Making Sweet Italian Sausage from scratch is fun and easier than you think! Eataly, the heart of Italian cuisine in Chicago, offers a hands-on class conducted by the fun and energetic Chef Jeremy Williams. My brother Chris and I were lucky enough to attend his sausage-making class.
We left the class with 2 pounds of homemade sausage each and excited to put our new skills to work. We are planning to tackle at least 50 lbs of pork shoulder and make enough Sweet Italian Sausages for the whole family. Since they freeze so well, we hope to stock our freezers with enough Italian sausage to last for months. We make no small plans. Chris and I also plan to work on a special Cipolla family Italian Sausage recipe, probably using onions. After all, “Cipolla” means onion in Italian. Look for a blog post in the future when we get it done.
Chef Williams trained at the International Culinary Center in New York City, and spent time learning his craft in Italy at a town just outside Parma, known for its proscuitto, and in Perugia, a town known for its chocolates. After moving to Chicago he worked as a chef for several years at upscale Italian restaurant Spaggia, and then as a butcher at one of Chicago’s old-school and finest gourmet meat markets. Personally I believe that the best Italian chefs have experience as a butcher.
Here are five tips that we learned from Chef Williams at Eataly.
First tip: Just have your butcher grind the pork meat and fat for you.
Chef advised that using a Kitchenaid Grinder Attachment can put too much pressure on the motor. An old-fashioned clamp-on hand grinder will take a lot time and body strength. So the best solution is to ask your butcher to grind it for you. Their large commercial-grade grinders can handle it in a flash. Chef suggested a medium grind or #5 die cut. If you are buying 10 – 20 pounds of trimmed pork shoulder, I’m sure your butcher will gladly accommodate.
Second tip: The best cut of meat for sausage is pork shoulder.
Pork Shoulder naturally has an 80 / 20 ratio of meat to fat. If the shoulder looks too lean (for example if too much fat has been trimmed), just add some pork back fat or pork belly to the mix. In fact, Chef suggested that pork fat should be added to any type of meat sausage such as chicken, turkey or beef sausages. It is the best for binding and flavor. If you are trimming your own pork shoulder, use a semi-flexible boning knife and remove all large blood vessels, soft fat, and glands. Yes it’s gross. Just do it. Sausage making is not suppose to be elegant.
Third tip: Make spice selection your signature
This recipe is the same one provided by Chef Williams in the class at Eataly for Sweet Italian Sausage and it is excellent! It uses a blend of salt, pepper, sugar, fennel seeds and nutmeg. I didn’t expect the nutmeg, but realized after tasting it that nutmeg adds a warm note to the flavor. Chef encouraged us to experiment with spices and herbs to create new and unique recipes. The Hot Italian Sausage spicing consisted of pepper, salt, paprika, crushed red pepper flakes and powdered garlic. The Breakfast Sausage included pepper, salt, sage, sugar, maple syrup and nutmeg.
Fourth tip: Mix the pork and spices together until strands form.
The pork meat must be thoroughly mixed until almost emulsified to get the proper binding to create quality sausage. Use latex gloves and mix, knead, squish, roll and mix again with your hands until small strands of pork form when you pull a handful apart. It will take at least 5 -10 minutes to get to this point by hand.
Fifth tip: Practice stuffing the pork mixture in the hog casings
If you need a sausage stuffer, and who doesn’t, this is a stainless steel Sausage Stuffer from Hakka Brothers with good reviews for home use.
Working with the hog casings is the worst part of making sausage and takes a little practice. You can buy hog casings for sausage from your butcher or online at Amazon. Soak and rinse the casings according to the directions before using. They are icky to handle. Don’t bother to look for an end in the 25 foot long casing to start. Just pick it up and cut to start a long piece. Threading the casing on the stuffer tube attachment takes a little practice. Tie off the end and start pushing the pork mixture through the stuffer. It also takes some practice to regulate the pressure with the hand crank to get the right amount of stuffing in the casing. Cut and tie off the end when you get enough of a coil of Sweet Italian Sausage. It is your choice to twist into links, or leave whole as a coil. Prick the air bubbles with a pin. Your sausage is now ready for use!
I roasted these at 400 degrees for 25 minutes and served with a side of peppadew peppers for a quick test. They were great. Can’t wait to grill the next batch outside for sandwiches.
Eataly Class: Homemade Sweet Italian Sausage
- 10 pounds boneless pork shoulder
- 3 pounds pork fat back or pork belly if needed
- 1 ½ tablespoons black pepper
- 3 3/4 tablespoons salt
- 3 ½ tablespoons sugar
- 1 ⅓ tablespoon fennel seed freshly ground
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg freshly grated
- Hog casings
- Trim any large blood vessels, soft fat and glands from the pork shoulder. Cut pork and pork fat into chunks in a size that will fit in the neck of your meat grinder. Keep the meat very cold until ready to use. Freeze the grinder for 20 minutes to make grinder easier. Grind all the chucks in a clamp-on, hand crank grinder to a medium grind. Transfer to a large stainless steel bowl. An optional method is to ask your butcher to trim and grind the pork and pork fat for you.
- Mix all the spices together and add to the pork. Put on latex gloves and using your hands completely mix the mixture together until strands form when a handful of meat is pulled apart, about 5-10 minutes. The consistency should be paste-like. Store the pork mixture in the refrigerator until ready to stuff.
- Rinse the hog casings according to the directions on the package or per your butcher. Thread one end of a casing onto the stuffing tube. Place batches of pork mixture into the chute, and using the hand crank stuff the pork into the casings. Tie off the end at intervals to create a coil of approximately 5 - 6 sausages.
- Store extra sausage coils in vacuum sealed bags in the freezer for 2 - 6 months.