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Summer is great time for sausage

The word "sausage" is from the Middle English sausige and the Old French saussiche, both from the Latin word salsus, meaning "salted."

Sausage has been around for centuries and was born of necessity; another way to preserve the bounty of kill for the lean times. Spicing, smoking and drying were all ways to preserve animal products and prevail today as means of curing and preserving sausage.

Making sausage at home is fun and satisfying. Additionally, it is a way of controlling what goes into your sausage. If you want to keep fat to a minimum, you can make delicious sausages with chicken and fruits (like apples) and spices, or you can make Swedish potato sausage, even tofu sausage.

The categories of sausage we are most familiar with are fresh, cooked and cured. Fresh sausage is ground meat and spices, fat and perhaps some other filler made into patties or links and refrigerated or cooked in the time span of any fresh meat.

Cooked sausages are fully cooked either by poaching or smoking and may be eaten without heating, but most are heated again before serving. These should be stored in the refrigerator, as well. Frankfurters and bologna are examples.

Ready-to-eat sausages are treated with salt and other additives to impart different flavors and extend storage time. Some sausages, including pepperoni, are cured or preserved by drying and some are smoked as well during processing. These sausages need no further cooking and keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.

Making your own sausage is really simple, but you do need a little equipment.

An appliance for grinding the meat is the most essential and unless you only want to make fresh, bulk sausage, a sausage stuffer is needed as well. Grinders can be either old-fashioned hand grinders (go on the internet to find, or clean up an old family grinder) with grinding disks which can be sharpened with emory cloth (available at hardware stores).

A heavy-duty mixer (such as a Kitchenaid) may have a grinding attachment which is really handy. Food processors will also work, although you must be careful not to overprocess the meat, as it will turn to mush.

To stuff your sausage into casings, you will need either a stuffer or a properly sized funnel. A special sausage stuffer funnel is not expensive and does a much better job. Hand stuffing is a tedious process.

Most butcher shops will sell you natural casings; don't wrinkle your nose - they are scrupulously cleaned and sealed in airtight bags and then kept frozen or refrigerated.

Here are the basic steps to making stuffed sausage (adapted from "Home Sausage Making" by Susan Mahnke Peery and Charles G. Reavis)

1. Prepare natural casing by rinsing, flushing with water (put open end of casing over faucet and run cold water through gently) and soaking in cool water for thirty minutes. Soak again in 1 tablespoon white vinegar for each cup of cool water.

2. Make the sausage stuffing by cutting the meat and fat into 1-inch cubes (freeze before grinding), measuring all seasonings and kneading together the meat, fat and seasonings.

3. Grind the meat, using your preferred method. With a hand grinder, grind the sausage ingredients together twice, adding the seasonings after the first grinding. Fry up a small amount of the mixture and taste to see if you want to adjust any seasonings.

4. Stuff the casing. Gather the sausage casing over the funnel and feed the ground mixture through the funnel (by hand or machine) until it reaches the opening. Tie the end of the casing into a knot and begin feeding small amounts of meat mixture through the funnel, filling the entire length of casing as you go. Maintain an even thickness of meat throughout the length of the casing.

5. Inspect the sausage for air bubbles and prick any you find with a needle.

6. Twist off the sausage links, beginning at the tied end. Grasp about 3 inches of sausage and give it two or three twists to form a link. When the entire casing is done, cut the links apart with a sharp knife.

7. Refrigerate the sausages for a couple of hours or overnight to meld the flavors and firm the texture.

8. Cook the sausage thoroughly and enjoy.

Here is a good beginning recipe which can be stuffed into casings or cooked from bulk.


Breakfast Sausage

(directions are for

stuffed sausages)

4 feet small hog casing

2 1/2 pounds lean pork butt

1/2 pound pork fat

1 1/2 tsp. dried sage

1 1/2 tsp. kosher or coarse salt

3/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper

3/4 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp dried summer savory

Cut meat and fat into 1-inch cubes and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes before grinding. Measure the seasonings and combine them in a small bowl. Set aside.

For hand grinder: put meat and fat through the fine disk. Mix the seasonings into the meat with your hands, kneading the mixture well. Freeze the mixture again for about 30 minutes, then put it back through the fine disk a second time.

Food processor: Process the meat and fat to a fine dice and mix in the seasonings by hand after the entire batch has been processed. Grinder attachment on heavy-duty mixer: grind the meat and fat first and then mix in the seasonings by hand after the entire batch has been processed.

Fry up a small amount and taste the cooked sausage to see if you want to adjust seasonings. Stuff the casing. Coat the funnel well with grease, then draw casing over the funnel so that the entire length is gathered onto the funnel and the end of the casing is even with the funnel opening. Push the ground meat mixture through the funnel or feed spout with your fingers or meat pusher until it reaches the lip of the funnel opening. Pull about 2 inches of casing off the end of the funnel and tie it into a knot. Feeding small amounts of meat through the funnel at a time, continue stuffing the entire casing.

Pack the casing firmly but not to the bursting point, maintaining an even thickness throughout the length of the casing. When all the meat has been used, slide any leftover casing off the funnel. Prick any air bubbles with a needle. Twist off the links. Beginning at the tied end of the stuffed casing, grasp about 3 inches of sausage and gently give it two or three twists in one direction to form a link. Continue twisting off links until the entire casing is done. With a very sharp knife, cut the links apart and cut off any empty casing at the end. Arrange the links in a single layer on a platter, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. Eat within 2 days or freeze. Thaw completely before cooking.

Here is an easy recipe for store-bought sausage (see photo to the right).


Breakfast Puffs

1 package (12 ounces) Johnsonville Original Breakfast Sausage Links

2 tubes (8 ounces each) refrigerated crescent roll dough

5 slices deli cheese, cut into thirds

Cook sausage according to package directions; drain. Unroll crescent dough; separate into 14 triangles (there are two extra triangles). Place one strip cheese and one sausage link onto wide end of each triangle. Roll up, starting with wide end. Place seam side down on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375°F 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.