“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” –John Godfrey Saxe

Nineteenth century American poet/lawyer Saxe’s quip is still commonly used, though less elegantly phrased – and not just about lawmaking. We wince, shrug and say, “You know, it’s like making sausage….” Everyone understands that the rest is better left unsaid.

Sausage-making is almost as old as civilization itself; there are sausage recipes that date back thousands of years. And sausages, in various forms, appear in virtually every cuisine worldwide. They’re an emblematic foodstuff of any culture, utilizing local meats, seasonings and ingredients.

It’s true that some sausages contain cuts of meat that you’d never see on your dinner plate. After all, many sausages – including some of the most common, such as bologna – evolved as a way to make use of leftover bits and pieces. That’s fine with me; utilizing as much of the animal as possible makes sense on several levels. But I’m also concerned with how the animal was raised and slaughtered, and what else is in the final product. Fillers such as the rice in Cajun Boudin or the potatoes in Swedish Potato Sausage are great – they’re a crucial part of what makes each sausage unique to its culture. Unfortunately many mass-produced sausages contain less-desirable ingredients: artificial flavorings and fillers and high-fructose corn syrup – cheap additions to make the rest of the sausages’ poor-quality ingredients palatable.

But there’s a way to enjoy sausage without being in denial about its composition or origin: make it yourself. You’re in charge. You control what kind of meat, or even meat substitute, is used. You control the seasonings, and can adjust them to your own taste. You control the amount of fat. Be aware, though, that fat is what gives sausage – or any meat – much of its flavor and juiciness; eliminate it entirely and the end result will be dry and tasteless.

While cured and smoked sausages can require time and finesse, making delicious fresh sausages can be as simple as mixing seasonings into ground pork, turkey, chicken etc., as the recipes below illustrate.

For anyone interested in more sausage recipes and more advanced sausage-making, there are some excellent books and resources available: Charcuterie, co-authored by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, is an essential book for anyone wanting to learn about and make charcuterie. “Charcuterie” is a French term that encompasses not only fresh, cured or smoked sausages, but also a panoply of preserved meats, from duck confit to proscuitto, pâtes, pastrami – and even Chicago hot dogs. More than just recipes, it’s a primer on the what, how, why and where-to-find-supplies of charcuterie. It’s geared for home cooks and very approachable.

Ruhlman is considered by many (including me) to be America’s best current food writer. Whenever anyone tells me they want to be a chef, I always recommend reading Ruhlman’s Making of a Chef, an account of his experiences as a student at the Culinary Institute of America. He’s also co-authored cookbooks with some of the nation’s most acclaimed chefs.

Polcyn created wonderful sausages and other charcuterie for decades at his restaurants in and around Detroit. I was fortunate to have eaten at one of them several years ago, a dinner that included some of his cured meats and sausages. Atlantic Monthly’s Corby Kummer says of Polcyn’s charcuterie: “[It’s] the best I’ve had in years – anywhere, even in southwestern France.” Polcyn recently ended his career as a restaurant chef, but will continue teaching and writing.

If you’ve ever enjoyed sausages with newfangled ingredients such as sun-dried tomatoes or shiitake mushrooms, thank Bruce Aidells. Part of the Berkeley, California, food revolution of the 60s and 70s, his contribution to that revolution was innovative sausages. His Complete Sausage Book has not only recipes for sausages (mostly fresh) but also recipes that utilize them.

For more sausage-making equipment and supplies than you ever thought existed, visit http://sausagemaker.com.
Springfield’s Humphrey’s Market made fantastic apple sausages for years. They were, hands down, my family’s favorite fresh sausages. When Humphrey’s quit making them, I devised the recipe below to satisfy my family’s cravings.
• 2 lb. ground pork
• 1 c. applesauce
• 3/4 c. loosely packed minced scallions
• 1 1/2 tsp. salt, or more or less to taste
• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, or more
   or less to taste
• 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, or more
   or less to taste
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg, or more
   or less to taste
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground Allspice, or more
   or less to taste

Mix all ingredients gently but thoroughly. Sauté a tablespoon or so of the sausage to check the seasonings and then adjust to your taste. The sausage is best if the mixture is allowed to stand, covered and refrigerated, overnight to let the flavors develop. Form the mixture into patties or “meatballs” and sauté until cooked through. The mixture may also be stuffed into casings to form links.

Makes about 2 1/4 lbs.
Cevapcici appear in one form or another in every Balkan nation, albeit with slightly different spellings. There are as many cevapcici variations in the Balkans as there are of meatloaf in America, but all seem to combine at least two kinds of ground beef, pork, lamb or veal. I especially like the half lamb and half beef version below, although just using all-ground beef is almost equally delicious. Whether you use half-ground beef and half-ground lamb or all-ground beef, it also makes a killer hamburger.
Cevapcici (Grilled Balkan sausages)
• 1 lb. ground beef, chuck preferred
• 1 lb. ground lamb
• 2/3 c. minced onion, not super-sweet
• 2 tsp. minced garlic, or to taste
• 1 T. sweet Hungarian paprika
• 1 tsp. hot Hungarian paprika, or other ground hot pepper or pepper flakes, or to taste, optional
• 1/3 c. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Gently mix all the ingredients together. Test by sautéing a tablespoon-sized patty, then adjust the seasonings accordingly. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight before grilling to allow the flavors to develop. Form 1/2-cup portions into oval patties about 1-inch thick. Grill over high heat, turning once, until the outsides are browned and the meat is sizzling. They can be grilled to complete doneness, or until still slightly pink inside. Cevapcici can be served as is, on rolls, or in pitas. They can be topped with an onion-cucumber-yoghurt tzatziki (the sauce served with gyros), or raw or sautéed peppers and onions.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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