Homemade Italian Sausage


Since Claire and I have moved just outside of Park City, UT, I have had a plethora of empty time on my hands as the summer tourist season has ended and winter has yet to begin. While I wish I had more paying work, I have been able to tackle some projects which I have desired to do – one of those being homemade Italian sausage.

Being an avid reader of Serious Eats, and especially all things J. Kenji López-Alt, I came across his recipe for Italian sausage. The nerd in me loves his recipes, because usually he will breakdown the science and the reasons why he wrote the recipe the way he did. You can read all about it here.

His basic idea for making good sausage is that it comes down to salt (random fact of the day: according to J. Kenji López-Alt, the word sausage comes from the Latin root for salt), and for this, you must have a kitchen scale. For Italian sausage he recommends using 2% salt of the total weight of the pork that you use.

The other key is that you mix all of the ingredients, including the salt, with your cubed pork and let it sit at least 8 hours (you would never do this if you were making burgers). This process will give your sausage “the mildly bouncy” texture that makes sausage great. Again you can read his full article for the science behind this.

The process is quite easy. The most time consuming part is cubing the pork, especially if there is a bone. But other than that, the amount of active time is maybe an hour tops, between cubing the pork and then grinding it the next day.

Besides a kitchen scale, you do need a few other pieces of equipment: a meat grinder (although a food processor will work too) and a stand mixer to knead the ground meat (you could also do this by hand).

I would highly recommend making Italian sausage mainly because the results are so much tastier than the store-bought stuff. But you should also make it because it is cheaper. When pork shoulder goes on sale, you can easily find it for under $1.50 per pound. Granted it will be a lot more pork than you need, but you can save the rest of the pork for another dish, like chili. In the batch I just made, I paid $13.10 for about a 9 pound roast. After I was done taking the skin off and deboning it, I was left with just over 6 pounds of meat, which is just over $2 per pound. Usually I see a one pound package of Italian sausage for around $5.00; on sale it might be $3.00. By making your own Italian sausage you are saving at least one dollar for every pound you make.

After I am done making the sausage, I have portioned the sausage into ten ounces and frozen in a quart-sized freezer bag. I have found that ten ounces is the perfect amount for Claire and I, but if you have a larger family you could do whatever size you wanted.

With our first batch, Claire and I used it for spaghetti sauce and most recently on homemade pizza, which was incredible!

You can find the recipe at Serious Eats, but I also have reposted it here for convenience.

It might not look too appetizing right now, but trust me, once cooked, it is incredible.

Juicy Sweet or Hot Italian Sausage

J. Kenji López-Alt
SEP 19, 2011

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds pork shoulder with at least 20% fat, cut into rough 1-inch chunks (or 2 pounds ground pork, see note)
  • .6 ounces kosher salt (2% of the weight of the pork)
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 tablespoons whole fennel seed, toasted
  • 2 teaspoons dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes (hot sausage only)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (hot sausage only)

Procedures

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 2 days.
  2. Place feed shaft, screw, blade, and 1/4-inch plate of a meat grinder in the freezer for at least 2 hours. Grind sausage meat according to manufacturer’s directions into the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl. If finer texture is desired, chill meat in freezer for 15 minutes before grinding again.
  3. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sausage meat on medium high speed until it becomes tacky and sticky, about one minute. Alternatively, knead by hand for three to four minutes. Transfer to a zipper-lock bag and seal. Sausage will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. Stuff into casings or cook as desired.
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Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Vocation

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012) is a documentary that peaks into the life of one of the world’s greatest culinary artists – Jiro Ono. Jiro is an 85 year old sushi chef in Tokyo who runs a ten seat sushi only bar inside a subway station, named Sukiyabashi Jiro. Yet because of his meticulousness and devotion to his skill, he has been awarded the coveted three stars by the Michelin Guide. Dinner at the restaurant starts at 30,000 Japanese Yen, which is $380 US, and people are willing to pay the price as seen by the fact that some patrons make reservations up to a year in advance.

The movie is a beautiful, amazing and thought provoking look into the mind of one who is at the top of his vocation. His sushi is simple and minimalistic, yet according to people who eat there, Jiro’s food has a depth of flavor that belies its simplicity. The Japanese food writer, Yamamoto, who guides the viewer through the movie, states that Jiro’s philosophy can be summed up by: “Ultimate simplicity leads to purity.”

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The movie does a great job, however, in showing just how meticulous not only Jiro is but his whole staff, from the quality of the fish they buy to the rice they buy to the handling of the ingredients. For instance, in the preparation of octopus, Jiro states that when he began he used to only massage it for 30 minutes, but now he, or rather the apprentices, massage it for 40-50 minutes. Another apprentice recounts how after 10 years he was finally given the opportunity to make the egg sushi, which is typically the last piece served. It took him over 200 attempts to make it according to Jiro’s standards.

What underlies his philosophy the most is how Jiro views his vocation. At the beginning of the film, he says: “Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.” And his older son, Yoshikazu reiterates the same principle. The restaurant does not have any secret techniques; they simply make the effort and repeat the same process every day.

This is exactly what Jiro has done. He recounts how when his boys were young, he barely knew them because he would leave the house by 5am to be at the fish market and would not return home until after 10pm, when his boys would be asleep. When the movie was made, Jiro was 85 years old and still at the restaurant every day, tasting everything because if it is not up to his standards it will not be served.

The film is fascinating because it forces one to grapple with the question of the pursuit of excellence. Jiro’s whole life, including his dreams, has been devoted to the craft of sushi. But at what cost? The cultural dynamics make it all the more difficult to assess. Jiro’s two sons apprentice with their father, not by choice, and have learned to love the art of sushi like their father.

But Jiro also speaks against my generation’s tendency to want things quickly and easily. Life should be easy. Learning a vocation should be easy, and if it is not I will find something else to do. But Jiro’s apprentices work for him for decades, slowly learning the artistry of the craft. Sadly not many aspiring sushi chefs want to apprentice for Jiro because of the work involved.

As an aspiring cook, the dedication and sacrifice required to be excellent in the field are thoughts constantly on my mind. But what am I called to do? What is my primary vocation? Is it to be a husband and one day a father? Or is it to be an excellent cook? Or is it something completely different? Are there seasons when I should work longer hours in order to provide for my family but also to hone my skill? Or do I put Claire first, sacrificing my calling as a cook, to love her better?

More Than Just a Cheesecake

Three years ago today, I went on a blind-date with Claire. Little did I know that 6 months later, I would propose and less than a year after we met, we would be married. I always think of the cheesecake that I made, and the lessons Jesus taught me through it. So here is the original post in honor of three awesome years!

A Cheesecake that is more than a Cheesecake
originally written Sept 14, 2009

As wedding favors, we gave little bags of chocolate malt balls with the recipe for the Cheesecake

Some friends recently set me up on a blind-date. Usually I am not a big fan of blind-dates, but for whatever reason, I quickly agreed to the idea. It took a couple of weeks to find a time that worked for all of our schedules, but we finally set a date, in which we would all meet at this couple’s house for dinner and games.

I was asked to bring a dessert, so I immediately started the internal conversation with myself about what to bring. Obviously I was not going to pick up something, nor do brownies from a box, but neither was I going to go all out and make something extravagant (I can’t after all show all of my cards!). Originally, I settled on a cheesecake, namely an old fashioned cheesecake. Having made this and other cheesecakes dozens of times before, it would be easy enough for me to do, yet would still show some thought and care. Not to mention it was safe…chances for failure were close to zero.

But here is where things got interesting. The night before I was going to make the cheesecake, I was relaxing at my parents’ house, enjoying a bowl of chocolate malt crunch ice cream. About half way through the bowl, I had a stark revelation…these flavors would make an excellent cheesecake. All night I thought about how I could pull this off and as I thought about it more and more, I literally felt the Holy Spirit urging me to go ahead and try it. To create, to experiment, to risk, instead of sticking with the safe, easy old fashioned cheesecake.

Here is how I planned the cheesecake in my mind. The crust would be a combination of chocolate graham crackers and crushed Whoppers. The cheesecake itself would be flavored with chocolate malt and Hershey’s chocolate syrup (I did find recipes for chocolate malt cheesecake, but tweaked the recipe). I figured the Hershey’s syrup would provide a sweeter chocolate taste than say melted semi-sweet chocolate to mimic the flavor of the ice cream. I would top the cheesecake with a Kahlua-chocolate ganache. And finally, right before serving it I would top the cheesecake with crushed Whoppers. I did not think Whoppers inside the cheesecake would hold up to baking plus refrigeration, mainly because I was afraid that the Whoppers would get soggy.

I made the cheesecake, and was quite happy with how it all came out. The crust did not turn out as I had hoped—the Whoppers candied up during baking, so that it became really chewy, plus I added too much butter to the crust. It still tasted great, but it was not what I wanted.

As I thought about the cheesecake, and the process of creating a cheesecake without a recipe—my first by the way—I began to wonder if me making it had a deeper meaning than me just exercising my knowledge of food. I could have played it safe and stuck with the old fashioned cheesecake, and it would have been enjoyed by all. But I chose to not do this. I chose to risk making something that had the possibility of tasting great, instead of just good. I had a pretty good hunch that the cheesecake would turn out really well, having made enough cheesecakes and trusting my prior experience with flavors. There was still, however, the risk that the cheesecake would fail, and taste like shit (pardon my French). But it was a risk worth taking because the rewards were much sweeter.

Maybe I need to take this attitude more often. Throw away the recipes and risk. Those recipes were and are needed, as they provide the framework and structure for me to create a new cheesecake. But there comes a point where I need to trust my training and my experience to risk and show people who I really am, not only as a cook but as a person. I need to risk and show people what I am truly made of instead of playing it safe. Yes, at times my shit will come out, and yes, at times I will fail, and yes, people might not like what they see or taste, but the rewards are greater as people will know me and not just the safe, contained Andrew, which is not bad; it’s just not the full, flavorful Andrew that has lied buried for way too long.

Crazy how a simple cheesecake can turn into a deep metaphor that God uses to teach me about myself and life.

Oh…and by the way…the cheesecake and the date turned out really well. Neither is final; both are works in progress, but the process is exciting and fun, yet at the same time incredibly scary.

How We Might Celebrate the Eucharist

Having briefly laid out the theological underpinnings for a  more robust celebration of the Eucharist (here and here) within the Evangelical community (a lot more could be said), offering some practical suggestions as to how this might look is next.

First, continually help people to understand the significance and reasons why the Eucharist should be central to our Christian life. This would include helping people to remember that we never come to the Table because we are worthy, but only because Christ has made us worthy through his death and resurrection. In his treatment of the Lord’s Supper in Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin writes about being worthy in this way:

Therefore, this is the worthiness—the best and only kind we can bring to God—to offer our vileness to him so that his mercy may make us worthy of him; to despair in ourselves so that we may be comforted in him; to abase ourselves so that we may be lifted up by him; to accuse ourselves so that we may be justified by him; moreover, to aspire to that unity which he commends to us in his Supper; and, as he makes all of us one in himself, to desire one soul, one heart, one tongue for us all” (Book IV, ch. xvii, 42).

The point of examining ourselves is not for us to feel vile, guilt and shame because we are so sinful, but to realistically face the sin in our heart in order to more fully experience the Trinity’s great love for us. This could be done through a time of guided prayer in the service. The church could also help people do this in their homes in the days leading up to the celebration through guided prayer exercises and Scripture reading at home.

Second, use a real loaf of freshly baked bread to break off from. More than just using real bread, find people in the congregation to bake the bread. I can almost guarantee that in any church of any size, finding a person to bake bread for the Eucharist would not be difficult. This allows the church to experience what Paul writes, “And is not the bread we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17). This simple practice helps the church realize that the Eucharist is not only about communing with Christ but communing with one another. To quote Calvin again, “For what sharper goad could there be to arouse mutual love among us than when Christ, giving himself to us, not only invites us by his own example to pledge and give ourselves to one another, but inasmuch as he makes himself common to all, also makes all of us one in himself” (IV.xvii.38).

Third, have a leader, be it an elder or a pastor, serve communion to each person. I think it is important to be audibly reminded as we break the bread, “This is the body of Christ broken for you,” and drink the cup, “This is the blood of Christ shed for you.” Or invite eight to ten people to the Table at a time and have them serve each other. There is something very powerful and moving both to receive the Eucharist as someone reminds you, “This is the body of Christ broken for you; this is the blood of Christ shed for you,” and to offer the Eucharist to another as you remind them. I understand this might be daunting for some people to do, but imagine how far this simple act might do in fostering and demonstrating reconciliation to a very fragmented world.

Fourth, once every two or three months, center the whole church service around the Lord’s Table, making it a reflection and celebration service. The possibilities on how to organize such a service are limitless—from singing, to the reading of Scripture corporately, to guided times of prayer, to hearing testimonies, to incorporating art (This is where engaging people who are creative would be a great idea). I think that after such a service it would be great to do a church-wide barbeque or potluck.

Fifth, along similar lines, encourage small groups within the church to participate in a potluck every time the Eucharist is celebrated. The idea is to help people engage in deeper relationships with one another. Depending on the size of the small groups, two groups could collaborate together, especially if the small groups are divided between life stages.

Sixth, each time the Eucharist is celebrated, encourage people to donate food to a local food bank, or even better volunteer the Saturday before or soon after the celebration. A lot of people eat out after church on Sunday, so what if we encourage people to fast from that meal on Sunday and donate the money? The idea is to remember that although we feast freely, not everyone does, and that we have a responsibility to help rectify this. While we celebrate the Kingdom coming to earth, and look forward to the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9), we cannot forget that we still live in a world enmeshed in sin, a creation that groans “as in the pains of childbirth” (Rom 8:22). In the words of L. Shannon Jung, “To participate in the supper means that we follow the example of Christ’s healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and caring for all people…. Moreover, acts of violence and destruction and starvation are rampant in the world. The Eucharist does not celebrate those; rather, it unmasks evil and sin. As a ritual of hold eating, ‘the Eucharist contains God’s radical protest against this ongoing victimization and violence in our world.’ Moreover, it also allows us to rededicate ourselves to the mission of loving others as God loves us” (Sharing Food, p. 140).

As I have been reflecting on the celebration of the Eucharist and discussing it with Claire, I realized that my strength in this matter is more offering the theological underpinnings of why we should celebrate the Eucharist. I love to think, but I want my thinking to move people into a fuller participation in the Kingdom. In order to fully do this, especially with the Eucharist, I want to involve more creative people who are more gifted in the how we could celebrate. I think the celebration of the Eucharist is a great way to involve creative people in the planning and execution of it.

My hope is that my simple thoughts will help others, more creative than me, to come up with even better ideas on how the Evangelical church can experience the Eucharist in the fullness that Christ intended us to.