Lydia, Queen of Sausages
By Lydia on July 23, 2009 10:37 AM| | Comments (7)
Just a quick warning, folks: If you are meat-sensitive, vegan, or easily grossed out, maybe skip this one.

There are few food projects, I think, messier, more laborious, and more emotionally taxing than sausage-making. I realized this watching the meat grinder birth mealy tendrils of pork, getting gummed up every so often with fat and white gristle as I pounded the stuff down the feed tube. The meat bloomed up from the grinding disc in an almost unbelievably huge mass before separating under its weight and falling into the bowl. I thought of fetuses, placentas, alien-life forms, and people losing limbs in industrial accidents. This was going to be good.

I first thought of sausages only because my new mixer came with a meat grinder and a sausage making funnel-tube-thing. Before that, unlike cheese, bread, and jam, making my own sausage was very much not on my list. I mean, I don't even eat sausage beside an occasional bratwurst or kielbasa at someone's "let's grill shit" party. But here came the mixer, with that little sausage-stuffing-tube thingy and everything changed. I didn't have a plan, really, but the possibility was there in the back of my head. I still wasn't planning to actually do it when I picked up a book at the library and spent a day reading up. It wasn't until I found myself staring at hog casings that I realized what I was preparing to do. It seemed like sausage was happening to me, that I wasn't any part in the causation. I mean, I had just picked up fresh oregano at the farmer's market, I had all the ingredients in my fridge, I had zombie walked into Meijer and bought a huge chunk of pig shoulder, and, yes, now I was fingering hog casings, but it felt like it was someone else doing it. 

First, I did my best to bone and de-gristle the pig. To be honest, this was the least gross part of the entire operation. I wrapped up my meat and shoved it in the freezer to make it easier to cut and grind. I sliced open the packet of casings (gritty!) and cut off a piece to soak. This is supposed to make it softer and easier to work, but when you put it in the water it balloons a little and suddenly there are all these veins and whoa! that's some intestine you got there! I admit a little thrill upon seeing this. I think it is a sign of my fetishization of DIY in the kitchen.  "Here's the intrepid farm woman, using all the parts of the animal!"

With the pork cut up and the flavorings assembled, then came the wrestle with the meat. This is not a gentle process. I was sweating by the time I had a full bowl of the greyish pinkish mush that used to be an animal. With my hands, I mooshed in the flavorings: parmesean cheese, white wine, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper. The hard part was coming next. I couldn't find the sausage-funnel-stuffing-attachment! The whole point of this wretched exercise was that I had this tool that would make the whole thing possible. I looked everywhere. I tore the cabinets apart, but I could not find it. So now I have an impossible pile of sweaty meat, my kitchen is covered with trichinosis, and I have no stuffing thingy. There was no way I was letting the grinding go to waste, so I cut the end off a funnel and put my bewildered-determined face on and started trying to gentle the casing onto the funnel.

I think maybe the best description for this step is easing a foot-long, tissue-paper condom on your arm, underwater. It is not easy. Then you tie the end of the casing, fill the funnel with meat-mix, and start shoving the stuff through into the intestine. This makes horrible squelching noises. Lots of air tends to get shoved in with the meat, so there is a lot of pausing and massaging of air bubbles, and then a distinct farting sound when the air is forced back out of the growing sausage. I managed, somehow, to make 4 roughly foot-long sausages, but looking back the whole thing is rather fuzzy. I can only explain my state of mind as zen-ish; I went to another place, and my hands stuffed intestines with what is, with brilliant logic, called forcemeat. And then suddenly I was done. I had, without thinking, lined the sausages up neatly on a pan in the fridge, bleached the fuck out of the kitchen, and poured myself a glass of wine.

This is how Ted found me, some time later, with a glazed expression on my face. He looked at me questioningly, and I said "I made sausage?" He sort of laughed, so I made him look in the refrigerator at my pale, fat, baloney smelling links. I was a surprised at how much they looked like sausage. Its really all sort of a blur. But they were delicious.

Awesome write up! I've wanted to get a sausage grinder and stuffer attachment for a while...you've inspired me!

Did you buy the casings locally? If so, where?

You can get them at Russo's (oh how I love Russo's) or at many of the local meat markets. Franks, at 750 W. Fulton has them, and I assume Van Ball's on Plainfield would too.

"I thought of fetuses, placentas, alien-life forms, and people losing limbs in industrial accidents." The beings whose flesh you were actually grinding didn't come to mind? It's interesting how the grinding of non-human animal flesh only registers as disturbing here insofar as it reminds one of something else. (How could I resist commenting on a post that begins with an injunction for vegans to stay away?) :)

It's true. As a meat eater, and a cook, my response was to the visual aspect of grinding the meat. I can't think that if one chooses to eat meat in the first place, being a part of the nitty-gritty part of turning that animal into food is immoral. I think being part of the process is progressive. I have chosen to confront where the food I eat comes from instead of choosing a sanitized meat experience where the food appears wrapped in plastic, bearing no relation to the animal it used to be. In other words, if you are going to eat sausages, you may as well shove them into intestines yourself.

When I worked at Uccellos, they would cut and grind their own Italian sausage. The recipe was pretty simple, just add fennel and pepper, and use pork butt.

Best post ever...

Vertigo will have casings shortly (next to the Punk Rock CD's)...I'm just having a hell of a time getting the pig up the stairs...