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Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009 08:02 pm

Sausage without fear

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Saxe’s quip is still commonly used, though less elegantly phrased — and not just about lawmaking. We wince, shrug, and say, “You know, it’s like making sausage….” Everyone understands that the rest is better left unsaid.

Sausage-making is almost as old as civilization itself; there are sausage recipes that date back thousands of years. And sausages, in various forms, appear in virtually every cuisine worldwide. They’re an emblematic foodstuff of any culture, utilizing local meats, seasonings and ingredients.

It’s true that some sausages contain cuts of meat that you’d never see on your dinner plate. After all, many sausages — including some of the most common, such as bologna — evolved as a way to make use of leftover bits and pieces. That’s fine with me; utilizing as much of the animal as possible makes sense on several levels. But I’m concerned with how the animal was raised and slaughtered, and what else is in the final product. Fillers such as the rice in Cajun Boudin or the potatoes in Swedish Potato Sausage are great — they’re a crucial part of what makes each sausage unique to its culture. Unfortunately many mass-produced sausages contain less desirable ingredients: artificial flavorings and high-fructose corn syrup — cheap additions to make other poor-quality ingredients palatable.

But there’s a way to enjoy sausage without being in denial about its composition or origin: make it yourself. You’re in charge. You control what kind of meat (or even meat substitute) is used. You control the amount of fat. (Be aware, though, that fat is what gives sausage — or any meat — much of its flavor and juiciness; eliminate it entirely, and the end result will be dry and tasteless.) You control the seasonings, and can adjust them to your own taste.

While cured and smoked sausages can require time and effort, making delicious fresh sausages can be as simple as mixing seasonings into ground pork, turkey, chicken etc., as the recipes below illustrate.

For anyone interested in more sausage recipes and more advanced sausage-making, there are some excellent books and resources available: Charcuterie, co-authored by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, is an essential book for anyone wanting to learn about and make charcuterie. “Charcuterie” is a French term that encompasses not only fresh, cured, or smoked sausages, but also an entire panoply of preserved meats, from duck confit to proscuitto, pâtes, pastrami — and even Chicago hot dogs. More than just recipes, it’s a primer on the what, how, why and where-to-find-supplies of charcuterie. It’s geared for home cooks, and very approachable.

Ruhlman is considered by many (including me) to be America’s best current food writer. Whenever anyone tells me they want to be a chef, I always recommend reading Ruhlman’s Making of a Chef, an account of his experiences as a student at the Culinary Institute of America. He’s also co-authored cookbooks with some of the nation’s most acclaimed chefs.

Polcyn creates wonderful sausages and other charcuterie at his restaurant, Five Lakes Grill, in suburban Detroit, where last summer I enjoyed a fantastic meal. Atlantic Monthly’s Corby Kummer says of Polcyn’s charcuterie: “[It’s] the best I’ve had in years — anywhere, even in southwestern France.”

If you’ve ever enjoyed sausages with new-fangled ingredients such as sun-dried tomatoes, or shitake mushrooms, thank Bruce Aidells. Part of the Berkeley, Calif, food revolution of the 60s and 70s, his contribution was innovative sausages. His Complete Sausage Book has not only recipes for (mostly fresh) sausages but also preparations that utilize them.

For more sausage-making equipment and supplies than you ever thought existed, visit www.sausagemaker.com.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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