Making homemade Italian Sausage… it’s fun, and easier than you think!

Making your own sausage is a fun and rewarding adventure!  And it’s easier than you think.

At Frankie’s we made our own bulk sausage from pre-ground pork.  That is super easy!  But I had never ground my own meat or made links.  It only took a little practice until I felt somewhat competent.  I trust you will too.

 

 

 

There are various ways you can make sausage.  Each one creates more work than the previous but gives you greater control over quality and flavor.  And if you are like me… creates more fun.

Do you want to double the fun?  Think about doing this with a friend or family member.

 

 

SAUSAGE MAKING METHODS:

  • Simple Bulk Sausage the simplest way to make sausage is to buy a good quality ground pork (or ground chicken) and mix in your own spices to create a bulk sausage (bulk meaning not in a casing). This is super easy and gives you control over the flavor profile and heat level.
  • Fresh Ground Bulk Sausage this process adds the step of grinding your own meat and mixing in the spices. Fresh ground meat is hard to beat.  And it gives you total control over fat levels.

 

  • Link Sausage ( in casing) includes the step of stuffing the sausage in casings. This is the most complex step but with a little practice becomes quite fun.

EQUIPMENT NEEDED:

  • To make Simple Bulk Sausage… you do not need any special equipment at all.  You can mix it completely by hand or in a stand mixer.
  • To make Fresh Ground Bulk Sausage you will need a meat grinder, or a meat grinding attachment for a stand mixer. I have one for my Kitchenaid mixer.   The Kitchenaid grinder attachment runs from about $40 to $80 or more depending on if you buy the plastic or stainless steel  version and where you buy it.   I have the plastic one and it works fine.  You can buy a well rated manual crank meat grinder for under $40.  If you plan to grind a lot of meat (think ground sirloin burgers too!), you can invest in an electric grinder.  Inexpensive (but not well rated) models are available for under $60 or you can spend up to several hundred dollars.
  • To make Link Sausage… you need a piece of equipment called a Sausage Stuffer, or a Sausage Stuffer attachment such as the one shown which is for my Kitchenaid. Sausage stuffers can range in price from under $50 to well over $100.  The mixer attachment is only about $10 but honestly I found it to be a pain in the rear to use… it was hard to feed the meat.   A friend gave me a Cabela’s Sausage Stuffer which appears to be identical to one made by Weston (I’m pretty sure they make it for Cabela’s).  It is much easier to push the sausage through.

HOW MUCH FAT IN THE MEAT?

Whether you are grinding your own meat or buying it already ground, you need to think about how fatty you want it.  Fat equals flavor, moistness, and tenderness in the meat, but we all know you can have too much of a good thing.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want mine super-greasy and I like to eat reasonably healthy, so…

I’ve heard people saying to use 50/50 lean to fat.  REALLY?!  I’d like to live a few more years.   Totally unnecessary!  Other people try to take the fat total as low as 10%.  I think that is too low myself.  Most sausage makers recommend 30% fat, but you can easily go down to around 20% in my opinion and have a pretty moist and flavorful sausage.

But how do you know how much fat is in the meat?  If you buy ground meat, it should list it.  But if you are grinding your own meat it’s not easy to figure out.  If you use a pork butt or shoulder, as I did, it will probably be in the 25-30 range.  You can always trim off some of the fat if you want.  I did take some of the thick fat off of mine so was probably in the 20% fat range and was very happy with the results.

If you want to get more exacting… well you’ll need to go do your research.  My goal is to keep this process simple.

WHAT KIND OF MEAT TO USE?

If making pork sausage I suggest using a pork shoulder or butt. There is not a lot of difference in the cuts and they will be similar in fat content.  If it seems particularly fatty, feel free to trim off some excess.

If you want to go the chicken route you probably know that dark meat is fattier than white.  I would use about a 60/40, or 70/30 blend of dark to white meat.  Either way you need to incorporate the fat but not the skin.  So if you get chicken which is skinless and trimmed, you may find it difficult to get enough fat.

Alright.  Let’s make some sausage!

HOW TO MAKE SAUSAGE:

NOTE:  If buying pre-ground meat skip to Step 2

Step 1:  GRINDING SAUSAGE.

  1. You want to cut your meat into approximately 1 inch cubes (or some people like to cut it into strips). If you have a larger grinder, adjust the size accordingly. You will find the meat to be easiest to cut if it is super cold, or even partially frozen.  A really sharp knife will also make the job easier.
  2. Grinding meat which is very cold works best. I put mine on an aluminum sheet and placed it in the freezer for about 20-30 minutes before grinding.
  3. Set up your grinder according to manufacturer recommendations. If it has two to three grinding plates, the small one is usually for cheese and breadcrumbs.  Most manufacturers will have youtube videos which can be really helpful to watch if this is your first time grinding meat.
  4. Grind your meat and set aside.

Step 2:  MIXING YOUR SAUSAGE INGREDIENTS.

NOTE:  The recipe below is for 5 pounds of meat.  If you are going to this trouble then you may as well make extra and freeze it.  It will last for months.  If you want to make more or less, you’ll need to adjust the quantities accordingly.

Mix according to the attached recipe.  A stand mixer work best.

But you can mix by hand.  Mix it just long enough to blend well.  DO NOT over-mix!  You don’t want to turn it into a paste.  It will be helpful if you spread the herbs and other ingredients around before mixing (as opposed to dumping all the salt in one spot for instance).

Step 3:  PUTTING SAUSAGE IN CASINGS.

Remember this is an optional step.

You can use your sausage in bulk form for meat sauce or pizza.  But if you want to make it into links you’ll need a Sausage Stuffer as discussed earlier.  You’ll also need Sausage Casings.

Because this is a little more intimidating than making bulk sausage I’ve referred you to a few short videos.  Take a look at those and you will see just how easy it is.

REGARDING SAUSAGE CASINGS:

You can probably purchase casings from your local butcher if you have one who makes sausages.  But probably the easiest way to get casings is to shop online.  There are various types of casing available, including natural hog casing or collagen casings.  I used natural hog casings for mine which I purchased in a home pack size from Amazon.  Here is the link to the casings I bought…

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00EZTIGNA/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Rather than me spending a lot of time explaining the pros and cons of each and casing type and how to use them I suggest you watch the following short videos from Meatgistics University which explains it really well.

Te first video is on “Choosing the Right Casing”…                            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AAD8Lx76b0

The second video gives additional info regarding casings for Brats & Italian Sausages. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wE2spjzTrxQ

 

OKAY, LETS GET STUFFING:

NOTE:  Here is another video I suggest you watch.  It is on stuffing the sausage.  It starts out talking about bratwurst but the same principles apply to your Italian Sausage…  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFXPNG0U82o

  1. Once you have your casings you will prepare them per instructions on package (or video). Each casing type is different so I won’t get into the details here.  Natural hog casings like I used must be soaked and rinsed prior to use.
  2. Then you load the casings on the Sausage Stuffer attachment which is basically a hollow nozzle on your Sausage Stuffer which will feed the sausage into your casing. Then you tie off the end of the casing.
  3. Next you feed the sausage into the stuffer which feeds it into the casing. Feed it into a long rope and then twist off the individual sausages.  All of this is shown in the video.

That’s all there is to it.  Now all that’s left is to cook it up and enjoy it in pasta or on a pizza.  Or grill up some links with peppers and onions!

Just think how impressed your friends will be when you grill up some sausages for them and tell them you made them yourself!  I hope some of you will give this a try.  If you do so I’d love to get your feedback on how you did and if my information was helpful.

Below is the recipe for making Homemade Italian Sausage.  If you’d prefer the recipe in a PDF click here… Homemade Italian Sausage

Click to enlarge

Ciao and buon appetito.  May God richly bless your table with joy, love, laughter, and great food!

Frankie

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Pizza Blog #2… Making Amazing Pizza at Home

Trattoria Pizzeria – Venice

This is my second post in my pizza series.  If you missed my last post check it out.  I gave a brief history of pizza, talked about baking techniques, posted my pizza sauce recipe, and gave my recommendations for tomato products.

In today’s post I will talk about…

  • Italian pizza styles (I will discuss American styles in a future post)
  • Discuss different kinds flours you can use
  • Discuss dough proofing and yeast
  • Ways to mix your dough
  • Post my pizza dough recipe

Italian Pizza Styles:

Knowing that pizza was born and raised in Italy I want to educate you on the different styles of pizza made there.  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Italians for giving us this culinary masterpiece!

In Italy there are many styles of pizza, some distinctively different, others minor variations. Of course each region thinks theirs is the best. The most famous is Pizza Napolitana, and that is the most authentic style which has made it’s way to our shores.  Here is some about that and some others which I think are worth being aware of.

Pizza Napolitana:  

Traditionally cooked in a wood-burning oven making for a thin crust with a puffy edge.  The most popular version, Pizza Margherita, is topped with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (usually buffalo milk), and basil to finish.

To Neapolitans, quality and consistency is of utmost importance—both Pizza Margherita and its cousin, Pizza Marinara (topped with tomato, oil and garlic), are regionally protected recipes.  To receive the stamp of approval from the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana, Neapolitan pizzas have to stick to very strict standards that govern things like yeastiness, the type of flour (00), and the thickness of the dough, ingredients, and baking temperature.

If you want to find certified pizzerias near you check out their website at http://www.pizzanapoletana.org/en/associati.  Enter the name of your city where it says “Look for a Member” and it will list member pizzerias in your area.

Pizza al Taglio at Eatily

Pizza al Taglio: 

Translating Pizza “by-the-cut”, this pizza hails from Rome where it is baked in sheet pans and sold by the slice, hence the alternative names pizza in teglia (“pizza in the pan”).   You order as you would in a cheese shop, making your selection from the display case, telling the server how much to cut off, and paying by the weight.

Pizza al Taglio bakes in an electric oven for up to 15 minutes, yielding a crisp, airy, golden crust that’s up to an inch thick. To prevent toppings from being overcooked, some are applied mid-bake or after-bake.  Why such precautions for so humble a street food?  Because, at its best, Pizza al Taglio is a base for the some of the best cheeses, cured meats, seafood, and produce in Italy.

Not all Pizza al Taglio is Roman, though you may hear it called Pizza Romana, and not all Pizza Romana is Pizza al TaglioPizza al Taglio is prepared in many areas of Italy and takes on different regional characteristics.  Unfortunately this kind of pizza is hard to find in the states.  So you may have to make a trip to Rome.

Pizza Siciliana: 

Sicilian pizza – American style

In America “Sicilian Pizza” is often synonymous with “square,”  which is the shape of the pan pizzas prepared by Sicilian immigrants and their descendants, mostly on the east coast.  These New World pizzas were probably inspired by Sfincione of Palermo or Cudduruni of Syracuse, two types of Sicilian pizza typically sold in bakeries and likened, on account of their breadiness, to Sicilian focaccia.

When you order pizza in most areas of Sicily you usually get a round pie or, in the case of a stuffed pizzolo, a double-crust pizza. The term Pizza Siciliana is defined less by shape than by local ingredients: Semolina and other home-grown grains in the dough; toppings of goat cheese, pecorino siciliano and local cow’s milk cheeses – anything but buffalo mozzarella. Anchovies are common.

Pizza Romana Tonda

Pizza Romana Tonda:

Christopher Columbus convinced all that the world was round, not flat. Devotees of Pizza Romana Tonda view the world as round AND flat.  Whereas Neapolitan Pizza is floppy and bendy, this round pizza of Rome has a crust that is exceptionally thin, and ultra-crisp. If you hold up a slice the point of the triangle will never sag. I’ve had this style of pizza in Italy.  Personally it is not my fave, but for those of you who like a super thin, crispy crust, this one is for you.

 Pizza Alla Pala / Pizza A Metro:

These are alternate terms for oblong pizzas baked directly on the stone floor of the pizza oven.  Think pizza boards.  T he Pizza a Metro is sized according the number of people sharing it, up to a meter long, as its name “pizza by the meter” – suggests.  Pizza alla Pala may be cut into square slices.  Pala is Italian for “peel,” the long-handled shovel-like tool used to slide pizza in and out of the oven.  Texture and depth can vary, but in most instances these pizzas are crunchy and at least a half-inch thick.

Pizza Italiana:  

This is the none-of-the-above style.  It may also be recognized as “Classica”, “Tradizionale” or, in the generic sense, “Napoletana”.  It’s pizza according to the Italian model, as opposed to the American one… small size (about 12-inches)… with a thinner crust… fewer toppings… and less of them.  The toppings are familiar (Margherita, Marinara, Napoli, Quattro Stagione, Capricciosa) rather than design-your-own… no pepperoni… no chicken… no pineapple.

Flour: What kind should you use for pizza?

The first thing you need to understand about flour is gluten.  Gluten is NOT evil!

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein… when hydrated it creates an elastic system throughout the dough that gives it’s chewy, springy nature (think of it like a spider web). The process of kneading dough traps the bubbles of CO2 released by the fermenting yeast in the web that is created by the gluten strands, allowing the dough to rise.  The amount of gluten in the flour is what determines just how rubbery and chewy the bread will be as well as how much it will rise.

When it comes to pizza (and bread), there are a couple of key points you need to remember about gluten.

Key points:

  • Too little gluten makes dough very soft and tender and air pockets do not develop properly. It will tear easily when stretched.
  • Excessive gluten (or over-activated) makes dough too difficult to stretch. Like rubber it just keeps springing back.

There are different types of flour available to you at the grocery store…

Types of flour…

  • Cake and pastry flours – lowest gluten, described as “soft flour”
  • All purpose – medium gluten, a blend of “hard” and “soft” flour
  • Bread flours – highest gluten flours you will find in grocery stores
  • Commercial pizza dough flours—made from “hard” winter wheat
  • 00 – high gluten very finely milled
  • Semolina – made from Durum wheat—coarser and relatively high in gluten

Which flour is best for me?

Most pizza dough recipes found online or in cook books call for using all-purpose flour.  These will give you very good results.  Most have a protein levels of 10-12 percent.  This is what I recommend for starting out if you are not experienced at making pizza.

If you want your pizza to have more chew, and a bit more rise, you can try something higher in gluten.  Unfortunately you will not find high gluten pizza flour in your grocery store.  The closest you will find is bread flours which can have quite a range in protein levels from about 12 to 16 percent (most are in the 14 to 16 percent range).

High gluten flour can be a little more difficult to stretch, so if you’re a rookie, you might want to start with a good all purpose flour, or if you want to push it a little, you can blend some all-purpose and bread flour.

Should you use Organic Flour?

Personally I always use Organic or Sustainably Grown flour.  It has been widely reported that standard farming practice is to spray wheat with Round Up a few days prior to harvest which makes it go through the threshers better and gives farmers a higher yield.  This is not the case with Organic or Sustainably Grown flour.

There some excellent brands to choose from.  For personal use, or if catering pizzas, I use a commercial pizza flour, Shepherd’s Grain High Gluten Strength Flour.  It is sustainably grown… no chemicals sprayed prior to harvest.  But it’s only available in 50 pound bags at places which sell commercial products.  So unless you plan to make a LOT of pizza, or share it with others, it would not make sense for you.

So when teaching pizza classes I use a good Organic All-Purpose Flour.  Some of my favorite brands are Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur, and Central Milling Company.  Bob’s and King Arthur are employee owned companies which really appeals to me.  Both companies make standard and organic flour so make sure it says “organic” on the bag.  They will cost you more, usually about $7 for a 5# bag, but for me it is worth it.  The Bob’s Red Mill is easiest to find in grocery stores where I live.

A really good value for quality organic all-purpose flour can be found at Costco.  They carry 20# of Central Milling Company Organic Flour.  I’ve had excellent results with it.

What is proofing dough and how long should I proof mine?

“Proofing dough” is simply a term used for the final rise before baking.  It refers to a specific rest period within the more generalized process known as fermentation.  Fermentation is a step in creating yeast breads and baked goods where the yeast is allowed to leaven the dough.

When making pizza dough you have a variety of options, you can make the dough  in the morning or mid-day for making pizza later that night.  That is standard practice for Pizza Napolitana. Personally I like to make my dough at least one day, or preferably two to three days prior to making my pizzas and allow it to proof in the refrigerator after a brief initial rise.  This long proofing period allows the dough to gain complexity and a more yeasty flavor.

I most frequently make my dough two days in advance.  If I am busy that day I will usually push it forward or backward a day. This requires some planning but if you know what day you want to make your pizza, just put a reminder on your calendar for the day you want to make the dough.

Refrigerating Dough?  Really?

Pizza Dough

Yes, if you plan to make your dough one to three days prior it will need to be refrigerated.  This dramatically slows the rising but allows the flavors to develop.  I then remove the dough from the refrigerator one to three hours before using.  If I feel it is pretty much fully risen I give it about an hour just to bring it to room temperature.  If I think it needs to rise more, I give it two to three hours.  You want it to be roughly double the size of the original dough ball.  This is not rocket science so if it a bit more or less than double, don’t stress about it!  I like to put my dough in these clear plastic take-out containers which I buy at Cash n Carry.  But you can also store in one gallon plastic bags or a bowl with a lid.

About My Dough Recipe Ingredients:

The most basic pizza doughs are simply flour, water, salt and yeast (or no yeast at all if using naturally fermented dough… more on that another time).  I add two additional ingredients to my dough… extra virgin olive oil and just a little sugar.  This was the recipe we used at Frankie’s and it is so good I have stuck with it.

About the Yeast: 

I use Active Dry Yeast.  You can buy this in packets but I prefer to buy it in the jar so I can measure it myself, and easily adjust for the size of recipe I am making.  If you store the jar in the refrigerator it should last for months.

I recommend that you DO NOT use Rapid Rise Yeast unless you need your dough to be ready within 2-3 hours.

I recommend that you vary the quantity of yeast depending on how far in advance you make your dough.  My recipe calls for 3/4 teaspoon, which is fine if making the dough within 24 hours of using it.  If I am making it two days ahead I reduce the yeast to 1/2 teaspoon, and even less if making it three days in advance.

Water Temperature:

To properly activate your yeast you want your water to be very warm, but not hot.  I use a thermometer to make sue my water is between 105-110 F.  If it is cooler it will not activate as well.  If it is too hot you run the risk of killing the yeast.

Measuring Ingredients:

I list my flour and water in both volume measurements and grams.  I highly recommend that you measure in grams if you have an electronic scale.  To do it by weight, simply put whatever bowl or measuring cup that you plan to use on the scale and then zero it out before adding your flour or water.

Why?  Because it will give you more consistent results.  Look online for the weight of a cup of flour and you will get all kinds of answers.  You can buy electronic scales these days for $10-$30 dollars.  If you don’t have one, just be careful in measuring.

How to mix your dough:

I generally mix my dough in my Kitchenaid mixer using a dough hook, and then do a brief kneading and shaping by hand.  You can also do it in a food processor if yours is large enough.  Some people who have tested both methods actually feel that the food processor is superior.  Either will work great, OR you can mix and knead your dough my hand and also get excellent results (with the added benefit of well developed muscles in the process!).

I use a somewhat unconventional mixing method that I learned from a professional baker which I have begun to use.   After mixing the dough in my mixer for 2-3 minutes I turn the mixer speed to high and mix for another 45 seconds or so.  This helps develop the gluten structure of the dough.

After mixing in a mixer, food processor, or by hand in a bowl, you want to turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and knead by hand and then form a large dough ball (which you will later cut and reform).

The key is that you want to mix and knead your dough enough to activate the gluten structure.  You will know this has happened when you get some pushback when you make an indent in the dough.  If the dough is very soft and does not push back, knead it a little longer.  It will relax during the proofing process.

One last FYI, my dough recipe is based on a 60% hydration level (flour to water ratio).  I will explain hydration levels in my next blog, and how they effect your finished pizza.  This dough should be slightly sticky and take a little scraping to get it out of the bowl.  Use just enough flour on your hands and counter to make it workable.

After you form the dough, you will cover it and allow it to rest and go through a short rise before forming the final dough balls.  You will notice that the glutens have begun to relax when you come back to the dough.  I then do another short brief time at room temperature to let the dough begin it’s rise before moving to the refrigerator for proofing.

 

Download Dough Recipe PDF

Wrapping it up:

That’s it for today.  In my next blog post I will discuss…

  • Various American styles of pizza
  • Hydration levels (flour to water ratio) and how they affect your crust
  • Different styles of dough

I hope you enjoyed this post.  Please comment if you did, or if you have questions.  But mostly I hope you will get in your kitchen and bake some pizza!

Don’t forget, if you live in the eastside of Seattle area I teach hands-on pizza classes in your home for groups of six and up.  I can do fewer people but you still pay for six.  For details on that and/or my catering of pizzas or other Italian offerings, check out my website at http://www.frankiesitaliancooking.com

It’s time to say grazie for reading my blog and bid you ciao for now!

Frankie