Would you like to experience “sausage nirvana”? You can with the new book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sausage Making by Jeff King and Jeanette Hurt. Like other wildly popular “Idiot’s Guide” books, this book is written in a clear, easy-to-follow manner, giving you all the techniques, tips and recipes you need to make honest, amazing homemade sausage.
King is a chef and head of The Sausage Guys, an artisan sausage shop in Chicago. He has been a chef and caterer for different Chicago area restaurants, but what he loves best is making brats, kielbasas, and game and international sausages. His quest for sausage nirvana knows no bounds: he has traveled to four different continents to taste sausages and charcuterie. I spoke with him recently, and here's some of what we talked about:
How did you start making sausage?
JK: I was 18 when I first made sausage and definitely fell in love with it. It was towards the end of my first year in culinary school…. we made a few different varieties of sausages, and I realized what sausage is and what it can be. It's not a package you buy in the store. It's not just Polish sausage or bratwurst or hotdogs. It's limitless. You can do anything with it… I loved being in control of every element of the flavor. My friends and I started making sausages in our classes, then I started making it with my friend at my house, and it kind of became what I do. I think of myself a chef and sausage maker. Not a chef who makes sausage.
It seems to me that sausage is experiencing a heydey. It’s everywhere from charcuterie plates in urban gastropubs to farmers markets. What do you think is spurring this growth?
JK: It's definitely the case in Chicago as well. In the city, lots of higher-end places are doing sausage. But low-end places are doing house made sausage too…. There's a general movement of consumers wanting higher quality things to consume. It's happening across the board from food and drinks. It's happened to beer, cheese, liquor, bread, and it's sausage's turn now.
You advocate making “artisan” sausages. Could you explain what that means?
JK: What I am advocating is at-home or at-business sausage making that is small batch. What I mean by artisan is either making it by hand or with minimal machinery. Smaller batches are customizable so there's a higher likelihood of a superior product being used. People tend to put more love and attention into it when it's smaller batches.
I recently made sausages at the CIA in Napa Valley and forgot how much fun it is. Is that weird?
JK: People always have a good time making sausage. You don't need to know anything to make sausage. I explain everything in the book. It's so simple, yet you can do so much with it. It's not too labor intensive. It's kind of a straight-forward process. You don't have to worry too much about messing it up. It's a good small group activity. You can even have a party and do it. Have friends come over, make sausage and cook it. You can also pair different sausages with different drinks, wines, and beer. It's such a versatile project. You can do it in lots of different styles.
As you say, “pork takes the starring role in most sausage recipes.” Why is that?
JK: I've eaten over 20 different land animals. Pork is my meat of choice for sausage. Pork fat rules, as Emeril Lagasse would say. It doesn't have any off flavors like some other game meats. It has richness and a great flavor that's a good base, so you can season it with different spices. It's versatile. You can do almost anything with it. Pork is a great meat to blend with other meats too.
Should people buy their pork from the supermarket or a local butchery?
JK: You definitely don't have to go to a local butcher. You want your meat from a location who knows their meat. That might be a local butcher. Ethnic markets are a great idea too, especially if you're looking for different ethnic seasonings and ingredients. Mainstream markets are fine too. Just make sure that it has turn-over and that it's clean. Make sure you see people buying meat.
What are some tips you have for first-time sausage makers?
JK: The biggest thing is cold, cold, cold. You want your meat cold throughout the process. For grinding especially, if your meat isn't cold it won't grind as smoothly. And for safety. Store it in the refrigerator immediately or cook it. Clean everything before you start working and when you're done. Have a buddy the first time you make sausage. It's much, much easier to have a buddy. It's really difficult to do it by yourself.
Why do you have to boil fresh sausage before grilling or roasting it?
JK: The reason I recommend it is that you want to cook it all the way through. If you grill it it burns outside and doesn't cook through and it'll get dry. Store bought brands have higher fat content so they don't dry out as quickly. That's why you can just grill those. Homemade sausages have lower fat, do boiling first will help it stay moist. And it'll help keep it from breaking or bursting.
What do you think the the next trend in sausage making will be?
JK: For me personally, I've been doing sausage now for a few years. I've been doing traditional sausages from different regions of the world. I've made bacon sausage before. That's a little different. I plan to do more infusion including things like adding blueberries to bratwurst sausages, adding fresh ingredients so that it's not just meat. I want to explore flavors that are kind of out there… taking two or three different cuisines and combining those flavors into one sausage. Sausage is the perfect medium for combining different flavors. I hope what happens in the next frontier of sausage is a created element. We've brought back the original sausages like bratwurst. I want to see new sausages made with fresh fruits, cheese, wines, beers. It has a lot of potential. It's limitless.