I have had a KitchenAid mixer for about 13 years — long enough for the novelty to have worn way off. Over the years, our relationship had grown stale. Tired. Loveless even. I took my mixer for granted… but all this quarantining has rekindled the romance. I’m still not baking very much (and I never will!). Instead, I’ve been using my KitchenAid to grind out batches of bespoke breakfast sausage, and it has made my mornings much more enjoyable.
It all started with a sale at Sur La Table, a spectacle I usually would not participate in, but social isolation can lead one to dark corners of the internet. (I think we can all agree there is something sinister about all expensive kitchen appliance stores.) Anyway, one thing led to another and before I knew it I had a KitchenAid meat grinder attachment in my cart (and a mug that was fashioned after a cabbage). I purchased it, and dreamt the dream of sausage that night.
Since then, I have devoted a good chunk of my leisure time to perfecting my breakfast sausage recipe. I had not originally planned to write about it — this was for me, damn it — but I’m too proud of it to keep it to myself. It turns out that, once you have a meat grinder, breakfast sausage is incredibly easy to make, and it tastes pretty freaking amazing. The bit of labour involved is deeply worth the meaty payoff.
There are, however, a few things one should be aware of before embarking on a sausage-making quest.
Do not purchase a plastic meat grinder
KitchenAid makes two food grinder attachments — a metal one and a plastic one. The metal one is more expensive, but the plastic one sucks. You cannot chill the plastic one, you see. Or you can, but it will not get as cold as the metal one, and a cold meat grinder is imperative.
Why so cold?
Fat is an important part of sausage, and heat is the enemy of fat. If your meat grinder is warm, the fat in your meat will melt, which will cause a kind of messy, smearing effect in your sausage, resulting in a crappy grind. Since the act of grinding itself can generate heat, it’s important to chill everything — all the metal parts of your grinder and the meat — completely before grinding. Just pop your parts in the freezer for half an hour and add your meat straight from the fridge and you’re good to grind. (If you can comfortably hold your meat grinder, it is not cold enough.)
Dried herbs are perfectly fine
I started out trying to be all fancy with fresh sage and thyme, but switched to the dried stuff for a few reasons. For one, it means fewer trips to the store. I’m still limiting my journeys out into the world, and a jar of rubbed sage lasts much longer than a bunch of leaves. It’s also easier, requires no chopping, and the results are more reproducible. The amount of fresh sage in a quarter teaspoon can vary depending on how consistent one is with their dicing; dried sage is far more uniform, and takes the uncertainty out of the sausage equation.
In an attempt to make a more whimsical breakfast sausage, I added two tablespoons of pancake syrup (not maple syrup) to a batch of pork. Not only did the flavour get lost among the pork, but the extra sugar caused the sausage to burn rather than brown, and it spoiled much more quickly than previous batches (bacteria love sugar!). After a few rounds of experimentation, I’ve found a tablespoon of brown sugar per pound of pork shoulder leads to the best browning and flavour.
(Dry) brine before you grind
Beyond measurement manipulations, time is a variable you can use to control the texture and taste of your breakfast sausage. Once your spices and seasonings are mixed together, you’ll want to mix them with some cubed pork shoulder and let that hang out in the fridge for at least half an hour. The longer you let it chill, the more moisture you will lose. This is not necessarily a bad thing: I let one batch dry brine like this for about 12 hours, which resulted in an aggressively flavorful, toothsome sausage with an intense meaty character. I let another batch — which contained the exact same proportions of the exact same seasonings — rest for about 45 minutes, and that batch was gentler, more tender and a little “fresher” tasting. Both were good, though I think the 12-hour sausage would be better suited to something like biscuits and gravy, where you run the risk of muting flavours with cream and flour.
Write everything down
As with any experiment, changing one variable at a time is key, and taking notes can help you decide what to tweak and when. It is no secret that I hate mundane activities such as measuring and note-taking, but I could not have perfected my sausage without them. I will share those notes with you now in the form of a recipe, but I urge you to tinker with it if you are so inclined; breakfast sausage can — and perhaps should — be a deeply personal thing.
Claire’s Bespoke Breakfast Sausage
- 450g pork shoulder, the fattier the better
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon table salt
- 1/2 teaspoon MSG
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Cube the pork shoulder into 2 centimetre pieces and place them in a large bowl. Combine the seasonings in a small bowl, then add the mixture to the pork, tossing to evenly coat. Cover and place in the fridge for at least half an hour, or up to 12, depending on how aggressive and meaty you want your sausage to be. Half an hour before you want to grind it up, place all of the metal pieces of your meat grinder attachment (or the entire meat grinder, depending on the model and make) in the freezer. Grind according to the manufacturer instructions, and either cook immediately or store in the fridge for up to five days.