The assignment: How to Make Sausage for Pizza. What kind of sausage? That would be my first question. Italian? Well, the assignment did use the word “pizza,” so I am assuming it’s Italian sausage. But wait. There are as many versions of Italian sausage as there are regions in Italy. Not a problem (not that I am going to give you 20 different recipes, however). But I will give you two that I find work just great.
Simple to make? Somewhat, yes. Simple because the way this works is that these are bulk sausage recipes, not link Italian sausage recipes. Bulk sausage doesn’t require that you go through the lengthy process of having to buy sausage casing, rinsing them, using a stuffer or sausage attachment to fill the casing. You wouldn’t be using link sausage on a pizza anyway.
There are, however a few safety rules to be followed when making sausage. First, you will be working with pork, so you need to be aware of cross contamination. I always use disposable gloves when working with pork. Make sure any of the equipment –– chopping boards, bowls, plates, pans, spoons, spreaders, etc. –– are cleaned and sanitized after being in contact with pork.
Once those precautions are taken, the rest of the sausage-making process is a breeze.
You can grind fresh pork butt for your Italian sausage. The pork butt should have at least 25 percent fat to lean meat (a cut called Boston butt has a good fat-to-lean ratio and works perfectly). A 70/30 lean to fat ratio works even better.
Here are some further tips:
? The equipment needed to grind your own pork is but one piece, a manual grinder (I use a counter model made of cast iron. It can grind three or four pounds a minute). Or you can buy freshly ground pork and get right at it with some proper seasonings.
? I love sausage that includes fennel. Fennel and pork are a marriage made in taste heaven. However, if fennel is not to your taste, leave it out.
? “Sweet or mild sausage” indicates that no red pepper flakes are used in the mix.
? “Hot sausage” implies red pepper flakes. Now you adjust the heat relative to how many red pepper flakes are used. Black pepper works in a similar fashion. Add a little or a lot relative to the heat level you are looking to reach.
? Garlic as an ingredient or not is up to you and probably where you live. East Coast and Midwest Italian sausage could very well include garlic, but again it depends on the manufacturer (some of the big users in the Chicago area will specify a certain sausage blend to be used for their pizza). Ground fresh garlic would be a good choice, followed by garlic salt. However, be very careful how much garlic salt you use to avoid a really bitter aftertaste once the sausage is cooked.
Should you feel the urge to get very creative, there is an Italian sausage called luganega. Luganega is a mild country sausage (made mostly in the North of Italy) that includes pork, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper and coriander. This sausage has an endearing and distinct flavor.
One more idea: You can replace the ground pork with ground turkey if you wish to shout about a healthier sausage alternative. And by adding the fennel seeds, you create (somewhat) the taste illusion of pork. The one problem with turkey sausage is the lean-to-fat ratio (not enough fat), so the sausage cooks up rather dry. When using turkey sausage I do not put it on the pizza raw; rather I cook it first and crumble it into chunks.
Once you have made the sausage you can cook it in pieces or chunks as you see fi t for further use. Also, keep in mind that after you have mixed any of the recipes above, it’s a good idea to pinch off a piece or two of the sausage and sauté it to test the flavor profile. Adding more seasoning is easy, but taking seasoning away is virtually impossible.
Italian Sausage Recipe No. 1
Makes about 2 pounds of fresh Italian sausage (scale up in direct proportion)
The red wine vinegar in this recipe gives the sausage a bit more moisture along with an interesting taste kick.
2 pounds ground pork (70/30 lean to fat ratio)
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons ground fennel seeds
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Mix all the ingredients together and you have Italian sausage! You can refrigerate it, covered, up to three days. It seems to get better with a little ageing, at least overnight.
Pizza Sausage Recipe No. 2
Makes about 10 pounds of sausage (scale up in direct proportion)
10 pounds ground pork
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1½ teaspoons ground black pepper
¼ cup paprika
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoon fennel seeds
1½ teaspoons ground fennel seeds
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
Place the ground pork into a large bowl. Season with salt, garlic salt, black pepper and paprika. In a blender or food processor, blend the oil, fennel seeds, ground fennel seeds and red pepper flakes. Mix everything into the ground pork until well blended. Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to blend.
Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.