How to Make Your Own Italian Sausage

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Spicy or mild, Italian sausage is even better when you make it at home.
Spicy or mild, Italian sausage is even better when you make it at home. (Image: daoleduc/iStock/Getty Images)

Advance Prep: 12 hours Start to Finish: 60 minutes Servings: 14 to 16 sausages Difficulty Level: Moderate to Difficult

It's said that one should never watch sausage -- or law -- being made. You don't have to just watch because you can make it in your own kitchen. Choose the simple way with no special equipment or go big with a sausage stuffer. Italian sausage is generally made with ground pork but some cooks will mix in beef or veal. Variations can also be prepared with turkey, venison or chicken. Lean meats will require a bit of extra fat to make sure the ingredients bind. Customize your ingredients and your dinner guests will be begging for the name of your gourmet butcher shop.

Ingredients

Sausage Filling:

  • 2 pre-loaded, pre-flushed hog casings
  • 2 pounds ground pork
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 3 teaspoons finely minced or grated garlic
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon toasted fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, sweet or hot
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (omit for mild sausage)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (omit for mild sausage)
  • 2 teaspoons minced parsley
  • 3 tablespoons red wine or wine vinegar

The Night Before

At least 12 hours before you begin the recipe, place the sausage casings in a bowl or pan of cold water. Place another large bowl in refrigerator to chill.

Mix Up the Meat

  • In the chilled bowl, gently **knead the veal, pork and garlic together**. Add spices and parsley, **omitting cayenne and pepper flakes for a milder sausage**. Mix by hand until spices are evenly distributed. Add wine or vinegar and mix only until ingredients are incorporated, about 1 minute. Mixture should be rather stiff and spring back when pressed with a finger or spoon back.

  • To test consistency, make an egg-sized ball of sausage mixture and press into a **small patty** in the palm of your hand. Stick out your hand, palm down. If the patty sticks for a few seconds, you are good to go. If not, go back to kneading the meat mixture for short intervals until it adheres to your hand.

  • To further test consistency, wrap the flattened patty in **aluminum foil**. In a small metal skillet over medium heat, **cook 2 minutes on each side**. Allow to cool. Unwrap and cut in thirds. If it holds together, your sausage mix is ready.

Stuff It

  • Drain casings from cold water, rinse thoroughly and refill pan with warm water and place near stuffer.
  • Depending upon the capacity of your sausage stuffer, loosely pack 1 to 2 cups of meat mixture in the top.
  • Grease the stuffer tube with shortening so casing will easily slide on and off.
  • Fit entire sausage casing -- cut in half for easier handling -- over stuffer tube, leaving 3 inches of casing dangling at the end. Tie a knot in the dangling casing to create an end point for your link.
  • Start machine or begin to hand-press the meat into the casing, pulling casing off tube as you go, until you reach the desire length for your link.
  • Remove sausage by pulling casing gently from tube, leaving 3 inches of casing at tube end. Cut casing and place sausage on baking sheet lined with waxed paper
  • Gently twist open end of casing and tie off sausage.
  • Using a sausage casing pricker or corn fork, gently pop air bubbles in casing to prevent bursting while cooking.
  • Repeat process, beginning by easing 3 inches of empty casing off tube and tying a knot in the end.

Skip the Stuffer

Avoid the whole stuffing process by simply making patties or rolling the meat mixture into sausage shapes by hand. You won't have the satisfying pop of the casing, but the flavor will remain. This is also an easy way to incorporate your homemade sausage into sauces, meatballs and other recipes calling for Italian sausage.

Tips and Tricks

  • If you don't want to invest in a real sausage maker, small hand-operated versions are available at affordable prices.
  • With a stand mixer, all you need is the sausage stuffer attachment. If you want to grind your own meat, a whole sausage-maker kit is also available.
  • Partner with a friend to make the stuffing process more efficient. One stuffs while the other holds the casing.
  • Unused casings can be kept in the refrigerator for as long as 6 months.
  • Freezing casings is not recommended, as it may cause casings to burst when filled or during cooking.

Warnings

  • The USDA suggests that pork and veal sausage be thoroughly cooked to a temperature of 160 F. Use an instant meat thermometer with a thin spike to minimize leaking of juices. Cook your links in batches and only check one sausage in the batch. You can always use the temperature-tested sausage for tasting or in another recipe.
  • Uncooked sausages, tightly wrapped, can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days and in the freezer for 1 to 2 months.

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