Homemade Italian Sausage Recipe
This isn’t a “pressure cooker” recipe per se, but I use my homemade Italian sausage in several pressure cooker recipes I’ll be publishing shortly, so I’m including it so you can enjoy it, too. This recipe shows you how to make ground pork / homemade sausage with your food processor for a fraction of the cost of premade sausage, its healthier and has less fat and calories than many commercial sausages, you determine how much salt goes into it, it doesn’t contain the corn syrup, sugar, MSG, fillers, and preservatives found in many commercial sausages, its really quick and easy to make, and best of all, its delicious!
You can also make this sausage with poultry or beef. If you have a good Meat Grinder, feel free to use that instead.
Can I Substitute Other Cuts of Meat for Pork Shoulder / Pork Butt? Yes, within certain limits. One of my favorite charcuterie cookbooks, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing, explains it best: “. . .while a sausage is prized for its flavor, and is rightfully considered a special item, it requires the least expensive cuts, tough cuts with a lot of connective tissue and plenty of good fat marbled in. Making sausage is a terrifically satisfying way to serve a budget cut of meat.” Pork chops, pork loin, and pork tenderloin are not good substitutes for the recommended cuts – they’re too lean to make good sausage. If you can’t find pork butt or shoulder (don’t let “bone in” cuts scare you off), here’s my chart of pork cuts that are either cut from the shoulder or butt, or which can be used interchangeably (I also have some bargain hunting tips to get the best deals).
Since writing that page, I have learned there are actually two different cuts of meat sold under the name “country style ribs”: the first of which is cut from the loin adjacent to the pork shoulder, and strips actually cut from the pork shoulder itself, both of which will work for sausage. If you can’t find any of the pork cuts I’ve listed in your supermarket, ask your butcher for guidance – they may be sold under a different name. If you want to make chicken or turkey sausage instead, I recommend you use thigh meat because again, it has more fat, and fattier cuts are better for sausage. (To add fat to chicken or turkey, you could use either a few pieces of bacon or shred some mozzarella to add to the sausage.) If you want to make beef sausage, then I would recommend something like chuck roast, pot roast, or seven bone roast, or if you want to skip the grinding process altogether, use ground chuck.
Fat, Salt, Sugar and Other Sausage Ingredients. Although I say this particular recipe has fewer calories and fat than many commercial brands of Italian sausage, I’m not claiming its low in fat or calories. Any sausage that was probably wouldn’t be worth eating. Both pork shoulder and pork butt have a fair amount of marbled fat within the meat itself. But I find that many nationally available sausages have egregious amounts of fat, so that when you cook them in a skillet they actually end up swimming in a pool of hot fat: to me, that’s excessive. With some sausage, a look at the proportion of white to pink leaves you wondering just how high the fat percentage is, and I’ve read that for some ground pork and sausage, it can be as high as fifty percent!
I’ve written this recipe to be comparatively lean and recommend that you make a batch, take a small amount and cook it up, see how you like it, and if you want more fat, there are a couple of ways it can be added. If you bought a large piece of shoulder or butt with a fat cap on it, you can dice the fat cap small, freeze it until almost solid, then grind it on its own and incorporate it into the remainder of the batch. If there was no fat cap, you could purchase fatback, leaf lard or salt pork from a butcher, or freeze a couple of pieces of bacon, dice it up small, again, grind it up by itself, and then mix the ground bacon into the sausage (its delicious, though you’d want to avoid smoked or maple flavored bacon for Italian sausage).
Even if you add more fat into the sausage and you don’t reduce your fat and calories, making your own sausage will remove other things from your family’s sausage that you may not want. One national brand had corn syrup as its third ingredient as well as dextrose (so two forms of sugar – no idea if this is the case here, but my sister tells me many food manufacturers will use multiple different forms of sugar so that “sugar” doesn’t show up as the first or second ingredient on the nutritional label), monosodium glutamate (MSG), and two preservatives, BHA and propyl gallate – you can Google them and see if you want them in your family’s food. Other brands of Italian sausage contained sugar, dextrose, sodium nitrites, BHA, BHT, and the turkey sausage even contained pork casings.
If you make your own sausage, you can adjust your ingredients to get the desired results: I used a free online tool, Cronometer and the nutritional facts for the specific cut of pork I used for the sausage photographed for this recipe (pork shoulder blade roast) to compare the sausage I made against a national brand: my homemade sausage had 15% fewer calories, 22% less fat, 37% less saturated fat, and 27% less sodium (and that could easily be adjusted down even more). And since unlike the commercial sausage, I didn’t add corn syrup or other forms of sugar, carbs and sugar were significantly reduced (the herbs and spices added a nominal amount of carbohydrates).
Refrigeration and Freezer Storage Tips. If you decide to buy a whole pork butt or shoulder, it will often come in a Cryovac bag (it looks like its been shrink wrapped) where the oxygen was removed via vacuum before the package was sealed. This allows the meat to last longer under refrigeration, so don’t remove the meat from the bag until you are ready to grind and mix the sausage. The sooner you grind the meat, the fresher and better your sausage will be, but things happen, sometimes you have to buy the meat a few days before you can get around to grinding it. Be prepared to freeze your sausage soon after grinding it: ground meat spoils far more quickly than whole roasts. Home Sausage Making explains why: “Ground-up meat has a proportionately greater surface area than the same weight before it is ground. The more surface area, the larger the breeding ground for bacteria. Bacteria thrive at temperatures between 40 and 140° F (4 and 60° C). This means that your fresh ingredients must be kept refrigerated at all times so that bacteria will not have a chance to reproduce and taint the meat. Keep ingredients clean, cold and covered until you are ready to make your sausage.”
Once ground, leave your sausage in the refrigerator no more than two – three (2 – 3) days. I put each pound in a quart size Ziploc freezer bag, mark the kind of sausage and the grinding date on the bag with a black sharpie marker, seal most of the bag shut with a small hole for air to escape, then starting at the bottom of the bag, I press the meat flat, pushing out as much air as possible, then I complete the seal and stack the bags flat in the freezer, one on top of another, so the sausage takes up as little room as possible. (For extra protection, multiple quart bags can be stored inside a gallon freezer bag.) If you have a Vacuum Sealer, even better: oxidation, exposure of the meat’s surface to the air, can cause discoloration, off flavor and odors, and freezer burn.
Ironically enough, while cooking sausage will help it last in the refrigerator, the exact opposite is true for the freezer. Both the USDA and the FDA say that meat stored in the freezer at 0° F will last indefinitely, but length of storage can impact nutritional content, taste and texture. Cooked meat has a recommended freezer life of 2 – 3 months; uncooked ground meat has a recommended freezer life of 3 – 4 months.
PORK GRINDING TIPS: Pork is actually a difficult meat to grind because of its marbled fat, which is stringy, can clog up the blade and doesn’t grind up easily. You compensate for this problem several ways. First, you cut up your meat into roughly inch size cubes, and you may want to cut up any added fat into even smaller pieces. Second, you freeze both the meat and any additional fat to be added to the sausage until they are very cold and rigid (but not to the point where they have frozen solid). Freezing the meat and fat before grinding them keeps the ingredients cold and further, per The Sausage Making Cookbook: “It is important to have the meat as stiff as possible without freezing it, before putting it in the grinder. The reason for this is that soft meat can be crushed and the juices will run out. Firm meat is cut and retains the juices and solidness of the meat.” Third, you grind the meat and the fat separately, in small batches.
1 pound country style ribs, pork butt or pork shoulder
2 large cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of coarse kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons dried fennel seed
½ teaspoon dried basil
¾ teaspoon of ground coriander
½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional)
Boning knife (optional)
Meat mallet (optional) or heavy skillet
Bowl or container for mixing the sausage
Plastic bag such as a quart size Ziploc bag
- Start with a pound of raw meat (after boning). For pork, use country style ribs, pork butt or pork shoulder. For chicken or turkey, use thigh meat. For beef, use chuck roast, pot roast or seven bone roast.
- Optional, But Recommended: Remove any silverskin from the outside of the meat. Silverskin is a thin, silverish opaque membrane (see arrows above) – it is connective tissue which makes cubing the meat more difficult, it will not break down well during cooking and it will be tough to chew. Take the flat side of your boning knife and place it flat (horizontal) on the center of the meat surface. Push the tip of the blade under the silverskin, in a shallow cut so the blade is just under the membrane. Scrape along the membrane towards one edge to loosen half the piece, then grasp the loose piece, holding it up, re-position the knife at the base where the piece is still connected to the meat, and make shallow scraping cuts to remove the other half of the piece. Repeat until you have removed the majority of the silverskin (don’t sweat little bits here and there).
To see a demonstration of this technique, see the following video. In that case, they are removing silverskin from a different cut of meat (pork tenderloin) but the procedure is the same:
- Using your chef’s knife, cut your meat into approximately inch square chunks.
- Arrange the meat chunks in a single layer in an open container. The meat can be closely arranged, even touch, but don’t pack it too tightly or the chunks could freeze to one another. Place the container in the freezer for at least an hour, until the meat chunks are very cold and stiff, but not completely frozen.
- While you wait for your meat to freeze to the right consistency, prepare your equipment and remaining ingredients so you can continue as soon as the meat is ready. Assemble and plug in your food processor. Measure the spices for each batch (except the salt). Use the teaspoon of coarse kosher salt and the flat side of your chef’s knife to pulverize two (2) large cloves of fresh garlic (see Minced Garlic Tip below). Refrigerate the minced garlic until you’re ready to grind the meat.
- It will probably take an hour, but check your meat chunks every half hour to see if they have reached the right consistency. The meat should be very cold, and stiff, but not frozen solid. Its best to start grinding as soon as the meat is the right texture, but if the meat has reached the right point, but you’re not able to proceed yet, move the meat to the refrigerator so it won’t get too hard.
- If you are confident you have a good powered food processor, you can place the entire pound of meat chunks in your food processor. If you are unsure, or are doing this for the first time, put only about half the meat in. Do not hold the food processor button down continuously, but only use QUICK PULSES to grind the meat. Quick pulse the meat ten times, remove the lid, and scrape down the sides and push the larger pieces back into the bottom of the bowl.
- Continue pulsing the meat ten times, scraping down the bowl, and pushing the contents back down into the bottom of the food processor until you have a coarse grind. (The picture above is about the half way point.) If you are cooking the meat conventionally, on the stovetop with a skillet, you would probably want a finer grind, but if you will be pressure cooking the sausage, for example in my no bean Texas style chili recipe, a coarser grind will work just fine.
- Grasp the food processor blade by its top handle, remove it from the food processor and place safely outside your work area. Transfer the ground meat to a bowl and check to make sure there meat has been ground evenly, that there aren’t any larger chunks or stringy bits of connective tissue (the former can be run through the food processor again or chopped up with a knife, the latter can be discarded). Optional: If you want to add a slice or two of bacon to your sausage, dice raw, frozen bacon into small pieces, then process it separately in the food processor and combine manually with the ground meat.
- Add the minced salted garlic, 1 ½ teaspoons of fennel seed, ½ teaspoon basil, ¾ teaspoon ground coriander, and ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional) to the pound of ground meat. This is intended to be a mild, family friendly Italian sausage, but if you have smaller children or a family member who is sensitive to heat, you can omit the red pepper flakes. If you like your sausage on the hot side, you can increase the red pepper flakes up to a full teaspoon.
- Your hands are the best mixing tool there is, so I’d recommend you wash them really well immediately beforehand and mix the sausage mixture for a good couple of minutes to make sure the seasonings are evenly distributed (you can also use disposable plastic gloves). Otherwise, use a large spoon. Refrigerate, freeze or cook the Italian sausage immediately after you finish mixing it – letting it sit or warm up is an invitation for bacteria.
MEAT SAFETY TIP: I just found a brilliant meat safety idea in my favorite cooking science book and I wanted to share it right away with my readers. On Food and Cooking recommends that since “bacteria are on the meat surfaces, not inside”, and when the meat is ground, it spreads the bacterial contamination throughout the meat, that while the meat is still whole (before you cut it into pieces as in Step 3) you “bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, immerse the pieces of meat in the water for 30 – 60 seconds, then remove, drain and pat dry, and grind in a scrupulously clean meat grinder. The blanching kills surface bacterial while overcooking only the outer 1 – 2 millimeters, which grinding then disperses invisibly throughout the rest of the meat.” That’s a fantastic suggestion that will help make ground meat that much safer.
MINCED GARLIC TIP: Don’t waste money on garlic paste or peeled, refrigerated garlic: its really quick and easy to prepare minced garlic. Place a whole head of garlic in a plastic bag, fold the open end over (or seal it) and whack the bag lightly with the flat end of a meat mallet or skillet bottom to break apart the garlic cloves. Remove the root and outer peel and return the cloves to the bag. Lightly whack the individual cloves with the flat end of a meat mallet or the flat side of the blade of your chef’s knife to separate each garlic clove from its skin. Place the cloves on your cutting board, remove any brown/damaged spots, green shoots and just the tip of the root end. Cut the garlic cloves into several pieces, sprinkle the coarse kosher salt on top. Using the flat side of your chef knife, with the fingers of your free hand pressing down on the tip end for extra pressure, scrape the salted garlic against the cutting board. The friction of the cutting board, the coarse salt and the knife will quickly pulverize the garlic. If needed, give the garlic another rough chop, push the garlic into a small pile, and resume scraping until smooth and pulverized.
MULTIPLE BATCH TIP: If you’ve bought a whole or half pork butt or large chuck roast and are making multiple batches, I recommend that you make one batch first, then cook up a small portion in a skillet to taste test. That way you can adjust the fat (by adding some bacon, for example) and heat levels (by adjusting the amount of red pepper flakes up or down) according to your own taste. Be sure and mark your printout of this recipe with any adjustments you make so you repeat the recipe exactly the way you like it the next time you make sausage.
NOTE: An hour of the "prep" time is actually the meat chunks chilling in the freezer, not actual working time.
- 1 pound country style ribs, pork butt or pork shoulder
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 1 teaspoon of coarse kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried fennel seed
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- ¾ teaspoon of ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional)
- Start with a pound of boneless meat. For pork sausage, use country style ribs, pork butt or pork shoulder. For poultry, use chicken or turkey thighs. For beef, use chuck roast, pot roast or seven bone roast.
- Optional, But Recommended: Remove any silverskin from the surface of the meat. Place your boning knife flat (horizontal) in the middle of the meat, on top of the silverskin, and poke the tip of the knife just slightly into the meat, so it is flat under the silverskin. Make short, scraping cuts toward one edge of the meat until you have cut the silverskin free, hold the silverskin up with your free hand, and then place the knife against the point where the silverskin is still attached, and make short, scraping cuts toward the other end of the meat until severed. Repeat until most of the silverskin is removed. (See also this Demonstration Video re Removing Silverskin)
- Use the chef's knife to make 1" square chunks of meat.
- Place the meat chunks in an open container, avoid crowding them to the point where pieces will freeze to one another, and freeze for at least an hour, or until the meat is very cold and stiff, but not completely frozen.
- Use the coarse kosher salt and your chef's knife to pulverize your garlic cloves. Measure out the remainder of the herbs and spices. Prepare your food processor for use.
- Once your meat is partially frozen (very cold and stiff, but not frozen solid) you can grind the sausage.
- If you've never done this before, or you're uncertain as to the power of your food processor, put half the meat in your food processor bowl. If you have a good food processor, you can put the whole pound of meat in. DO NOT press the power button down continuously, use only quick pulses.
- Quick pulse the meat ten times, remove the lid, scrape down the side of the food processor, and push any larger pieces down into the bottom of the bowl. Repeat as needed until you have a coarse grind. (If you aren't using the sausage in the pressure cooker, you might want to continue pulse grinding until you have a finer grind of sausage.)
- Remove the blade from the food processor, then remove the meat. Check the ground meat for any large chunks or connective tissue. Chop the former up by hand until its roughly the same size as the rest of the meat, discard the latter. Optional: Add the frozen, uncooked ground bacon, if desired.
- Add the salted garlic paste you made, and the remainder of the herbs and spices. If you have family members who are sensitive to spice, you can reduce or omit the red pepper flakes. If you like your sausage spicier, you can increase it.
- Wash your hands well (wear disposable gloves if you have them), and mix the sausage and spices thoroughly with your hands. When well mixed, refrigerate, freeze or cook immediately.