Tag Archives: Homemade sausage

How to make mortadella

3 Jan

I’ve waited a long time for this.

Every year that the entire crew gathers together at my house, for a weeklong visit between Christmas and New Year’s, I say the same thing.

“How about we make us some mortadella this year?”

And, well… You are familiar with the expression “crickets,” yes?

Tom always finds this an ideal time to shut his eyes and pretend to be asleep (even when standing upright and carrying a drink in his hand). Beth Queen of Bakers often rushes to check what’s cooking in the oven, despite the oven’s not even being in use. Scott and Giovani’s iPhones suddenly turn silent and out of text range. My (long-suffering) Associate, ever the practical member of the group, simply ignores me altogether.

Not this time.

Weeks before our annual gathering this year I circulated the following missive:

Per my repeated (and, to date, scorned) appeals to enlist your assistance in the manufacture and distribution of an authentic Mortadella di Bologna, you are hereby informed that:

Your aid in this project is considered mandatory and non-negotiable.  

In other words, this is no longer a democracy. 

Deal with it.

Ever the consensus builder I provided my friends an authentic recipe with which to familiarize themselves, as well as a video based on that recipe.

The ingredients were awaiting their arrival. I allowed them a good night’s sleep, but in the morning it was time to go to work.

Mortadella is, to put it simply, a giant cured pork sausage. Its main ingredients are lean pork (here we have two boneless pork loin roasts weighing in at a little over 3 1/2 pounds combined); 1 pound of pork belly; and 1/2 pound of pork back fat. (The complete list of ingredients is printed at the end.)

Grinding meat is always easier when it’s ice cold, or even frozen. Cut all the meat into slices and place in the freezer for a good couple hours. At the same time start getting your grinding equipment as cold as possible. (I put the whole grinding attachment to our KitchenAid mixer in the freezer.)

Mix together 1/2 cup of red wine and 1/2 cup of water and place in the freezer as well.

When the lean pork and pork belly are nearly frozen remove them from the freezer, cut them into cubes and mix together. DO NOT add the back fat at this time; it will be cut into cubes later on but it will not ever be ground.

While the meat is still ice cold run it through a large grinding plate for a coursely ground mixture and return the ground meat to the freezer. Put the grinding attachment back in the freezer too, as well as the smallest size grinding plate you’ve got, as you’ll be needing it soon.

While the meat and grinder are chilling you can put together your spice mix. You’ll need 3 tablespoons salt; 1 teaspoon Insta Cure No. 1 (pink curing salt); 2 teaspoons white pepper; 1/2 teaspoon coriander; 1 teaspoon garlic powder; 1 teaspoon anise; 1 teaspoon mace; and 1/2 teaspoon ground caraway. Make the spice mix as fine as possible. I ground everything together into a fine powder, using a spice grinder.

When the meat is nice and cold add the salt and spice mix and thorougly incorporate. (This being our first time making mortadella we fried up a tiny bit to taste and make sure that the seasoning was okay. It was perfect.)

Grind the meat again, using your smallest grinding plate this time.

At this point you’ll need a food processor. Place the ground meat in the processor and add the semi-frozen wine/water mixture. Process the mixture until smooth. (You may need to do this in a couple batches; that’s what we did.)

Here’s where the half pound of back fat that’s been chilling in the freezer comes into play. Cube it up like so.

Then quickly blanch it by pouring a little boiling water over it.

Also run boiling water over 1/2 cup pistachios and 3 teaspoons of whole black peppercorns.

Add the blanched fat cubes, pistachios and peppercorns to the meat.

And thoroughly mix with your hands.

Get yourself an 8″ x 11″ plastic bag that’s suitable for boiling and tie the sealed end with a cable tie; this will allow for a rounded shape to form.

Then stuff the bag with the meat mixture. (I did this by hand because the extruder attachment on the KitchenAid wasn’t up to the task.)

Close the bag’s open end with cable ties as well, then wrap the bag in buther’s twine (this helps keep the shape intact while cooking). Put the whole thing in the fridge and let it rest for several hours or even overnight, as we did.

The traditional way to cook mortadella is slowly and in a water bath, with the oven set at around 170 degrees F. This is the method most people continue to use today. It will take around 7 or 8 hours before the mortadella reaches an internal temperature of 158 degrees F, the point at which it is fully cooked.

Due to the quick thinking of My Associate, we decided to take another path. A sous vide cooker resides in our kitchen, you see, and we couldn’t think of a reason why we shouldn’t use it. Set at 170 degrees F it took less than 5 hours to cook the mortadella this way.

No matter which cooking method you use, once the internal temperature reaches around 158 degrees F, remove the mortadella from the heat source and plunge it into ice-cold water to quickly cool it down.

Then comes the really hard part: Toss the still-wrapped mortadella in the fridge and forget about it for a couple days. I know how hard that’ll be, but the flavors will develop over that time.

Since this was our first attempt we cut into the mortadella right away in order to test it, but then it went into the fridge for two days before we tasted it again. The difference was clearly noticeable.

Here’s an outside view.

And the inside.

The flavor was spot on; everybody in the house was in agreement on this.

More important, the next time I suggest making mortadella to the crew, I won’t be hearing any of those crickets again.

Of that I am pretty sure.

What you’ll need
A meat grinder
A food processor
An 8″ x 11″ plastic bag suitable for boiling
Butcher’s twine

The ingredients
3 1/2 pounds lean pork
1 pound pork belly
1/2 pound pork back fat

3 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon Insta Cure No. 1 (pink curing salt)
2 teaspoons white pepper
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon anise
1 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon ground caraway

1/2 cup chilled red wine
1/2 cup ice water

3 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1/2 cup whole pistachios (unsalted)

How to make cotechino sausage

6 Jan

This is my friend Scott. He likes a good sausage. So does his partner Giovani.

Lucky for me, the two men are particularly fond of cotechino, a highly seasoned Italian variety most often served with lentils to celebrate the New Year. Since I had decided to manufacture my very own cotechino this past holiday, it was easy to put the arm on my very tasteful buds so as to secure at least one additional set of hands to complete the task.

The guy in the picture is the one whose helping hands were offered to me. The other one? He fled to the nearest hot yoga studio for nearly the entire morning that we were scheduled to work (though he did at least have the decency to treat us to a lovely lunch).


This, by the way, is your traditional presentation of cotechino. It is exactly what I served for New Year’s day brunch last week and, according to Italian lore, should bring good luck to me and my guests through the coming year. Finding cotechino is not so easy in the United States, regardless of where you live, and so ask your local Italian specialty store about getting some in or search for it online.

You didn’t really think that we’d made enough for everybody, did you?

This is the mixture of ground meat (6 pounds of it) and spices that we used. Cotechino is very different from other sausages; the meat mixture is about 40 percent pork, 30 percent pork fat, and 30 percent pork skin. The skin is very difficult to grind using non-commercial equipment and so Jarrod, butcher par excellence at Rosemont Market here in town, offered to custom grind a mix for us. The seasonings we then used are traditional, if haphazardly measured: 3 minced garlic cloves, 4 tablespoons kosher salt, 3 tablespoons cracked black pepper, 2 teaspoons nutmeg, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 3 teaspoons cayenne, 2 teaspoons clove, and a scant quarter-teaspoon of pink salt for curing.

Scott was rather insistent that he work with the meat mixture, I don’t know why, and it being his place where the sausage-manufactuting commenced I chose not to argue this point.

These being large sausage, roughly a pound each, we opted to make one at a time rather than attempt to link them all together. For a more traditional link sausage-making primer go to this link.

Using pink salt in the mix meant that we could allow the finished sausage to hang in a cool place and cure for 24 hours. My friends’ basement was in the 55- to 60-degree range and so that’s where the curing took place. With only two cotechino needed for New Year’s (one for my friends, another for my guests and I) we froze the other four. (Yes, Fred, you may have one of them. But you’ll need to get in the car and drive north.)

Fresh cotechino that has curing salt should soak in cool water before cooking; this helps to remove the salt. New Year’s Day brunch was scheduled for around oneish and so I started soaking our sausage around 7 a.m., occasionally changing the water.

Cotechino is boiled at low- to moderate heat, and for varying degres of time, depending on the product you have. This one would take around 90 minutes, Jarrod the Wonder Butcher reasoned, and so at around 11 a.m. the sausage went into a pot of plain water.

At around noon I got the lentil prep going. First I sauteed 2 garlic cloves, 2 finely diced carrots, a celery stalk, a large onion and a hot pepper in olive oil until softened.

Then came a quart of chicken stock, a bay leaf and lentils. (The night before I’d soaked 1 1/4 cups of Italian lentils, which turned into 4 cups after soaking overnight. Of that I used three cups in this recipe.)

When the sausage and lentils were pretty much done I added the cotechino to the pan so that everything could simmer together at low heat for around 15 minutes.

Some people pierce the sausage casing during cooking, but I don’t. That means there is liquified fat inside the cooked sausage, which you can either add to the lentils or discard, which is what I did.

All that’s left to do now is remove the sausage from the casing, slice, and arrange over the lentils in a serving dish.

If this doesn’t bring you good luck I really do not know what will.

Happy New Year everybody!

How to make sausage

17 Jan
There was a Mutiny on the Meatball a couple weeks back, and it was all because of a sausage. Not the sausage you’re looking at, another one. Guess I’d better explain.
See, every New Year’s, Tom and Beth hop a bus from New York (they don’t care much for flying) and spend about a week or so at the house. It’s pretty much nonstop eating and drinking, with at least one or two big projects on tap to keep everybody sharp. Since no particulars were discussed ahead of time (unusual for this crowd) I had decided on my own that one of this year’s group undertakings might be to produce a mortadella, a first for any of us, to be sure.
Mortadella, if you are not aware, is a sausage. My friend Joe (aka Mister Bigshot World Traveler and uomo about Rome) callously refers to this glorious Italian salumi as boloney or cold cuts or, worst of all, lunch meat. He does this, I am pretty certain, to hurt me, as he knows how much I love the fatty stuff. But this is not the place to get into all of that. (Note to Joe, though: I was out of town. It was 25 years ago. Get over it!)
To be truthful, I could not recall either Tom’s or Beth’s position on the sausage. However, before their arrival, I went ahead and secured the ingredients required to make it nonetheless.
Big mistake. For, as it happens, my normally fit and ready crew, comprised of individuals whom I have relied upon in many a difficult culinary challenge, shattered a deep trust by staging a quiet yet powerful coup that proved far too great for me to overcome. (You don’t see a freaking mortadella here do you?)
I could list the many objections put forth — neophytes ought not mess with PhD-level sausage-making projects; strict temperature requirements were far too demanding given our facility; you (that would be me) are not the most reliable follower of recipes, and in this case following directions is crucial — but I won’t. Suffice to say I was aghast. And wondered if I might learn to trust these people ever again.
Please. I need a moment.
Okay, so we polished off a couple bottles of vino and decided to make a batch of sweet Italian sausage instead. Way simpler. And, most importantly, my mutinous, scurvy kitchen crew seemed entirely willing to lend a hand.
Whaddaya gonna do?
The pork butt that was at the center of it all (yes, you use it to make mortadella). It’s about four pounds, and gets cut up into one-inch cubes.
The back fat also gets cubed; there’s about a pound of it here. (The full recipe follows, by the way, in case you were taking notes.)
The spice mixture: Kosher salt, sugar, minced garlic, toasted fennel seeds, ground black pepper and paprika. (There’s also vinegar, but that goes in later on.)
The cubed butt, back fat and spices are mixed together, then put into the fridge before grinding. (Note to novice sausage makers: It’s important that everything be cold when you’re grinding. We even put the grinding attachment and the die in the freezer before using it.)
We used the KitchenAid grinder attachment, the small one, to grind the mixture. The platter that the ground sausage mix falls into must be cold; this blue one is resting in a pan filled with ice and water.
All ground up and ready to go (after you add the vinegar and some water). This is also the time to pinch off a small bit of the mixture and fry it. That way you can taste, and adjust the seasonings if necessary, before committing yourself.
The casings (which I got from Pat’s, a local butcher shop that makes good sausage) need to soak in water for about half an hour.
Then you need to clean them clear through by flushing them with water. The simplest way is to attach one end to the faucet and run the cold water for a couple minutes.
Like so.
Get your mind out of the gutter. This is the sausage stuffing attachment, and we’re sliding about ten feet of casings onto it. The idea is to move all the casings up onto the attachment, so that when the meat starts coming out, the casings unfurl along with it.
Sausage mix goes in the top, slides out the side.
And into the casing it goes.
And goes.
Until you’ve gone through the whole batch of stuffing mix.
Twist into five- or six-inch sausage links and they’re ready to cook, freeze or refrigerate.
We were hungry, and so we went the cooking route.
And, yes, they were so good that I almost forgot about the mortadella. And the mutiny.
Sweet Italian Sausage
Recipe from “Charcuterie,” by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn
4 pounds boneless pork shoulder butt, diced into 1-inch pieces
1 pound pork back fat, diced into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Spanish paprika
3/4 cup ice water
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
10 feet hog casings, soaked in tepid water for at least 30 minutes and rinsed
Combine all ingredients except the water and vinegar, then chill until ready to grind.
Grind the meat through a small die into a bowl set in ice.
Add the water and vinegar to the meat mixture and mix until incorporated.
Saute a small piece to taste it; adjust seasoning if necessary.
Stuff the sausage into the hog casings, and twist into 6-inch links. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to cook.