Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sausage and the guyness problem

I remember a conversation many years ago with Glenn and later-to-be Iron Chef challenger Linton Hopkins (all three of us enthusiastic protofoodies working at a bookstore) about the distressing lack of truly manly kitchen equipment. I mean, besides knives, with their obvious phallic symbolism, what is there? Kitchen Aid mixers? Nope. Disqualified because they're available in pastels. George Foreman grills? Please. Foreman's imprimatur aside, a device that obviates the need for hauling out the Weber and a bag of briquets and starting an actual fire scores no points for manliness. So... what else?

At that time, the most obviously masculine cook's tool I could think of was a salad spinner I'd seen at Williams Sonoma that operated with a pull cord like a lawn mower instead of a crank. Which is pretty cool, of course, but really now. A salad spinner? If that's the best I could come up with, we were clearly facing a crisis, not necessarily of masculinity, but of fundamental guyness in the kitchen. Scoff as you will. As much as I love cooking, there are times (I remember opining), when I'm standing in my kitchen in my apron making hollandaise while my green beans are steaming, that I start to ponder the deep complexity of gender roles in modern society. And I get an urge to pop a cold one and watch NASCAR, or maybe go hang out at a hardware store.

Obviously I hadn't considered the possibilities inherent in home sausage making. Check this out.


It's a Porkert #8 meat grinder. Seven pounds of Czech-forged tin-plated cast-iron machismo. It's a machine whose technology remains unchanged and unimprovable since its invention in the early 19th century (as it happens, by Karl Drais, who also invented the bicycle). The thing fairly vibrates with serious purpose. Yeah, it's a singletasker. You've got a problem with that?

For my first sausage project, I thought I'd make a batch of breakfast sausage, per a recipe from Alton Brown's Good Eats show. This decision was also influenced by the utter lack of availability anywhere within a comfortable day's drive of sausage casings. I mean, I guess I could have gone out to Fairfax and hit Wegman's, but it's beautiful sleepy Saturdays such as this one aren't meant for putting forth that much effort. Maybe next time.

To start with, I combined 1 tbsp. light brown sugar, 2 tsp. finely minced sage (from Lori's garden), 2 tsp. finely minced thyme leaves, a half tsp. finely minced rosemary leaves, 2 tsp. salt, 1 ½ tsp. black pepper, and 1/2 tsp. each ground nutmeg, crushed red pepper, and cayenne. I cut 2 lbs. pork butt and 1/4 lb. fatback into quarter-inch cubes, and mixed all that together. (By the way, never mind sausage casings; do you have any idea how hard it is to find fresh fatback in this town? God's teeth, how do people flavor their beans these days?)


The pork mixture went into the fridge for an hour. I also put the Porkert and a plate into the freezer. I've read everywhere that the key to successful sausage-making (as well as pâté- and terrine-making) is to make sure the stuff stays cold. If the fat warms up and liquifies and runs out, you'll get a weird grainy texture. So it's good practice to keep all your equipment cold. It's just like making pie crust, except more manly.

So, everything being nicely chilled, I opened a beer and went to work. I ground the pork mixture very slowly so as not to heat it overmuch, using the fine grinding plate.


And besides patting a handful of it into a puck and frying it up, that's all there was to it, really.


I don't usually go for breakfast sausage that's this spicy, but all the flavorings are nicely balanced: through the heat, I can taste all the herbs. And as with most high-heat foods, I'm feeling a definite urge to narf down the whole two pounds of the stuff right now. So--success! Italian sausage is next, I think. Or maybe andouille.

22 comments:

Jeanette said...

heh heh. you said "porkert."

Rob said...

I've been wondering if there might be one recipe I could use both the porkert and the whooshy for, just to amuse myself.

An Briosca Mor said...

You need to make some black pudding! Perhaps there will be someone from NI down at the Smithsonian Festival who could give you some tips.

Rob said...

A real advantage of being single is that I'm absolutely free to cook up a big steamy pot of pig's blood if I so choose with no fear of censure. A disadvantage is that, well, a whole batch of black pudding is a lot to eat all by myself. And I don't know of anyone else in my circle of friends who likes the stuff as much as I do. Now if I were making, for example, chocolate strawberry shortcake, that would be a whole other bag of halibut. So to speak.

An Briosca Mor said...

A big steamy pot of pig's blood - what could be more manly than that? Makes a sausage grinder look about as manly as a cub scout knife in comparison. And if you can't find anyone in your circle of friends that likes black pudding, how about expanding your horizon to include your circle of acquaintances and annoying hangers-on? I bet that Frenchman who keeps showing up at the session and trying to peddle his stash of CDs under the table would take a bit of it. Not so sure about his wife, though. And that lady with the constantly changing hair who likes to live dangerously by consuming unpasteurized dairy products - how could she not want some? And me, if I could get my hands on some black pudding 'round these parts, in addition to the standard breakfast fry-up I have in mind a pizza with Dubliner cheese, roasted mushrooms and tomatoes and black pudding on a whole wheat crust. Sort of a full Irish breakfast on a pie. So what do you say? Strap it on, lad!

Rob said...

Man, that pizza sounds way amazingly good, sure enough.

Now that I look at recipes, you don't actually need a grinder to make BP, other than to stuff the casings. Boil your liver, mince it, mix it with blood, oatmeal, bread crumbs, onion, salt, and allspice, stuff your casings, steam for 5 hours, and there you go. Child's play, only gorier.

Dare I suggest... Orion Chef Black Pudding?

An Briosca Mor said...

Hey, if you provide the BP, I'll provide the oven. I need an excuse to clean my house anyway...

Rob said...

The hard part, of course, is getting hold of some blood from a trustworthy source. I wonder if our friends at Polyface could help. I'll also need some lard, but I live near several Latino and Asian markets; that shouldn't be a problem.

I'm going to do this. I'll probably wait till I've tackled a few more pedestrian sausage projects -- I'm jonesing for some good kielbasa, for example -- but I'm going to do it.

An Briosca Mor said...

I seem to remember reading somewhere a while ago about a local source for blood, but I can't remember exactly where it was that I read it. Don Rockwell, eGullet, maybe City Paper? Perhaps an online search will turn it up for me. If I find it, I'll let you know.

Rob said...

Um. Somebody posted an ad in the City Paper that they have fresh blood available? Not that I'm surprised, mind you.

An Briosca Mor said...

If it was in the City Paper that I saw the mention of blood, it wouldn't have been in an ad. It was an article or thread I read somewhere about something that had an "oh by the way" mention of a place that you could get pig's blood locally. You know, it may even have been something about the Eastern Market fire that said the butcher there was a place you could get some if you asked for it. But don't quote me on that, my memory is still quite hazy. I'll keep looking around and see if I can uncover the source.

To find an ad offering pig's blood in the CP, I guess I'd need to start reading those kinky adult ads more closely. But if I did, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find one...

Ed Bruske said...

Sausage making--lovely. And the hand-cranked meat grinder. A very worthy tool.

I think it was Jeffrey Steingarten in Vogue who did a whole take on trying to track down pig's blood for sausage. If memory serves, he finally located some in an Asian market in NYC. That would be my guess as well, a Vietnamese or Chinese market.

Rob said...

The grinder set was about $45 from Surly Table and included a stuffing attachment with three sizes of tubes. It's a pretty good deal.

Ed, where do you get your sausage casings?

Mike said...

I'm very happy for you and your meat grinder, but it is not the most guysome piece of kitchen gear I've ever seen. No. That would be a nutcracker my dad usedta have that consisted of a metal cylinder connected to a metal plate by a spring. You put a nut between the metal plate and the wall of the contraption, pull the cylinder about a foot away and let it go. It was like using a slingshot in a tube. The only manlier nutcracker I've ever seen was Marlon Brando's character in The Freshman (which, come to think of it, is also probably the best movie ever about food).

Rob said...

Hm. A nutcracker? As opposed to a device for grinding flesh? I'm respectfully dubious.

I had an uncle who could crack a pecan by squeezing it in his hand.

Mike said...

It's not that it was designed for cracking nuts. It's that it was a gratuitously elaborate, gratuitously dangerous contraption that was designed more to be fun than to be efficient. It was a culinary DeLorean.

sara said...

Margaret Atwood wrote this short story where men decided to express their power and dominance (a big theme for her) by taking over the kitchen... it was all about manly cooking. I can't remember it well, but it's right up the alley with this post!

I got this large, SHARP deBuyer mandoline for Christmas that is manly in a japanese crotch rocket kind of way. The blades are V shaped and there's this smooth, steel handle the size of your whole hand. Ooh.

sara said...

by the way, did you come with me to the crawfish boil party once? Gigantic outdoor boiler, deep fryer, propane fire, crawfish rolling around with whole habaneros, potatoes, corn. makes even chopping look fussy. but of course outdoor cooking is a whole nother thing.

Rob said...

Oh, yeah. I'd forgotten about your mandoline. That thing is downright terrifying. You win. :-)

I've been to that crawfish boil with you a couple of times, and yeah, we're talking about a whole other order of hairy-chested arrghness there. And oh my gods that stuff was good. To say nothing of the fantastic music -- do you remember that unbelievable surf guitarist they had one year?

Ed Bruske said...

The last sausage casings I got were from the farm "matanza" back in March when we killed six pigs and spent two days making sausages. Before that, our farmer friend Mike Klein picked some up for us. Since then, I noticed Union Meats had them in their display case at Eastern Market, but that was before the fire. But ask anywhere that makes their own sausages, even Whole Foods. Even the guy who sells fresh sausage at your local farmer's market. They should be able to get some for you. Let me know...

Rob said...

I ended up ordering casings from The Sausage Source. I ordered on Wednesday and got my package Saturday. Very cool.

Ed Bruske said...

groovy, thanks for the link