5@5 - Chef Alex Harrell
February 15th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

The idiom, "...like watching sausage being made" isn't a particularly appealing one - but when there's boudin waiting for us at the end of it, we certainly don't mind the offal process.

Alex Harrell is the executive chef of Sylvain in the French Quarter of New Orleans, which team Eatocracy just happens to be in this week getting ready for the second edition of our Secret Supper.

Now, gather 'round - it's time to make the sausage.

Five Tips on Making Homemade Sausage: Alex Harrell

1. Equipment
“You’re going to need a stand-up mixer with a grinder attachment and a sausage stuffer. It’s a bit of an investment, but for a couple hundred bucks you can get all three components. Kitchen Aid is one of, if not the most popular model, but I personally wouldn’t use the stuffer that comes with it as it tends to over-process the meat and leads to smearing and a poor texture. I recommend sticking to a crank and piston-style stuffer.”

2. Mixing and Fat/Meat Ratio
“No matter what kind of sausage you decide to make, the ratio of meat to fat can’t be over-emphasized. If the three parts meat to one part ratio is off, your sausage will become too dry during the cooking process. Pork shoulder fat and pork fatback are the easiest to find and work with and should be used even if your sausage meat is beef, veal or other meats.”

3. Seasoning
“Proper seasoning is a must and will ultimately determine the flavor and style of sausage you’ll make. It’s important to not only season the meat well, but to also allow time for the meat and spice blend to come together. It’s a good idea to season the meat a day in advance to ensure a richer flavor. Once the meat is seasoned and ground, cook a small piece of it and taste to test your seasoning levels.”

4. Stuffing & Cooking
“Casings can be purchased at most butcher shops or online at sites like sausagemaker.com. Stuff the casing with your mixture slow and steady to ensure that there are no air pockets. When it’s time to cook, I recommend simmering the sausage in liquid before finishing it in a pan or on a grill. This will keep the casing from rupturing as the meat and fat inside expands. If finishing the sausage in a frying pan, you can simmer it in chicken stock and if grilling, I use a mixture of onions, bay leaf and beer. Be sure to let the sausage cool and dry off a bit after simmering so that the wet casing doesn’t stick to your cooking surface.”

5. Cleanliness
“Always keep your equipment clean and your meats very cold for two reasons; sanitary equipment and cold temperatures keep harmful bacteria from growing to levels that will spoil your finished sausages or worse, make someone sick. Also, the colder the meat is when it is ground, the less likely it is that the sausage texture will be grainy. This is a result of fat smearing into the meat instead of being evenly combined.”

Ever tried your hand at homemade sausage? Share your best (and wurst) stories in the comments below.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Bite • Cuisines • New Orleans • Think

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Joan W. Mazyck

    Hi, Alex..I don't make sausage.....but it's fun to see your smiling face on my computer....I'm impressed!!

    February 16, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  2. Andrey D

    Oh and if you're looking for the actual recipes, the cookbook "Charcuterie" is a great resource, the recipes start out easy but can get a bit more complex, so practice is advised before trying some of the crazy ones.

    February 16, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  3. RichRye

    Coming from Milwaukee, I've been looking for a non-pork bratwurst. After not finding something good, I tried it myself using rabbit. It is absolutely correct that you need to get the fat to meet ratio correct. I ahve to tell you, my bunny brats are the best!

    February 16, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  4. Andrey D

    I got into sausagemaking at home about 2 years ago and I have to say it is a labor of love, but I love to make them anyway! :D As he said, I cannot overemphasize the importance of having a standalone sausage stuffer, particularly if you have a Kitchenaid Grinder as your primary meat grinder. The kitchenaid grinds and mixes the meat/primary bind well, but trying to stuff sausages through that damn thing is more of a hassle than it should be. Without a stuffer, it would take me and another partner about 2 hours just to stuff about 5 lbs of sausage! I'd be so exhausted by the end of it, I'd be too tired to eat!

    Some Sausages I've made and experiences I've had:

    Fresh Basil and Chicken Sausage – Absolutely divine with a good pasta/sauce, and my personal favorite. Just make sure to have plenty of pork fat/lard handy to make sure it's not dry when you cook it. You can also add grilled bell peppers for a nice smokey taste.

    Croatian Kielbasa – Originally from Poland, my take on this recipe calls for more Paprika and Garlic to make an intense smoky sausage that's perfect to accompany any Sarma. I usually use a mix of beef/pork for this sausage.

    Swedish Beef and Potato Sausage – This one was probably one of the more bizzare creations I attempted. It was tricky to keep the fat ratio right as you're grinding potatoes directly into the primary bind. I borrowed a recipe from a friend and the result was a semi-sour sausage with an intense clove taste, I'd say it'd go well with any savory cream/tomato based sauce.

    You can also turn any of these recipes into smoked sausages if you have a smoker handy at home, just add 1-2 teaspoons of Sodium Nitrite (Pink Salt #1) to the bind before stuffing them into the casings, that will prevent the formation of nasty bacteria when they're being smoked.

    February 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  5. Frenchy

    He's definitely right on about the fat/meat ratio. Nothing worse than a dry, mealy sausage.

    February 16, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  6. jillmarie

    I would have liked to know what seasonings are used. I don't eat meat, but love veggie sausage. I use fennel seed all the time, and am sure that's in sausage, but I wanted to know what seasonings go in it.

    February 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Frenchy

      You can find a few recipes for sausage seasonings on the 'net, and Penzey's spices offer a couple different types of sausage seasoning mixes you can order.

      February 16, 2011 at 9:53 am |
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