Tag Archives: 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)

Escarole, sausage & bean soup

27 Feb

Okay, so this isn’t the lowest-cal soup that’s come out of the kitchen this winter.

What, are you on a diet or something?

Escarole, sausage and beans are on this earth to give us pleasure. And everybody knows that they do this best when they are together.

That’s a fact, by the way. If you don’t believe me, just look it up.

So if you’re still in winter soup-making mode give this one a try. In Maine we’ll be in soup-making mode until around mid-June, so there’s still plenty of time to let me know how things turn out.

Finely dice two carrots, two celery stalks, one onion, five or six garlic cloves and a little hot pepper and saute in olive oil until softened but not browned.

Then stir in a pound of sweet Italian sausage meat.

After just a few minutes the sausage meat should be cooked enough.

At this point add 12 cups of water, one pound of thoroughly rinsed dried beans (I used a small white varietal but most any bean will do) and a piece of cheese rind (Parmigiano-Reggiano of course!). Cover the pot and allow to simmer at medium-high heat.

Cooking beans is an inexact science and so at this stage you’re kind of on your own. I did not presoak these beans (if I had they would have cooked faster), so at the one-hour mark I tested them to find they were around 45 minutes away from being done.

After another 15 minutes or so I added a full head of cleaned and chopped escarole, as well as salt and pepper to taste, then returned the cover to the pot and let things simmer for another half hour.

The total cooking time of your soup may vary but this one simmered for a little under two hours.

At which point you can have at it right away or let the soup sit in the fridge overnight and eat it the following day.

Since this batch will feed 4-6 people My Associate and I chose to do both.

Mussels & sausage

22 Jan

Why eat light when you don’t have to, am I right?

Here’s my thinking. I never ate a bowl of mussels steamed in garlic and white wine without doing serious damage to a good loaf of bread for sopping up the juices. This, of course, substantially ups the calorie count of the dish, but then it also vastly improves the pleasure that I derive from it. 

Being an all-or-nothing kind of guy, I figure what’s the harm in collecting a few more energy units. In the form of a couple of sausages.

Okay, so it’s more than just a couple of extra calories. What are you, my doctor?

If you are a fan of the classic steamed mussels in garlic and white wine, and don’t mind the occasional indulgence, I highly recommend putting this “Surf & Turf” on your to-cook list. Just don’t forget the bread.


3 tablespoons olive oil
5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Hot pepper to taste (optional)
1 pound sweet Italian sausage meat (removed from the casing)
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 pounds fresh mussels
Fresh parsley

Clean the mussels by scrubbing the shells and rinsing under cold water. Set aside.

In a pot or pan large enough to hold the mussels, saute the garlic (and hot pepper if using) in the olive oil until garlic is soft but not brown.

Add the sausage meat and cook until all sign of rawness is gone.

Add the stock and wine and bring to a boil.

Add the mussels and cover to allow steam to build up.

When the mussels are open (this should only take around 5 minutes; discard mussels that do not open) transfer to bowls, top with fresh parsley and serve.

Shrimp & sausage scampi

28 Jul

This is just one of maybe six or seven dishes plowed through last evening, by a mere four humans. Not to mention the seven bottles of, uh, grape-based beverages consumed.

It was the only food item prepared by yours truly.

After shelling and deveining a pound and a half of large shrimp I made a stock with the shells, a carrot, onion, celery stalk, bay leaf and some peppercorns. Of course, any old stock you have around the house would be fine.

Using some of the stock and a little wine I sauteed a pound and a quarter of Italian sweet sausage meat, then set it aside for later.

This is two heads’ worth of garlic sauteing in olive oil, and they came directly from the garden.

The shrimp and a bunch of the stock went in with the garlic.

Then came the cooked sausage meat.

And a pound of spaghetti alla chitarra.

Some fresh parsley on top and there you go.

I gotta go walk this off.

Good men and their sausage

24 Apr

You can’t see it here but the stamp on the back of this old photograph reads “July 1969.”

A lot happened that month. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon and the first U.S. troops left Vietnam. New York Mets ace Tom Seaver lost his bid for a no hitter with only two outs left in the ninth. Brian Jones, the original leader of The Rolling Stones, drowned in his swimming pool. And, in a tragedy that would haunt him the rest of his days, Ted Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a car accident on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts, an accident where a young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne had died.

Very early that month, July 4th to be precise, something a bit less noteworthy occurred: I learned that if ever I was to grow up and become a man I would need to learn how to build a fire, drink a cold beer, and cook an enormous amount of sausage, peppers and onions for the people I love.

Please don’t ask me why. It’s just what we’re supposed to do. And you know it.

I could look at this picture a thousand more times and every time the tastes inside my head will be the same. Not a red pepper or garlic clove or onion slice or fennel seed’s bit of difference.

It’s the way I like it. The same. Every time.

Uncle Joe does the cooking because it is his backyard, his makeshift brick-and-cinder block fire pit, and his party. Uncle Dominic consults with his brother and drinks his cold beer. The rest of the family, thirty of us perhaps, wait for my uncles to announce that it’s time to eat.

Somewhere nearby I am watching and learning.

Summer is coming. Time to man up.

How to hijack a dinner party

2 Feb

It looks as though I planned this thing out some, right?


I was not on deck to cook this particular evening. Nor even do the provisioning. The only reason I had stepped foot inside the Rosemont Market on Brighton was to loiter in the wine department and collect a few bottles to go along with my friend Giovani’s birthday dinner.

But then I just had to mosey over to the meat counter, just to say hi to Jarrod the butcher.

Next thing you know I had taken possession of all these beautiful specimens. And for no reason other than that I wanted them. There was a mixed pound of duck and sweet Italian sausage, a pound of pork belly, two giant fatty pork chops, half a pound of pork ribs, and a couple duck legs and thighs.

Hey, somebody had to go home with the things!

An hour or so later and I was in my kitchen, hoping that the comforting aroma of a soffritto simmering in the dutch oven might somehow soften the blow of my having hijacked the birthday meal — a blow no doubt felt by my associate, who had been charged with cooking it.

For the record, it did not soften the blow very much. If at all.

The soffritto, by the way, consisted of a leek, four carrots, a large onion, four garlic cloves lightly smashed but left whole, a tablespoon of fresh marjoram, two tablespoons of fresh rosemary, and four sage leaves. After the vegetables and herbs softened a bit, I started browning the meat in batches, as there was too much of it to do so at once.

After all the meats were browned, I removed them, tossed in two cups of white wine and reduced it pretty much all the way down.

Then the meats went back into the dutch oven. Some cannellini and borlotti beans had soaked overnight (for, ahem, another person’s purposes, not my own) and so I threw a bunch of them in too, along with eight cups of freshly made chicken stock (also not made by, well, me).

After a good couple of hours in the oven (covered) this mess of meat and beans was ready to go. Except that I am a big believer in such dishes benefiting from a day’s rest, and with the birthday dinner scheduled for the following day all was well with my plan.

So well that I was forgiven my indiscretion.

At least for the duration of the meal.

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!

Queen of the Sausages

13 Apr

No, it’s not a type of baloney.

Yes, the white stuff is fat.
No, it doesn’t make me wanna gag.
And yes, I’d take it over a butter-soaked lobster or a blue rare Peter Luger porterhouse any day — and I really likey the lobster and the porterhouse a whole lot.
Behold… La mortadella.
Queen (note the feminine) of the Sausages.
Yes, it’s a sausage. The world’s biggest, even when not produced in the style of shock, awe and comic overabundance (see monstrosity below).

Una mortadella gigante!
No, it is not some mass-produced tube of lunch meat with nary a hint of real food or artistry inside the casing. Mortadella’s heritage is steeped in perhaps the world’s finest culinary center, Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, which is home to the likes of Parma (Proscuitto di Parma) and Reggio Emilia (Parmigiano-Reggiano) to name but, well, two.
Mortadella di Bologna has PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status under European law: http://bit.ly/KleEJ. It must be made within a small geographic area and by using traditional methods http://bit.ly/cSxMrw. And here’s what’s inside, basically: finely ground pork, seasonings like peppercorns and anise, wine, oftentimes pistachio nuts, and of course those tasty chunks of pure, luscious fat.
This ain’t no Oscar Mayer tubesteak, friend.
Italy’s former prime minister Romano Prodi was known as la mortadella because he was from Bologna, Emilia-Romagna’s capital and ground zero for mortadella making, and because he had a physique some said resembled a thick sausage. Prodi was also saddled with the name because his demeanor was somewhat bland — a characteristic also attributed to the famous salume. On this point I will have to disagree strenuously.
Mortadella is many things; bland it is not.
And no, we will not argue this point. We will move on. Except to note that paper-thin slices have for decades now been my personal preference, not the thick chunks enjoyed by many. (I would also challenge anybody to name a more satisfying sandwich than mortadella and fresh mozzarella on a baguette; save your energy, it’s not gonna happen.)
I can’t possibly be alone in this crazy cooked up sausage love affair of mine. Mortadella lovers, reveal yourselves! That’s why God (and Blogger) gave us the “Comments” link, you know.
Back in 1971, the Italian moviemaker Carlo Ponti — husband to one major bella donna, Sophia Loren — released the swell-sounding film, “La Mortadella.” Ring Lardner, Jr. wrote the screenplay; William Devane, Danny DeVito and Susan Sarandon co-starred. The movie’s star was Ponti’s moglie (that’s his wife, Sophia).

Loren plays an Italian girl who travels to New York in order to visit her fiance. Her gift to the lucky Michele? One huge, honkin’ mortadella, of course; for she is, alas, herself a Neopolitan sausage maker. Thing is, the U.S. Customs agents will have none of it. They detain poor Maddalena (and the well-travelled mortadella) and inform her that such foodstuffs, possible carriers of swine flu, are maiale non grata in America and must therefore be confiscated immediatamente.
Farce and general mayhem ensue, of course. And a year later the movie is released in the U.S. under another title, “Lady Liberty.” The tagline: “Can a girl from a little sausage factory in Italy find romance and happiness in a pizzeria in New York?”
That’s what I call making sausage.