A Beautfiul Grind

Senate Hearing Chamber: Washington, DC - 4:10 pm

GUESTS: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist
              Paul, Witless Assistant

AB: In closing, I humbly submit that this country needs a national food to rally behind. [light applause] We need an edible symbol, to remind us not only of who we are, but of how far we've come. [light applause] It is the opinion of this panel that there is but one food through which we can all celebrate not only our unity, but our individuality.
SENATOR #1: What dish would you suggest, Mr. Brown?
AB: Well, I ...
SENATOR #2: Ice cream!
SENATOR #3: Hamburgers!
SENATOR #4: Pizza!
SENATOR #5: Fondue!
SENATOR #6: Broccoli!
SENATOR #7: Donuts!
SENATOR #8: Potato chips!
SENATOR #9: Fish sticks!
SENATOR #10: Carrots!
AB: All fine suggestions, ladies and gentlemen, but what we had in mind was sausage.
SENATORS: [collective gasp]
AB: That's right, sausage.
SENATOR #11: Isn't sausage primarily a Southern food?
DEB DUCHON: Actually, Senator, sausage is endemic to a wide variety of political and ethnic structures. In fact, Bavaria has over a hundred varieties, and in China ...
SENATOR #12: Mr. Brown, don't all sausages contain pork?
AB: Well, I, uh ...
DD: Hey, I was talking here, Buster!
AB: That's okay.
PAUL: No Sir. Sausage contains all meats, from beef to lamb to chicken, even fish.
AB: (mouths silently) Fish?!?
SENATOR #13: Why advocate homemade sausage when our markets are full of the stuff?
AB: Well, Senator, it's that ' stuff' that worries us. Additives, flavorings, stuff like mystery meats ...
DD: Not to mention upwards of 40 or even 50 percent fat which is way more than what's needed.
AB: Way more.
SENATOR #14: Don't you need special machinery for that?
AB: Well, Senator, certain special tools are helpful, but let me state that they are not expensive and it can greatly improve your meatloaf and your hamburgers.
SENATOR #15: Now, what about training? We are in no position to fund schools for this kind of thing.
AB: We're aware of that, Senator, and that's why we've taken the liberty to prepare a little sausage primer. Something that could easily be given to the mass media, aired on national television perhaps, during prime time, of course.
SENATOR #16: And what would this primer be called?
AB: Well, Senator, we were thinking we might call it ...

The Kitchen

    Etymologically speaking, the word 'sausage' derives from the Latin salsus, meaning 'salted.'

Etymologically Speaking

    Historically speaking, sausages date back to ancient China, where the pig was domesticated about 7,000 years ago. Some historians believe that the activity of stuffing little bits of meat into casings— that is, the lining of intestines, in order to dangle them over a fire, thus curing them by smoke, preserving them, essentially— might be one of the oldest of culinary activities. Fascinating!

Historically Speaking

    Technically speaking, sausage is any mixture of ground meat, fat and seasoning. Fillers, preservatives, colorings are all optional.

Technically Speaking

    Now, culinarily speaking, sausages are divided into two major classes, fresh and cured.

Culinarily Speaking

    A fresh sausage is basically any mixture of ground meat and spices, designed to be cooked and consumed immediately after manufacturing, whether it's in a casing or not. Now, bratwurst, country sausage, blood sausage, frankfurters, knackwurst, Italian sweet sausage, liverwurst—yum— and breakfast link sausages are all examples of fresh sausages, which must be refrigerated whether they are raw or cooked, like frankfurters.
    Now, cured sausages, on the other hand, like salami, pepperoni and summer sausages, are dry and may be stored in any cool place as long as they remain uncut, which explains the decorations in a lot of delis. Now, since they're dry, they're a lot firmer than fresh sausages, and the typical cured sausage is highly seasoned and usually smoked. Various chemical additives may be included in the mix to help set the color a nice rosy red.
    Since cured sausages require a good bit of time and know-how to manufacture safely, we will save them for another day. Bye bye.

Whole Foods: Atlanta, GA - 3:20 pm

    Pork has always been the favorite meat of sausage-makers. There are a lot of reasons. I mean, pigs are easy and economical to raise, most of their parts are indeed edible, and their flesh has a mild taste that works and plays well with others ... other flavors, that is.

    This is a pork shoulder, a.k.a. Boston butt. If you saw our barbecue show, you no doubt recognize this is the same cut. It's economical, it's easy to cut up, and it possesses about a 80/20 lean to fat ratio, which is a good starting point for most sausages.

Pork Shoulder
Boston Butt

    If you need to add fat, and you may, just use fatback. This is the fresh, uncured fat from the back of the pig. Keep this on hand and you can turn just about anything in your kitchen into sausage. It doesn't take much. If properly wrapped with a little butcher paper and foil, it'll freeze for just about ever.


The Kitchen

    Behold, my grinder. I know, it looks a little bit like an antique, but that's because hand-grinder technology hasn't exactly evolved in the last few years. In other words, version 1.0 is still the current edition. The power plant that drives this beauty is, of course, you. Now, although they're not as rough and tough as hand-cranks, modern grinders come in the form of attachments meant to fit the accessory hub of popular power tools. Now this doesn't look the same as my grinder, and it is plastic, but essentially, they've all got the same guts.
    Yeah, I see you eyeing the food processor. Sure, you could process your meat mixture rather than grinding it, but you'd end up with a much, kind of, tougher, chunky consistency. And I know some sausage makers that do that. But, they usually make cured sausage, which, because it's firmer, covers up the fact that the meat is, well, small and chunky. If you try to make fresh sausage out of that, though, I think you'll find the mouth-feel is kind of like, I don't know, a mouth full of pebbles. Good thinking, though.

Due to associations with pagan festivals, the early Christian
church forbid its members from eating sausages.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Thing

    It is a happy coincidence that the sausage most at home on the American palate is also the easiest sausage to put on the American plate. Country breakfast sausage was introduced to these shores by English settlers, and the basic flavor combination of pork, sage and pepper has remained a favorite for hundreds of years. Which is not to say that there haven't been hundreds of variations.

    I'm going to start by cubing up two pounds of pork butt and half a pound of fatback. 2 lbs. Pork Shoulder Cut Into
    1" Cubes
1/2 lb. Fatback
    We add two teaspoons of kosher salt, one and a half teaspoons of freshly-ground black pepper, two teaspoons each freshly-cut sage and thyme, half a teaspoon of freshly-cut rosemary, a tablespoon of light brown sugar, and half a teaspoon each of red pepper flake, cayenne pepper, and last but not least, half a teaspoon of nutmeg.

2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 1/2 tsp. Ground
Black Pepper
2 tsp. Each Finely Chopped Sage & Thyme
1/2 tsp. Finely Chopped Rosemary
1 Tbs. Light Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp. Each
Red Pepper Flakes,
Cayenne Pepper, Nutmeg

    There. Mix thoroughly, and then get this into the refrigerator for at least an hour. Now, during this time, a lot of things will happen. I mean, certainly, the flavors are going to mingle a little bit, and yes, bacterial sprawl is going to be restricted. But above all, the fat is going to get cold, and that is imperative in sausage making, because when we go into the grinding phase, that has got to stay solid. If it doesn't, if it starts to melt, then the fat distribution will not be right in the final sausage, and, trust me when I say this, fat distribution in sausage is everything!

Chill One Hour, Minimum

    [voice over] Add the chilled meat mixture to the grinder a handful at a time. Don't try to over-pack that hopper. And turn the handle smoothly and slowly. That way, you won't create heat in the grinder. Remember, heat and sausage don't get along together. Not yet, at least.

    Now I am certain that a plastic bag would be better containment, but the reason that I like butcher paper is that it will allow this mixture to dry up just a little bit. Now just put this down in the bottom of your meat drawer, and keep it there for up to a week. Of course, I never have it last that long. If I want to save any of it, and not have it go here [in my mouth], I have to label it and freeze it. But before you do that, make sure you wrap up your pack in heavy aluminum foil.
    Now before we can contemplate cooking, we need to contemplate the cleanup. Grinders have a bad reputation as congregation points for potential contaminants. Why? Well, they are kind of tough to clean. My secret? Let the machine do most of the work. How? Stale bread. What American household doesn't have some of this?

    [voice over] Crumble up your bread and simply feed it into the hopper. As the bread moves through the grinder, it will sweep the grease away with it. Now I'm not saying you're not going to have to wash your grinder. I'm just saying, this way it'll going to be a lot easier.

    Although we don't like to talk about it, for every act of cooking there's usually at least one act of cleaning. And this is the one tool, cleaning-wise, that I would never try to make sausage without. It's just a bottle brush, but it is the perfect thing for getting down in the grooves of the auger, and it's also pretty gosh-darn handy at poking out porky residue from inside of the die. There we go. Now once I do have everything spic and span, it goes into hot rinse-water, which I have laced with just a little bit of bleach, just to be on the safe side.

A tablespoon of bleach per quart of warm water will do.

    Once your grinder assembly has air-dried, it's time to consider storage. Me, I like rice. See, I've even got my spare die in there. And why not rice? I mean, the truth is, is these parts are vulnerable to rusting. Even if you've got one of those fancy modern plastic ones, odds are the internal steel parts are going to rust. Keeping them inside rice is smart because it wicks away the moisture, preventing that. Bags are also smart because it will help you keep all these pesky parts in one place. Now don't worry about the handle and the chassis.
    Oh, here's a thought. Next time you get ready to grind, slide these into the freezer for about half an hour. Remember, a happy grinder makes better sausage, and a cold grinder is a happy grinder.

    Mmm, if there's anything better than the aroma of breakfast sausage cooking, I don't know what it is except maybe eating it. Of course, the thing I really like is that breakfast sausage doesn't have to go into casings. You just make patties, put it in a pan and go. That doesn't mean that you get to treat breakfast sausage like a hamburger. So keep your heat on low, medium-low at the most.

Low or Medium-Low Heat

    Oh, as far as knowing doneness, since you don't have any funny chemicals in your sausage, the inside is not going to remain pink when it's cooked through. In other words, when it looks done on the inside, well, it's done.
    Oh, you like the hat? This is to keep my glasses clean. As anybody that's ever cooked sausage in a pan and wears glasses knows, you get a lot of schmutz on your glasses. But it usually doesn't come straight up from the pan. It rises up on heat, and then settles onto your glasses and is held there by static electricity. A brim will keep that at bay.
    According to Greek mythology, knowledge was delivered to man from Mount Olympus in the form of a fiery coal buried in the middle of a fennel stalk. I don't know about knowledge, but I do know that fennel delivers big-time flavor to a whole host of fresh sausages, which hail from the Mediterranean.

THING: [brings a fennel plant into view]
AB: Oh, you're a bright Thing, that is indeed fennel. But that's got a bulb on it, so that is Florence fennel.

    Now the bulb can be sliced and diced a million ways and the herbs make a very nice addition to soups and sauces.

Florence Fennel

    But fennel seeds, or what we call fennel seeds are actually the fruit of common fennel, which does not have a bulb. But these little guys make up for that by having an awful lot of flavor and aroma. But, it is volatile, meaning that it has to be coaxed out of the miniature fruits with heat, and it's got to be used quickly lest it just disappear into thin air.

Common Fennel

    So we're going to start by toasting a teaspoon and a half of these guys over medium heat in a very heavy pan, which heats more evenly. When you start to smell the fennel, you know you're done. Or, you might actually hear some snap, crackle and popping.

Toast 1 1/2 tsp. fennel seed over medium heat, tossing or stirring often.

    [voice over] When it comes to grinding spices, I always reach for my coffee grinder. I actually keep one just for spices, although if you clean yours out regularly, you won't have to. It is fast, it is effective. You could make like an apothecary and grind in a mortar and pestle, if you've got the wrists, and the time. Or, you could load your spices into a spare pepper grinder and grind and grind and grind. It's a little easier on your wrists, but the results are still, well, kind of pathetic.

Coffee Grinder

Mortar & Pestle

Pepper Grinder

American producers crank out more than 6 billion pounds of sausage a year.

The Kitchen

    To our teaspoon and a half of fennel, we will add two teaspoons of kosher salt, one and a half teaspoons of freshly-ground black pepper, and one tablespoon of chopped parsley. Fresh parsley, of course. And then, the pork. Two pounds of pork shoulder. No need for fatback in this case. There's plenty of fat here for this type of sausage. Mix thoroughly by hand and refrigerate for one hour.

2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
1 Tbs. Chopped Parsley
2 lbs. Pork  Shoulder

Refrigerate 1 Hour

    I'm going to use the same size die, fine, for the Italian sausage as for the breakfast sausage. But, for variety's sake I am going to use a different grinder, the grinder attachment off of my mixer. This has both pros and cons. The good part is, it does the work for you, because you've got a motor back here. The bad part is, is that the grind tube is relatively narrow, which means it's going to take a little longer to do the grinding, which means we might have some heat built up in the sausage. We know that is a bad thing for the fat in the sausage, so to guard against it, or try to repair it, I'm going to place my catch-bowl inside a bowl containing some ice, just to keep things cold. Now we grind.

Of all the sausage-loving nations, Germany wins the prize
with 1,000 different varieties of sausages or wursts.

    Ever wondered what traditional fresh sausages are stuffed into? Animal casings. That's right. This animal casing came from a hog. It is in fact the submucosa, a thin layer of connective tissue harvested from ... trust me, you don't want to know, okay? Even if you didn't mind where this came from, you'd probably mind the fact that it's incredibly difficult stuff to work with and extremely perishable. If you had to use this to make sausages, I can tell you right now, I wouldn't make sausages. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I'd even eat sausages.
    Luckily, there is an alternative, man-made casings, okay? These are a hundred percent protein, collagen in fact, so they're a hundred percent edible. Think of them as kind of really, really, really dried-out Jell-O. Now you can get these in a lot of different places: specialty retailers, butcher shops, heck, sometimes even grocery stores. Since they're really, really light, and really, really inexpensive, I tend to buy mine off of the Internet.
    Now let's see, we've got basically two pounds of mixture, so we're going to need four, maybe five feet of this casing. Obviously, we're going to have a little bit left over. But you know what, that's okay. Because as long as you keep it dry, like in a zip-top bag and sealed away, away from the light, it'll last forever.

Natural casings can be made from the intestinal linings
of lambs, cows, pigs, oxen, even large fish.

    [voice over] Install the nozzle on your meat grinder, load sausage into the hopper and turn on the motor until the sausage just starts to come out the end. That way, you won't get air in the casing, at least not at the beginning. As for the casing, I like to load it on using a wooden spoon handle as a guide. You just twist the end and close it off with a wooden clothespin. Now turn on the motor to medium and use your plunger to slowly feed sausage down into the grinder. You don't want to try to fill the sausage casing too quickly. By the same token, don't go too slow, or you might get air inside. And air and sausage don't get along. Now, feeding all of this into casings is going to take, probably, five minutes, but you'll be rewarded with a nice long sausage. Just tie off the end and get ready to make links.

    Okay, the first link. You want to measure basically a hand width, just like that. Then reach in and pinch the sausage, okay? Just pinch until you can almost feel your fingers come together, then twist. I like to twist away. There. Now this time we're going to twist the long part of the sausage. We can't twist that part, or it'll unravel on the other link. Right? So, turn this way, at least three revolutions. And then we move again. Another hand width down, another pinch, and try to work the sausage that way, towards the exit, so to speak. There we go. And when you can almost feel your finger and your thumb, twist again, moving the opposite way. When you get down to the very last one, you may end up with one that's an odd length, because you may not have enough for a full hand width of sausage. That doesn't matter. It'll be the first one we eat. So again, pinch and twist. And lastly, we'll twist this end up. There you, go. Sausage. Now, I usually like to leave them connected, so I'm just going to kind of a twist these up into a little accordion pack, there we go, and wrap with butcher paper.
    Now these need to age, or cure in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours. Part of that's for flavor and part of it is so that the collagen in those twists can set, so they won't unravel later on. If you're not going to cook them right away, you can keep them in the refrigerator for, I'd say, two to three days maximum. After that, you really should think about going downstairs [to the freezer]. But, since fat is really good at absorbing funky flavors, like in the freezer, I'd probably wrap that pack in foil first. Oh, and be sure to date it. Right?

According to Homer's Odyssey, when the Greeks and Trojans
weren't fighting, they were eating grilled sausages.

The Kitchen

    We've done a lot of work to put good flavor into these sausages. It would be a shame to mess them up in the cooking phase. To bring them to full fruition, I like to use a hybrid method, combining steaming and searing.


    Start these off in a sauté pan that has a good lid, in about a quarter of an inch of water. Bring that to a boil over medium heat, clamp on the lid, and come back in ten minutes.

Sauté Pan
1/4" Water
Bring To Boil
Apply Lid

10 mins. later ...

    Ten minutes of TV time has cruised right by, and the water has just about cooked out of our pan. The sausages are almost done, nice and firm. But I'd like for them to take just a little bit of color, so the searing part begins. Just don't turn the heat up. Leave it on medium-low, and give them a turn every couple of minutes, until they're golden-brown and delicious.

Turn Every 2-3 mins
Until GBD
(golden, brown & delicious)

    Well, they certainly look done now. Nice and juicy, a little brown on the outside. Of course there's only one way to be absolutely sure. I'm just going to take its temperature, 150 degrees. I'm okay with that. Usually with store-bought sausage, I want to see a 165, but we ground this ourselves, so I'm feeling pretty comfortable with that.

150° For Homemade
165° For Store Bought

    Now, how many uses do these have? Well, personally, I plan on just dropping one of these on a bun and eating it like a hot dog. But, there are plenty of other options.
    Rest assured, pork sausage is just the beginning. You conquer these basics, and soon you'll find chicken, beef, lamb sausage waiting for you out there on that big flavor frontier.
    Well, I certainly hope that you've decided to lend your support to our candidate for national dish, the sausage. I believe that we owe it our respect, our allegiance, our loyalty, and our appetite. For if we have proven nothing else here today, I believe that we have proven that the sausage is not only good food, It is good eats. Thank you. Good night.

AB: [turns around leave, encounters the flag, begins to go one way] Oh, sorry. [then goes the other]

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Transcription by ElectroWolfe

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Last Edited on 12/02/2011