Monday, January 16, 2006

I Made Weenies! But Good!

Who would have thought the average home cook could cure meat at home? Well, if you have a cookbook called “Cooking at Home,” and it contains a recipe called “Homemade Sausage,” I think I would have thought: Me.
I’ve done this twice now, and it really works.

Serves six
(Adapted from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, 1999.)

1 ½ pounds coarsely ground pork, about 20 percent fat (from the Boston butt or shoulder)
2 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon smoked paprika (use a hot paprika; Pepin calls for ¾ teaspoon black pepper)
1 teaspoon fennel pollen (Cookiecrumb’s innovation)
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios (Pepin uses pecans)
1 fat clove garlic, minced (Pepin uses ½ teaspoon; what is he thinking?!)
3 tablespoons good red wine
(Optional: 1/8 teaspoon potassium nitrate, aka saltpeter. I skipped it.)

How To, in my own words:
This is unbelievably easy, but you must plan ahead. Mix the above ingredients with your hands, in a large bowl. Get all the seasonings well distributed.
Now (after you wash your hands), lay out an 18-inch piece of plastic wrap, with the long side facing you. Sculpt the meat mixture into a log shape and plop it on the wrap. Fold over the plastic and use it to roll the meat into a thin, even sausage, about 12 inches long and 2 inches in diameter. Slap it around a bit to make sure there are no air pockets. Wrap the plastic tightly, twist the ends, and tuck them under.
Next, lay a piece of aluminum foil, same size, in front of you. Roll the plastic-wrapped sausage up in the foil and seal it the same way.
This now goes in the fridge (I took the precaution of sealing it in a zipper bag to contain the garlic odors) for THREE DAYS, or up to a week. This is when magic happens.

To cook:
You’ll have to use a saucepan or pot wide enough to accommodate the length of the sausage. Fill the pan with enough water to cover the still-wrapped sausage (but don’t put the sausage in yet). Bring the water to a very low simmer (180-190°F). Lower the sausage into the water, weight it with a plate to keep it submerged, and cook slowly, gently, for 40 minutes. Then turn off the heat and keep the sausage in the water until ready to serve.
If you do it right – not too hot, not too fast – your sausage comes out pink but fully cooked. It is a thing of beauty. (The saltpeter would preserve an even redder color.)

To serve:
Unwrap and slice the sausage into 1/2-inch rounds. Arrange slices atop a robust warm potato salad (mustard, vinegar, onions, etc.) or a warm lentil salad. Or something cabbagey would be good.

Tasting notes and recipe riffs:
I took some liberties with this recipe, at Pepin’s urging. Well, he urged me to use truffles, but I figured he was giving permission for me to fool around. So I substituted smoked hot paprika for the black pepper. I could have used even more; there was no discernable kick. Then again, I was just being subtle. (On purpose, yeah.) Suit yourself.
I also added some fennel pollen (which I had harvested from the church parking lot across the street last summer). Fennel would be a prominent flavor in an Italian recipe, but I just used a little, and again, it was subtle (and nice).
I doubled the amount of garlic. Enough said.
I subbed pistachios for the pecans, but you could use almost any nut (except for peanuts).
The pork shoulder we bought was nearly two pounds, so I ratcheted up all the proportions of seasonings (although the amounts given above are correct for 1 1/2 pounds of meat).
However, instead of rolling the entire mass of sausage into one log, I divided it in two, and the other one is still in the refrigerator, curing. We’ll get to it in a few days.

Technical difficulties:
I have a nice blender made by Cuisinart. It came with an interchangeable food-processor attachment, complete with feeder tube, blades, all the works. I also have a “real” Cuisinart food processor.
I tried coarsely grinding the pork in the little food processor, and nearly deafened myself. It seems the motor on this appliance is too dinky for tackling a meaty job, and it screamed and struggled and spun and sputtered.
So Cranky dragged out the Big Boy (which I’ve used for chopping meat many a time), and it handily did the job.
Haul out the heavy artillery if you have it.


Mona said...

Good to know the Cuisi can't handle the big jobs.. that's a disappointment.
Those weenies look great! I'm very impressed you attempted making some of your own. Wow.

b'gina said...

So, 'splain me the fennel pollen. We used to have a ton of the wild stuff growing here, which I'm guessing is what would be at your church's parking lot, but it seems to have all died out. Funny. Now that I actually might have a use for it, it's gone. When I tried to kill it because it overran everything, there was no stopping it.

cookiecrumb said...

Happy to 'splain. First, though, I want to reassure mona that the Cuisinart -- the big model -- was perfect with the meat: effortless, and good chunkiness in the pork. It was the little blender/combo model that faltered.
So, b'gina: In the summer when the fennel "flowers" (?) turn yellow, I bring them home and knock off the pollen onto a plate. Then I pick out the impurities, if any, and save the pollen in a jar.
To use: It's a very mild anise flavor. I think it's well-suited to seafood. Obviously sausage, too. And it is yellow, so you might want to save it for sprinkling over a finished dish. Yeah, it's the wild stuff.
How's you mom?

Passionate Eater said...

I love the idea of making sausage without having to deal with those finicky casings! I saw a "similar" seafood sausage segment on KRON 4's Bay Cafe. The host, Joey Altman, made sausage out of scallops and shrimp, and wrapped it up in plastic cellophane wrap, and steamed it. It looked fantastic! Praise the creator of plastic wrap for what he did for sausage-making!

Greg said...

Wow! Careful you'll put Aidells out of business.

cookiecrumb said...

I ain't selling this stuff, Greg. We actually could all put Aidell's out of business if we tried this (and other, scarier, recipes). But let's not put Aidell's out of business! :D

PE: Saran Wrap rules. I don't have a sausage-stuffing device anyway, so just as well.

Public Service Announcement: Everybody go look at Passionate Eater's blog. Thank you.

b'gina said...

Hi, cookie, my mom's home and better, but she has to go back toward the end of the month for a mini-surgery.

I'll have to go check out the place and see if we still have some wild fennel lurking somewhere. You're very creative to think of that.

mg said...

Ha ha ha!

Uhm Cuisineart huh? That's what i wanted - but i figured i needed to practice first and be a pro (like you of course) before i can enjoy to have this overly expensive but gorgeous shiny item in my kitchen. I settled for Kenwood (shiny and still pricey but not as much as the cuisineart). Yes they do make that horrible noice... At first i thought it was going to fly off towards the ceiling! ha ha.

Tania said...

Sausages in plastic casings ... what a great idea! My parents have this ancient hand-cranked device that feeds sausage meat directly into the casings (which would be soaking in water like giant white worms -- ugh!), and I always assumed their's was the only way to make homemade sausage. Now I know otherwise!

I love the name of your blog, by the way. :-)

cookiecrumb said...

Mae: See, the Cuisinart was a wedding present. And a pretty good one, after all these years!
Tania: My mom used to have a metal meat-grinder with a crank; it clamped onto the table top with a vise-like dealie. I think it had a feed tube for casings, too, but (shudder) I've never had to feast my eyes on those wormy things.

Jeanne said...

I must try this--especially since the "casing" was such an "issue" with moi. How smart, but of course, most mad eaters are!

cookiecrumb said...

Jeanne: Well, see? We'll eat the meat, but we can't deal with the casings.
In my -- um -- "case," I just don't think I have the wherewithal to stuff the casings. So this is just so easy and unintestinal!!
Let me know if you try it.

Erin S. said...

Clarifying (and perhaps stupid) question--when you cook the sausages, are they out of the plastic wrap/tinfoil?

Looks like a great recipe I'd love to try

Erin S. said...

Never mind the earlier question--I reread the recipe and figured it out...Sorry!

cookiecrumb said...

No, let me clarify, because my writing was sloppy. You cook the sausage still wrapped in both the foil and the plastic. Some water will leak in, and you'll see the cooking water get a little bit cloudy from protein leaking out... But you cook the sausage in its wrappers.