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Family Secrets

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The best of the recipes, techniques, and methods practiced by our large extended Italian-American family - with emphasis on the legacy handed down to us by the original immigrants.

This is a cookbook-in-process project. If you try any of these recipes please let us know how they turn out, whether or not you had any difficulties, and any clarifying improvements you might recommend to make them foolproof. We will of course acknowledge genuine "test-kitchen" assistance.

Family Secrets #14

Sausage - Making Your Own

By CeCe Dove, La Lama Mountain Ovens

No self respecting Italian kitchen would be without a supply of good sausage. This universal food, common to every major cuisine of the world is an integral and beloved part of our diet. There is certainly a specialty sausage for every region of Italy and most likely for every community within all regions. Simply put, you could probably find hundreds of variations on this product travelling through Italy.

Historically sausage was developed by the farmer to make use of all his resources. It made it possible for him to use "everything but the squeal". All the odds and ends from the animal went into it and it provided for his family throughout the winter. Over time the large commercial meat packers "sanitized" the recipes until all that was available in the markets was a bland, universal product.

Meat display case at ccDove Fine Foods.
Picture: 1981
In the United States, it has only been in the past 15 years or so that we've been able to find something other than the standard commercial varieties available in supermarkets. Now, good delicatessens and specialty meat markets are making interesting variations on the usual pork product, using turkey or chicken, fresh herbs, even adding fruits such as apple. Pork sausage is, however, the hallmark for Italian cookery, and having 20 pounds stashed in the freezer gives the cook a real start on innumerable Italian dishes.

Making your own has several advantages. The most obvious is that you choose the quality and freshness of the meat. You also control the amount of fat, something we are all very aware of today. You can experiment at will with herbs, spices, and other additions according to your own likes and dislikes. And best of all, the final cost will be about half of what you would pay for a well made specialty sausage.

When I owned ccDove Fine Foods in California in the 1980's we made several hundred pounds each week. We had a repertoire of about a dozen different varieties ranging from the standard sweet and hot Italian to a Saucisse au Greq (lamb) on to a Swedish beef and potato variety. My original recipe for the lamb sausage is published in California Fresh1. Here we will concentrate on my favorite two Italian recipes. The first is a basic, but delicious hot sausage and the second is my holiday sausage which is a rich, luscious treat.

While no recipe should ever be "written in stone" I would caution you about reducing the amount of fat below what is indicated. After much experimentation this ratio of fat to meat is the smallest you can use and still have a moist and succulent sausage. Alter the seasonings to fit your taste, but remember that salt is a necessary preservative, even in a cooked final product. Fatback can be ordered from your butcher or meat distributor. This is a very dense, smooth fat used in making patés as well as sausage. By trimming the meat first you discard most all of the original fat, then add back in the correct amount of more desirable fat. This serves two purposes. First, it allows you to control the ratio of meat to fat; and second, it replaces the lower quality, loose fat on the meat which tends to gum up the blades of your grinder and stuffer. There are two schools of thought on this matter. One side does it the way I've explained and the other chooses to go with the fat that is on the pork butt and not trim it or add fresh fatback.

You can use either a table top meat grinder (with sausage stuffing attachment) or the meat grinder and sausage horn attachment to an electric mixer such as the Kitchen Aid. For both of these recipes you would use the medium or coarse plate. The casings are available through wholesale meat distributors or any good butcher will special order them for you. I prefer a natural hog casing which is purchased by "the hank". A hank of casings will make at least 150 pounds of sausage. Cost will run around $15 to $18 dollars, they will arrive heavily salted, and should keep in the refrigerator for at least six months. If you prefer not to use casings, the sausage can be formed into patties and be perfectly delicious if not as versatile in their use. If you do use the casings, allow a generous foot per pound.

To prepare casings: Measure off the amount of casings you will need for your recipe, being generous in your measurements in case of a tear. Soak in cold water for 15 minutes. Meanwhile clean and rinse the end of your kitchen tap (remove any aerator you may have there). Take the end of the casing and fit it onto the tap then turn the cold water on slowly. This will fill and rinse the inside of the casing and allow you to see any tears in it. Keep the bowl under the tap to catch the slippery casings and not let them go down the drain! If you find a tear, cut that piece out and discard it. Your final cleaned casing does not have to be one single piece, but should be at least 18 inches long for ease of stuffing. The longer the piece the quicker the stuffing process. Once prepared the casings should be used within an hour or they will tend to dry out and become difficult.

A few tricks to remember: Stuffing is a two-person job. Lightly oil the sausage horn and the casings will slip right on. Turn machine on before tying the knot in the end to push out the air in the horn. As soon as you see the meat, tie your knot and stuff continuously until you either run out of meat or need to put a new casing on the horn. Tie off the end and set aside until all meat is used. Keep a straight pin within reach and as you stuff the casings, prick with the pin when you see an air bubble. This will prevent bursting and keep your sausage even and professional looking.

If you wish to link the sausage at this point, lay it out in a straight line and twist two or three times into whatever length you want. Refrigerate overnight before packaging and freezing. This allows them to dry slightly and mellows the flavor. Cook or freeze the next day.


Hot Italian Sausage

Makes 25 lbs.

  • 20 lbs. trimmed pork butt
  • 4 lbs. cubed pork fat back
  • 8 Tblsp. salt
  • 5 Tblsp. coarse ground black pepper
  • 5 Tblsp. ground coriander
  • 16 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 Tblsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup paprika
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • Approximately 30 feet of casings

Trim and discard all visible fat and gristle from pork. Cube pork and fat back into pieces to fit your grinder - not more than one inch cubes. Grind together. Combine salt, pepper, coriander, garlic, red pepper and paprika in bowl and mix well. Add to ground meat mixture along with wine and mix well with your hands trying not to compact the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Keep meat mixture as cold as possible for ease of stuffing. Follow above directions for stuffing. Refrigerate, loosely covered, for 12 hours before cooking or freezing.

Freezer life: 4 months.

Holiday Sausage

Makes 25 lbs.

  • 16 lbs. trimmed pork butt
  • 4 lbs. pork fat back
  • 3 lbs. whole milk mozzarella, cut in small dice of about 1/4 inch
  • 6 bunches Italian parsley, minced
  • 26 ounces pumaté (dried tomatoes in oil), drained and chopped coarsely
  • 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 Tblsp. each of dried basil, fennel seed, coarse black pepper, salt, and ground coriander
  • 3 cups dry white wine
  • Approximately 30 feet of casings

Trim and discard all visible fat and gristle from pork. Cube pork and fat back to fit grinder. Grind together. Mix basil, fennel seed, pepper, salt and coriander together. Add to pork with parsley, cheese, vinegar, pumaté, and wine. Mix gently but well by hand. Refrigerate overnight and stuff the next day following directions above. Be sure to keep the meat mixture as cold as possible. Refrigerate again, loosely covered overnight.

Freezer life: 2 to 3 months.

Altitude Adjustment: None needed.

1 Junior League of Oakland, California Fresh, forward by M.F.K. Fisher, Junior League of Oakland-East Bay, Inc., 1985. To order: J.L.O.E.B., 1980 Mountain Blvd., Oakland, CA 94611. This is a sophisticated, well tested, beautifully illustrated series of recipes contributed by professional chefs as well as well as League members.

©1998-2006 CDove - Attributed Copies Permitted for Small Quantity Non-Commercial Use Only.
Commercial and Quantity Reproduction Requires Written Permission
La Lama Mountain Ovens, 2055 Lama Mtn., HC81 Box 26, Questa, NM 87556, Tel: 575-586-2286

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