Fresh Italian Sausage

I have been making my own sausage for a few years now, ever since I picked up the book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing (Revised and Updated) by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.  Charcuterie is probably my favorite cookbook, even though the only recipes from the book I have actually made are several of the fresh sausages (the Spicy Roasted Poblano Sausage is awesome) and smoked bacon.  Those few recipes, however, have given me immense satisfaction, and I am always picking it up, flipping through it and planning on eventually branching out to more advanced projects like dry cured sausages, pancetta and bresaola.

My Fresh Italian Sausage recipe is actually a hybrid of the Sweet Italian Sausage recipe in Charcuterie and the Fresh Italian Sausage recipe from another book in my library, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing (Revised and Updated) by Paul Bertolli.  I like the combination of herbs and spices in Bertolli’s recipe but use the ratio of meat to fat and the measurements of the ingredients the two have in common from Charcuterie.  Even though cayenne pepper is an ingredient in this recipe, I still consider it to be a “sweet” sausage, because the cayenne is not enough to make it hot, it just adds a tiny bit of spice. 

There several keys to making a good sausage that both books share.  The first key is keeping your meat and fat cold.  If it gets too warm during the process, the fat will separate from the meat and you will end up with a crumbly sausage.  Tips that I picked up from both books are putting the meat in the freezer after I cut it up until it’s almost frozen, putting the auger, dies, blades, etc from your grinder in the freezer to get cold before grinding, and grinding the meat into a bowl set in ice. 

Also very important is the addition of fat.  Fat makes the sausage juicy, and a good Italian sausage must have a certain percentage of fat.  Back fat is not an easy ingredient to get a hold of, so you may be tempted to exclude it from this recipe and just use 5 pounds of pork shoulder, but trust me I have tried it and the results just aren’t the same.  Talk to your butcher and see if they can special order it for you, or you can order it online from a source like Niman Ranch. Speaking of sources, you can get the hog casings from Butcher & Packer.

The last key to a good sausage is after it is made; cooking the final product.  A lot of people have a tendency to overcook sausage.  A sausage should be cooked to a temperature of 150 degrees.  Charcuterie suggests using a meat thermometer to check the temperature.  I would never tell you to stand there like a dork at your grill sticking a meat thermometer in individual sausages.  Just use common sense and judgment, if it’s cooked a little over 150 it’s no big deal, but you can tell when you are absolutely killing it… just stop yourself.

As far as equipment goes, I use the meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAide stand mixer to grind the meat, into the mixer bowl, then mix the ground meat with the ice cold liquid using the paddle attachment.  I initially used the sausage stuffer that attaches to the grinder, but was not happy with that for several reasons, not the least of which is that going through the auger  heats it up and increases your risk of “breaking” the sausage.  I ended up buying this 5 Pound Sausage Stuffer and the process is so much easier.  If you are intimidated by stuffing the sausage, or just not ready to buy the special equipment, you could start out by just making sausage patties and skip it altogether.

Fresh Italian Sausage

Adapted from Charcuterie and Cooking by Hand

Makes 5 pounds of sausage

4 pounds/800 grams boneless pork shoulder butt
1 pound/450 grams pork back fat
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1-1/2 tablespoons dried sage
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup ice water

10 feet hog casings, soaked in tepid water for at least 30 minutes, then flushed with running water

  1. Cut the pork and fat into roughly 1 inch dice, and mix together in a bowl. Cover the bowl and place it in the freezer for approximately 30 minutes, it will feel nearly frozen.
  2. Remove the meat from the freezer and combine well with the rest of the ingredients, except the water.
  3. Grind the meat through a 1/4 inch plate, the large die if you are using the KitchenAide grinder attachment, into a bowl set in ice.
  4. Add the water to the meat mixture and mix with the paddle attachment of the stand mixer for about 1 minute on medium speed. The mixture should be thoroughly combined and quite sticky.
  5. Immediately stuff the sausage into the hog casings, pinch and and twist to form 6-inch links.  Alternately, you can shape the sausage into patties. The sausage can now be refrigerated or wrapped well and frozen until ready to cook.

17 Responses

  1. i’ve always wanted to make use of our meat grinder, so this may be the time to do it! great looking sausage!

  2. I LOVE italian sausages, but we stop eating port a few years back. Could we use beef or chicken or even lamb? If you have suggestions or recipes… please let me know! Thanks!

  3. I appreciate the fact you took time to post this. There are not a lot of sausage enthusiests out there and I dont know why. There is nothing magical about making sausage. But making great sausage does take a lot of failed attempts.

    I have found some great recipes on the net and have made up someof my own very varying levels of success. In the end I always ended up with sausage but some have just not turned out as nice or tasty as others.

    One thing I struggle with is the consistency of the cooked final product. I would like to get the consistency of something like Ekrich sausage. But mine is always more course than I prefer. I dont know if it is the grinded size of the meat, the handling, or the cooking that gets that very dense and firm consistency of store bought varieties. I have tried different grind sizes and cooking techniques but still have not mastered the process.

    If anyone has any ideas I would appreciate the feedback.

  4. I have been lusting after this cookbook (Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curin )for a long time now. Sounds like I just need to buy it. Thank you for posting this recipe. I will be giving it a try soon.

  5. Hi, Ive been making sausages for a while now and one thing I can definitely say is temperature really affects texture… to Jay… you might want to look into double grinding your meat instead of the usual paddle mixer. It brings to it a distinct homey texture…bound but a bit chunky…:)

  6. Yes, the ground size is important and if it’s too course you may want to grind again…good advice mick. Though I haven’t made sausage myself in years, I did grow up making it with my father who was an expert in all phases. He was always saying that it is the proportion of fat to meat that not only adds flavor but makes the difference between sausage and other cured pork products such as sopressata and capicola. There was nothing better than taking a bit of the meat (after it was ground, mixed with fat, seasoned with the addition of fennel seeds) and sauteing it for us to nibble on while we stuffed the rest into the casings…yum.

    And Marillyn, Yes, you can use other meats…even combine it with bits of vegetables such as broccoli rabe. I suggest you look for inspiration at some good local butcher shops and go from there. Experiment. You’ll never know what you’ll discover and that’s so much fun.

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  8. Jay

    Most commercial sausages mix the coarse ground meats with emulsified meats to give ir a finer texture. This is for cooked sausages only.

  9. We made this for New Years Day and your recipe was a hit !! Since we can not purchase good italian sausage, we decide to make 20 pounds for New Years, and we are so glad we did ! Thanks for the recipe and instuction.

  10. Hi
    Great recipe! I had a few attempts at other recipe’s but yours won, hands down. I’m sure it will become a family favorite.
    I like the sage and fennel flavor. Seems to have just the right amount of spice and flavor.
    Jerry Rhode Island

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