Now it’s the next morning, and Lou is drinking his morning coffee and waiting patiently for you to get your lazy butt out of bed to continue with the sausage-making. Get the packages of ground pork out of the refrigerator and reassemble the sausage grinder, leaving off the grinder plate and knife and adding the sausage stuffing tube, because we’re making link sausage.
There’ll be a tub of casings on the kitchen counter. Casings are actually intestines. Cows, pigs and sheep are all candidates for casing material, but Lou prefers sheep’s intestines for his sausage. You can get something called a collagen casing but the whole Mig family makes faces when these are mentioned – apparently they were tried and found wanting. So be brave and open up the tub of casings. They’re packed in salt and are shrivelly and grey. They’ll need to be rinsed thoroughly, inside and out (which is sort of fun). The rinsing will rehydrate them and they’ll become silky and slippery. Put the rinsed casings into a small bowl of warm water and bring them to Lou at the grinder. Put on your hat and latex gloves and stand by, because you’re going to be stuffing while Lou cranks.
Lou will pull out one of the casings you rinsed (and God help you if you didn’t do a good job), find one end of it and slide it up onto the stuffing tube, almost like putting on a sock. The casings can vary in length but some are quite long – sometimes about a yard or more. Once the casing is loaded onto the tube, Lou will pull about two inches of it forward and hold it, pinching the end shut. Now the stuffing begins.
The trick to making really nice-looking Italian sausage is to make a nice, even pack – not too tight, not too loose – with no air bubbles. It’s the stuffer’s job to feed the ground pork into the top bell of the grinder, keeping the meat coming so there’s no interruption. Lou will guide the casing as the meat comes through the grinder, monitoring the pack. The beginning of the first sausage is always a “do-over” – the pack is pronounced substandard, the meat pinched out and put back into the top bell. If you’ve got a nice, long casing, the finished product will be a beautiful red spiral, like something you’d see in an old-fashioned cookbook. Have one of those big pans ready to catch the finished product.
This is Lou and my husband John, in the packing process. See the pretty spiral? Too bad there’s no audio to go with this photo because the two of them are pretty funny as they grump at each other.
When you get to the end of your casing, pinch out any hanging bits of meat, form the filled sausage into a spiral, and put it aside. Repeat this whole process until you’re out of meat. You’ll probably have to rinse more casings – you never get enough the first time. If you’ve got leftover casings, pour table salt over them, reseal the tub and refrigerate. They keep forever.
When all the sausage has been stuffed, you’ll need to pack it for freezing. Muriel prefers her sausage cut into links (get out that sharp knife) so it’s easier to pack, but there’s something about those pretty spirals that I like, so if I can get a whole spiral into a freezer bag, I’m happy. Make certain to keep the hot sausage separate from the sweet sausage – Lou and Muriel can’t handle the hot stuff anymore, but John and I love it. Break down the grinder, wash it and the pans carefully and put them away.
John and I will take all the hot stuff home with us, usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 pounds of fresh sausage, along with those meaty pork bones and some of the pork sirloins. We’ll put that sausage into our spaghetti sauce, fry it up in a pan, or grill it to make the best sausage sandwich you ever ate.