say the least, but it was also a lot of fun. I don't recommend doing this with young kids, just because there is a lot of raw meat involved, but older kids (maybe 9 years+) would probably do very well with it. Just make sure to encourage frequent hand-washing and counter-wiping.

I tried to avoid reading recipes for sausage-making, knowing that most are made with dried spices. I wanted to make something fresh and light. Yes, "light sausage" is a bit of an oximoron, but indulge me. So, I decided to go with Southwestern flavors.

I have no regrets at all about the way I went about this. Sometimes diving head-first into the unknown is the best way to get experience. Sometimes re-inventing the wheel isn't a waste of time. So, try this recipe, or make up your own, or make some other wacky dish that pleases your inner risk-taker.

Southwestern Pork Sausage
10 lbs. sustainably raised organic ground pork
natural pork casings for 40 sausages (ask your butcher to give you a little extra in case some parts split)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
5 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
1 bunch scallions, sliced thinly
1 12 oz. jar roasted red peppers, chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Work in batches of about 3-4 lbs. of meat at a time.

In a large mixing bowl, combine pork, cilantro, jalapenos, scallions, red peppers, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and mix well with your hands.

As a test, cook a tablespoon or so of the meat mixture in a hot skillet to make sure it's seasoned properly, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Scoop some of the meat mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large tip. Place the end opening of the casing around the tip, and carefully pipe the meat mixture into the casing, pulling the mixture down into the casing. Be careful not to be too forceful as the casing can tear. Once you have about 2-3 feet of casing filled, pinch the sausage every 5-6" to create individual links. Twist the casing between links a few times. There is no need to tie between links; only at the ends. Repeat this process until you have filled all of your sausages.

Sausages can be frozen or refrigerated before use. When you are ready to cook them, cut apart the links. Grill or broil them until cooked through. Serve in a whole wheat hot dog bun with Cabbage, Fennel, and Jicama slaw and some mustard.

Makes 35-40 links.

- Be careful to keep casing and meat mixture cold. If you find the meat temperature rising to a point where it does not make your hands cold to touch it, return it to the fridge for a while before progressing.
- This recipe is not spicy (hot) despite the jalapenos, so if you like things mild, you'll probably like this as is. But if you want some more kick, go for it!

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