Sunday, February 10, 2008

Making sausage

For high-fat frying, I use organic, refined canola oil, or sometimes safflower oil, as long as it's indicated for high heat. When I'm sautéeing vegetables, I usually use organic extra virgin olive oil. I use the same oil when I'm baking bread or pan-roasting vegetables. When I want a creamier flavor, such as when I'm making risotto, I use butter. For some dishes, like kasha varnishkes, and sometimes for sautéeing vegetables that will go into a meaty stew, I use chicken fat.

I rotisserie-broil a chicken once a week or so, and make chicken stock using the carcasses. Both provide me with a supply of chicken fat, which I use for cooking. After I rotisserie or oven roast a chicken, I get a delicious pan of "chicken jelly," a gelatinous stuff that cools to a mix with the fond, as well as the chicken fat, which rises to the top as it cools. When I make stock, after it cools I scoop off the fat and use it for cooking, as well. Fat keeps for a relatively long time in the refrigerator, and freezes well.

I don't eat pork, so when we eat bacon and sausage, it's from duck or turkey. We eat turkey breakfast sausage patties two or three times a week: scrambled into eggs during the week, on the side with pancakes or French toast on Sundays. After trying several varieties, we settled on Shelton's brand sausage and ate it for a long time. It had a good flavor and texture, wasn't too dry—a typical problem with the relatively low-fat turkey compared to pork or duck—and we could usually find it at Whole Foods. For months now, I haven't always found our preferred brand, spurring me to develop a recipe for breakfast sausage using ground meat from the butcher counter.

The spices were easy: almost all breakfast sausage is flavored with sage, nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Like the commercial brands, I used ground turkey thighs, which are more flavorful and have a higher fat content than breast meat.

At first in making sausage I only used pan drippings from roasted chicken, both the fat and the jelly. When I hand-mixed this like meatloaf, the hard bits of fond didn't break up as well, and the tiny globs of jelly were not visually appealing. Mixing the sausage in the food processor distributed the bits of fond and jelly more evenly. Using the pan drippings gave the sausage a pleasant, roasted flavor. Sausage is also good made with the fat from stock, with detectable but not overpowering celery and carrot flavors. The differences are not very strong, so I use whatever fat I have on hand when it's sausage-making time.

I am annoyed when a recipe tells me to to salt "to taste" a raw meat mixture, or marinade, or anything else I'm not inclined to eat as-is. Also, I am too lazy to make tiny test patties, fry them, and taste for salt. Having made one too-salty batch, I backed off the second time to the amount you see in the recipe below. This amount of salt makes a good sausage. If you are inclined to make this more than once, adjust the salt the second time around, if this does not salt to your taste. Or you can make tiny test patties.

I use parchment paper squares to separate the patties before freezing them. This makes it easy to pry the frozen patties apart with a butter knife. There are three of us eating breakfast sausage here on a typical morning, so I package patties in stacks of three: a piece of parchment on the bottom, one each between patties, and one on top. If you want stacks of two, cut up 36 squares of parchment. The formula is: S + 24, where S is the number of stacks of patties.

Turkey Breakfast Sausage

Makes 24 patties

2 lbs ground dark meat turkey (thighs only, or legs and thighs)
Pan drippings from two roasted chickens, or up to 1 cup of chicken fat
2 T dried sage
2 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until the fat is evenly distributed. Form the mixture into 24 meatballs, about two inches in diameter. Cut at least 32 squares of parchment paper, four inches on a side. Lay a meatball on a square of parchment and press it flat. Lay another square of parchment on top of the flattened ball, and place another meatball on top. Press it flat, doing your best not to press the patties into a wave pattern, but to keep them as flat as possible, so they will come apart more easily once they've frozen.

Continue to alternate parchment and sausage until you have as many as you want in a stack, then top with a piece of parchment paper and put the stack into an airtight freezer bag.

When you want to serve the sausage, take it directly from the freezer and cook it through on a griddle or skillet over medium heat, turning it after it browns.
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