I’ve begun making my own pancetta. The trouble is, once you make pancetta, you want to make more. Each time you make more, you have six pounds of pork belly trimmings. From this, I started making pork sausage, from which I wanted to make more sausage, which led me to Merguez and boudins blanc. That’s when I really began to learn.
My adventures with charcuterie — which literally means cooked meat, but has come to mean sausage, terrines and pâté’s — started with a news release on Charcutepalooza. Georgeanne and I wrote about this in February. It is a yearlong challenge by two food bloggers to make charcuterie at home. We signed on.
For the pancetta, no equipment is needed. For sausage-making, a food grinder stand mixer attachment is all you need. Finding the ingredients is fun. Most of the meat is produced locally, and hog casings are always available at the Davis Food Co-op; lamb casings by special order.
Although many stores with a butcher department — such as the Davis Food Co-op — make their own sausage using their meat trimmings, it’s hard to find varieties such as Merguez and boudins blanc. Over time, you also can begin to experiment and create your own recipes.
After making sausage from the pork belly trimmings, I ventured on to the Charcutepalooza challenge for May — Merguez, a spicy and hot North African lamb sausage. I had made Merguez once before with Georgeanne at one of her cooking classes in Winters. That was my first taste of Merguez, with its aromas of paprika, cinnamon and cumin. That day I also tasted a chicken sausage called boudins blanc for the first time.
Boudins blanc is a rich, smooth, emulsified sausage made with chicken, bacon, cream, onions, wine and butter. I had not eaten either since that day, and I suggested to my friend Jamie Buffington, my pancetta adviser, that we make both, on the same day, and double the boudins blanc. What was I thinking?
Having each ordered our lamb ahead from John Bledsoe at the Davis Farmers Market, we prepared our own batches of the meat mixtures the night before. We wanted to start at the appointed time immediately with stuffing the casings.
Merguez is all about the paprika — it takes 8 tablespoons. The paprika I used — a recent gift from a friend — was new, in a Hungarian container, with no English labeling. When I fried up the finished Merguez mixture to taste-test, it was far and away too hot.
I located the culprit through taste-testing the spices; the paprika was red hot pepper. To cool the mixture, I added more lamb, orange juice and spices including new, fresh paprika, the more flavorful cumin seeds (versus powder) and freshly ground cinnamon from a stick. Luckily, it worked.
Even simple cayenne comes in different degrees of heat, some at 35,000 units and some at 90,000, and my recipe called for 3 teaspoons. The heat of that first taste-test bite reminded me how important it is to know and taste my ingredients as I cook. I was humbled, but that was just the beginning of it.
The boudins blanc offered its own lessons — a good two hours worth of stuffing, not to mention grinding time. At the time I made them — as is the case with childbirth — I swore I would never make them again; but after tasting them, I will. Like homemade pancetta, they simply can’t be beat.
As I recounted my experience to Georgeanne, she laughed.
“Boudins blanc isn’t just sausage-making,” she said, “it’s an emulsified sausage, and that’s advanced.” So, I will never again double the recipe.
Two pounds of chicken had seemed so small in comparison with the six of pork and five of lamb; yet it’s so obviously the right amount. And I will never make two types of sausage again on one day.
The beauty of Charcutepalooza is it goes on all year. Now I want to make fancy charcuterie like a pâté campagne. The trouble is I’ll need a terrine mold.
Herbed Pork Sausage with Red Wine
I created this country sausage recipe with my garden herbs and garlic and some leftover Rominger West wine. It is based on my reading of “Charcuterie” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, “The Art of Making Sausages, pâtés, and other Charcuterie” by Jane Grigson and “Cooking by Hand” by Paul Bertoli.
This recipe has passed the breakfast sausage taste-test of an Englishman and three accompanying, discerning adults. It’s easy and a good one to begin with. The instructions below are abbreviated. The first time you stuff sausage into casings, you may want to consult one of the above books for further directions, or make them with a friend who has already made them.
6 pounds pork belly trimmings, cut into small (roughly one-inch) cubes
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon pepper, fresh ground
4 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary and sage)
3 ½ tablespoons chopped garlic
1 ½ cups red wine
Hog casings (optional, unless you are stuffing the sausage in casing)
Putting it together
Making sausage is easier if all the equipment and product is cold. Mix the meat and fat pieces of the pork belly trimmings, salt and pepper together into the mixing bowl of your stand mixer. Put the seasoned mixture through the grinder as directed, with the bowl sitting in a larger bowl filled with ice.
When grinding is complete, add the herbs, garlic and wine to the shredded meat, and, using the paddle blade, mix together for two minutes. This will help bind the sausage so it won’t be crumbly.
In a frying pan heated on medium heat, cook a small patty for a few minutes on each side. Don’t overcook. Taste and correct for seasoning. You can stop here if you wish to cook the sausage as patties without casing. Refrigerate. Freeze after one day what you will not use right away.
If you wish to stuff the sausage, fill the sausage stuffer with the shredded mixture. Place a small bowl of water near the standing mixer. Rinse the casings with running water two times (put the stopper in the sink so the casing doesn’t go down the drain) and fit a length of them onto the nozzle (use the large diameter one) leaving a 4- to 5-inch tail.
Place a tray on the counter under the nozzle to catch the filled casing. Using a stuffer (the wooden pestle portion of a mortar pestle works well for this), push through the mixture, feeding it with your left hand while your right hand holds the end of the nozzle and guides the sausage mixture into the casing. Ensure that no air bubbles develop and that the casing is stuffed to the right diameter, about ¾ inch.
Note: If you fill it too full, the casing will take it, but when you twist it at the end, it may break.
If air does get into the casing and bubbles develop, prick the casing with a sterilized sausage pricker, or needle. Coil the stuffed casing on the tray as the sausage is extruded. If you are doing this with a partner, one can stuff and the other can keep the casing moist and the stuffing guided, and twist the links as they come out, first one way then the other.
If you are making them by yourself, just coil up the stuffed casing until you run out of casing or mixture, leaving about 4 to 5 inches on the final end. Tie the first end in a simple knot. Then every 4 inches or so (depending how long you want your sausage) twist several times, first one way then the other.
Refrigerate immediately. After one day, whatever you will not be using in the next day or two, freeze in packets of three to six.
Any casings you don’t use can be stored in the refrigerator. Store in a small, lidded container, remove the casings from the water they were soaking in and cover casings completely with kosher salt.
— Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan have a food and marketing consulting firm, Evans & Brennan, LLC, specializing in farm-fresh food in school lunches. They co-lead Slow Food Yolo. Reach them at email@example.com