There was a Mutiny on the Meatball a couple weeks back, and it was all because of a sausage. Not the sausage you're looking at, another one. Guess I'd better explain.
See, every New Year's, Tom and Beth hop a bus from New York (they don't care much for flying) and spend about a week or so at the house. It's pretty much nonstop eating and drinking, with at least one or two big projects on tap to keep everybody sharp. Since no particulars were discussed ahead of time (unusual for this crowd) I had decided on my own that one of this year's group undertakings might be to produce a mortadella, a first for any of us, to be sure.
Mortadella, if you are not aware, is a sausage. My friend Joe (aka Mister Bigshot World Traveler and uomo about Rome) callously refers to this glorious Italian salumi as boloney or cold cuts or, worst of all, lunch meat. He does this, I am pretty certain, to hurt me, as he knows how much I love the fatty stuff. But this is not the place to get into all of that. (Note to Joe, though: I was out of town. It was 25 years ago. Get over it!)
To be truthful, I could not recall either Tom's or Beth's position on the sausage. However, before their arrival, I went ahead and secured the ingredients required to make it nonetheless.
Big mistake. For, as it happens, my normally fit and ready crew, comprised of individuals whom I have relied upon in many a difficult culinary challenge, shattered a deep trust by staging a quiet yet powerful coup that proved far too great for me to overcome. (You don't see a freaking mortadella here do you?)
I could list the many objections put forth — neophytes ought not mess with PhD-level sausage-making projects; strict temperature requirements were far too demanding given our facility; you (that would be me) are not the most reliable follower of recipes, and in this case following directions is crucial — but I won't. Suffice to say I was aghast. And wondered if I might learn to trust these people ever again.
Please. I need a moment.
Okay, so we polished off a couple bottles of vino and decided to make a batch of sweet Italian sausage instead. Way simpler. And, most importantly, my mutinous, scurvy kitchen crew seemed entirely willing to lend a hand.
Whaddaya gonna do?
The pork butt that was at the center of it all (yes, you use it to make mortadella). It's about four pounds, and gets cut up into one-inch cubes.
The back fat also gets cubed; there's about a pound of it here. (The full recipe follows, by the way, in case you were taking notes.)
The spice mixture: Kosher salt, sugar, minced garlic, toasted fennel seeds, ground black pepper and paprika. (There's also vinegar, but that goes in later on.)
The cubed butt, back fat and spices are mixed together, then put into the fridge before grinding. (Note to novice sausage makers: It's important that everything be cold when you're grinding. We even put the grinding attachment and the die in the freezer before using it.)
We used the KitchenAid grinder attachment, the small one, to grind the mixture. The platter that the ground sausage mix falls into must be cold; this blue one is resting in a pan filled with ice and water.
All ground up and ready to go (after you add the vinegar and some water). This is also the time to pinch off a small bit of the mixture and fry it. That way you can taste, and adjust the seasonings if necessary, before committing yourself.
The casings (which I got from Pat's, a local butcher shop that makes good sausage) need to soak in water for about half an hour.
Then you need to clean them clear through by flushing them with water. The simplest way is to attach one end to the faucet and run the cold water for a couple minutes.
Get your mind out of the gutter. This is the sausage stuffing attachment, and we're sliding about ten feet of casings onto it. The idea is to move all the casings up onto the attachment, so that when the meat starts coming out, the casings unfurl along with it.
Sausage mix goes in the top, slides out the side.
And into the casing it goes.
Until you've gone through the whole batch of stuffing mix.
Twist into five- or six-inch sausage links and they're ready to cook, freeze or refrigerate.
We were hungry, and so we went the cooking route.
And, yes, they were so good that I almost forgot about the mortadella. And the mutiny.
Sweet Italian Sausage
Recipe from "Charcuterie," by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn
4 pounds boneless pork shoulder butt, diced into 1-inch pieces
1 pound pork back fat, diced into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Spanish paprika
3/4 cup ice water
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
10 feet hog casings, soaked in tepid water for at least 30 minutes and rinsed
Combine all ingredients except the water and vinegar, then chill until ready to grind.
Grind the meat through a small die into a bowl set in ice.
Add the water and vinegar to the meat mixture and mix until incorporated.
Saute a small piece to taste it; adjust seasoning if necessary.
Stuff the sausage into the hog casings, and twist into 6-inch links. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to cook.