Stellar Sausage

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To most Americans, “sausage” means patties or links of ground pork, but sausage making always has been a variable culinary art form, adapting to whatever meats and seasonings were available at sausage-making time, traditionally in autumn. Today, we enjoy not only pork and beef sausages, but also poultry, seafood and even vegetarian versions. And with recent concerns about contaminated ground meats from commercial packing plants, you can relieve some of that concern by selecting prime cuts from organically raised, hormone-free, range-fed animals. And today, there’s no need to bother with time-consuming curing methods such as drying, smoking and salting, which helped preserve meat before the advent of refrigerators and freezers. We can eat sausages freshly made or freeze them for later.

How does sausage fit into a modern diet? We take a balanced approach to meals and eat almost anything in moderation — including our favorite sausages. If you’re watching your calorie and fat intake, a sensible idea is to use a bit of robust-flavored sausage to season otherwise bland dishes; it adds a lot of flavor but only a few grams of fat.

If your love of sausage gives you a guilty conscience, you’ll find that our Turkey and Pear Sausage (recipe on Page 48) is relatively low in fat; coriander seed, basil and tarragon contribute flavor, and the fruit keeps it moist. Creative tinkering with classic recipes makes it possible to devise delicious yet healthful sausages.

Try making sausage on a quiet weekend, or invite some friends over and make a party of it. The recipes may look complicated, but they’re fun and doable. Making your own ensures you can pronounce the name of every ingredient.


A good sausage balances the sweet pungency of tropical spices — allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, grains of paradise, mace, nutmeg and pepper — with the flavors of leafy herbs. Those used most often in sausage making are workhorses in the kitchen and probably are already growing in your garden. Typically, they are the herbs we associate with the Mediterranean region — sage, bay, thyme, lemon thyme, sweet marjoram, Italian oregano, winter savory, chives and parsley. Herbal seeds, especially caraway, coriander, cumin, mustard and fennel, contribute much to traditional sausage flavor, and vegetables such as garlic, onion, shallot, mushrooms and chiles add an incomparable depth.

Basil, cilantro and Mexican mint marigold may be used in quickly cooked fresh poultry or seafood mixtures, but they rapidly lose their flavor in sausages that require more cooking. We love to experiment with sausage seasonings, and we believe any herbs are good with any foods if a light touch is used and none is allowed to overpower.


Pan sausage is a good first foray into sausage making. It can be as simple as adding your choice of seasonings to ground pork, beef, turkey or chicken from the market, then forming the mixture into patties. Or you can grind your own.

Texture, largely determined by the mixing and grinding, is one of the defining characteristics of good sausage. It’s also the badge of honor among makers of Texas home-style sausage — the rural families who still butcher hogs in the fall or those once-a-year hunters who pride themselves on their venison sausage. But texture is also a matter of personal taste, so you may need to experiment to find your favorite.

Most of our recipes start with chunks of meat or other ingredients that are tossed with seasonings and then run through a meat grinder twice, first coarsely, then with the finer-holed plate. When using a food processor to grind meat, partially freeze uniform chunks, then process lightly to avoid making a paste.

A little sugar in most pan sausages helps them brown. We prefer coarse kosher salt to table salt as it lumps less readily. The inclusion of a little fat keeps the sausage from becoming dry and hard as it cooks. With low-fat poultry combinations, we are most successful when we also include moist, aromatic vegetables or fruit.

After mixing your sausage, cook a small amount quickly in a skillet so you can taste it and adjust the seasoning if necessary before you package it and refrigerate or freeze it. Sausage should be refrigerated overnight to marry the flavors before cooking, or as we say in Texas, “Let it set and sob.”


Traditionally, link sausage was made by stuffing the sausage mixture into a casing of animal intestines through a nozzle called a horn. The links of any diameter then were tied with string or twisted off to various lengths. Today, cellulose-based edible casings are also available in the fall in the freezer section of many supermarkets, and many multi-use kitchen appliances have sausage-stuffing attachments.

The casings should be filled evenly but not tightly, as they may burst during cooking.

Sometimes we use plastic wrap to form a casing for sausages made from delicate ingredients such as seafood and poultry. The wrapped sausage is then steamed or poached in liquid. Oiled cheesecloth is traditionally used to wrap extra-plump sausages such as the Endless Summer Sausage on Page 48.


Traditionally, sausage links were preserved by smoking for long hours over indirect heat at relatively low temperatures, but few of us today have the equipment or conditions at home to do this. The red color of many commercial sausages such as hot dogs, salami and summer sausage comes from preservatives such as sodium nitrate.

Because our sausages contain no preservatives, they are intended to be cooked and eaten immediately. Before cooking, they can be refrigerated for up to one week or frozen (except for Elegant Seafood Sausage and Cajun Garden Boudin) for as long as one year. Freeze raw patties or individual links on a baking sheet, pop them off, wrap them in foil, put them into plastic freezer bags and store them in the freezer.

If you have a home smoker, there is no reason not to smoke these sausages a bit if you like the flavor; mild poultry-based blends, especially those with fruit, benefit from a light smoking. Refrigerate the raw sausage mixture for 24 hours to blend the flavors, then follow the directions on your smoker. If you freeze your homemade smoked sausage, eat it within 4 to 6 months, as the flavors change over time.

Most of the recipes below call for fresh herbs; if using dried, halve the amount unless otherwise indicated. All of the recipes can be easily doubled to feed a crowd.

Unless otherwise directed, form all sausage mixtures into patties or stuff into casings, then refrigerate overnight or freeze. To cook, brown lightly over low heat, then add a small amount of water, cover and steam for a few minutes. Uncover and increase heat to finish cooking. Cook meat sausages until there is no hint of pinkness in the center. Don’t prick the casings of link sausage when cooking, as they will lose too much moisture.

Note: Be scrupulously clean when making sausage. Scrub hands and utensils with hot, soapy water before beginning. Repeat when you’re done or before proceeding to any other food preparation.



Makes about 21/2 pounds

Here’s a traditional sausage recipe that lends itself to experimenting with seasonings. East Texans make a spicy-hot version with only a pinch of sage and go heavy on the hot stuff.

2 pounds pork, cut into 1-inch chunks
6 ounces pork fat
11/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sage
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Combine all ingredients. Grind in a food grinder or processor, then mix gently.


Makes about 21/2 pounds

Chop fresh herbs just before mixing them in. For variety, substitute other herbs or use chopped apple instead of the pear.

1/2 cup sliced green onion, firmly packed
1 teaspoon pressed garlic
2 tablespoons butter
2 pounds boneless, skinless turkey, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large pear, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon freshly ground coriander seed
1/4 cup fruity white wine or mild fruit juice
4 tablespoons sweet basil
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon or mint marigold
11/3 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground mace

Wilt the green onion and garlic in butter, then toss lightly with the turkey and remaining ingredients, and grind the mixture in a meat grinder or food processor.


Makes about 5 pounds

Robust seasonings and long, slow cooking in the oven make this a fine-textured, flavorful sausage that cries out for a good homemade mustard and crusty bread.

5 pounds ground beef chuck
3 tablespoons curing salt (such as Morton’s Tender Quick)
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon pressed garlic
2 tablespoons each chopped rosemary and sage
3 tablespoons chopped sweet marjoram
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes, or 2 tablespoons minced fresh jalapeño or Serrano chiles
2 tablespoons fresh ground, toasted coriander seed
4 tablespoons brown sugar

Mix ingredients with your hands. Grind the mixture in a meat grinder or food processor. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours, remixing with your hands 2 or 3 times.

Divide the meat into 8 portions and roll each into a long, narrow log. Rinse 8 pieces of cheesecloth in hot water to remove lint, press dry in a terry towel, then moisten liberally with vegetable oil. Roll each log in a double thickness of cheesecloth, then rub with more oil. Bake the logs on a rack at 250 degrees, turning occasionally to keep them round, for 4 hours, or until a meat thermometer shows an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Remove from the oven; remove the cheesecloth when cool and pat the sausages dry with paper towels if necessary. Refrigerate for as long as 10 days, or freeze, double-wrapped.

Serve at room temperature.


Makes 2 large sausages, enough for 8 to 10 appetizers or 4 entrées

Serve this vegetarian sausage as an appetizer with crusty French bread spread with mayonnaise spiked with Creole mustard. It’s a delicious accompaniment to pasta, risotto or oven-fried potatoes. Freezing is not advised, as it spoils the texture.

2 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 small red bell pepper, seeds and stem removed, cut into small chunks
8 ounces mushrooms, stems trimmed, cut into small chunks
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 teaspoon pressed garlic
2 large dried bay leaves, midrib removed, ground in a spice mill
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon chopped sweet marjoram or Italian oregano
1 teaspoon chopped sage
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cooked rice
1 egg, beaten well
2 to 3 tablespoons soft bread crumbs
Additional olive oil to brown sausage

Pulse the celery, red pepper and mushrooms in a food processor until they are finely chopped, but not pureed. Wilt them in oil over high heat, stirring continuously. Stir in the sliced green onions and garlic. Add the herbs and spices, heating thoroughly.

Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl; add the rice and beaten egg, mixing well. Sprinkle in enough crumbs to absorb most of the liquid.

Lay a 12-by16-inch sheet of plastic wrap on a clean work surface. Spoon half the vegetable mixture evenly along 8 inches of the long edge. Form into a log by carefully rolling it away from you, wrapping the plastic tightly as you go. Twist the ends closed, and knot one end. Push the filling toward the knotted end to fill the wrap evenly, then tie the second end closed and transfer the roll to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining mixture. Refrigerate 1 to 6 hours.

Before cooking, prick the plastic wrap with a sharp, thin knife every 2 inches. In a large nonreactive skillet, heat 1 inch of water to just below simmering. Add the sausages, cover and poach for 8 minutes, or until firm in the center, turning once with a slotted spatula. Cool on a cutting board for at least 10 minutes, then remove the plastic wrap. In a small amount of olive oil over medium heat, brown the sausages quickly on all sides. Remove them to a cutting board and let cool 2 to 3 minutes, then slice each into 10 to 12 pieces.


Makes 2 large sausages, enough for 8 to 10 appetizers or 4 entrées

This delicate sausage may be prepared and cooked 1 day in advance. Do not overcook. Keep uncooked sausage in the coldest part of the refrigerator for no longer than 6 hours. Freezing ruins the texture.

Serve warm or at room temperature on a bed of fresh salad greens or wilted greens drizzled with vinaigrette, pasta in a warm sauce, or creamy risotto.

1/4 cup finely sliced green onion
2 tablespoons butter
4 ounces scallops, about 1/2 cup
4 ounces raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, about 1/2 cup
8 ounces skinless, boneless salmon fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 to 1/3 cup heavy cream
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 egg white, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
4 to 5 drops hot pepper sauce
Additional butter to brown sausage

Soften the green onions in the butter. Rinse, drain and pat the seafood dry with a paper towel. Dice scallops into 1/4-inch pieces. Process shrimp and salmon until finely chopped. Add 1/4 cup of the cream and the beaten egg and egg white and continue processing for 30 seconds, or until smooth. Stop the machine and scrape the sides with a rubber spatula; remove any stringy tissue and process again to puree. Add more cream for a smoother texture.

Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and gently fold in the diced scallops, green onions with butter, lemon juice, salt, pepper, tarragon, parsley and hot pepper sauce.

Wrap and cook the sausages as for Cajun Garden Boudin, but use butter to brown them.


Makes about 21/2 pounds

The seasonings give this sausage its classic Italian flavor.

2 pounds lean pork, cut into 1-inch chunks
6 to 8 ounces pork fat, cut into 1-inch chunks
4 cloves garlic, mashed
2 tablespoons fennel seed, bruised
11/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste

Combine the ingredients and coarsely chop in a food processor, or grind twice in a meat grinder, coarsely first, then with the finer blade. Mix lightly.

Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay are a mother-daughter team who have been growing and cooking with herbs for decades. They live in Round Top, Texas.

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