Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: Italian Sausage

Making sausage has been on the to do list for a few years now.  I love sausage dearly in all varieties and the general idea behind sausage is how I like to cook: take the cheap cuts and make them into something tasty.  The main reason I’ve never made it myself, aside from some ground sausage I never put into a casing, is because I was never able to easily find casings.  Pretty stupid to actually put that in writing since anything I could possibly want can be delivered in two days via the internets, but it’s true.  I’d seen them in the supermarket in Middlebury once but failed to pull the trigger, so a couple more years passed and now here we are.

A month or so ago I noticed that sausage casings magically appeared in the deli case of my local Stop & Shop.  I pounced, thinking that there was a high likelihood I would miss my window again and spend years lamenting it.  Pounced may actually be underplaying it, I may have walked rapidly to the register hiding the casings in my coat nervous that someone would take them from me.

Nothing welcomes you back to Pete's blog after a multi-week holiday break better than a super sh*tty out of focus shot of a container.  You're welcome y'all!

Nothing welcomes you back to Pete’s blog after a multi-month break better than a super sh*tty out of focus shot of a container.  You’re welcome y’all!

The above statement isn’t entirely accurate, since if I remember correctly that was the same grocery store visit where I discovered Stop & Shop had a bit of a pricing anomaly on their salted fatback.

Another recent addition to the Stop & Shop shelves.  Salt pork (belly) has always been available, but the salted fat back made something that is usually not easy to find very accessible.  Plus, you know, it was two cents

Another recent addition to the Stop & Shop shelves.  Salt pork (belly) has always been available, but the salted fatback made something that is usually not easy to find very accessible.  Plus, you know, it was two cents

If I could have bought every $0.02 package of salted fatback without risking my marriage, I would have.  I knew I would never find a bargain like this again.  Ever.  A week later when I checked again the price had been raised to a nearly unfathomable $2.99 a pound and a I felt like a fool for not purchasing all ten packages previously.

Both the casings and the salted fatback would keep for months, so I left them in the fridge to occasionally stare at and daydream.  A few weeks later, whole pork shoulders were on sale for $.89 a pound and my fridge/freezer was officially loaded with the basics for some sausage making.  I got started by rinsing the excess salt off of the fatback and cubing it.

Pure snow white fat.  Lovely.  Like the ivory of fat.  Or me showering in February

Pure snow white fat.  Lovely.  Like the ivory soap of fat.  That analogy doesn’t work.  How about, “the whitest fat not attached to the author.”  That one stinks too, the humor in this post needs to improve and fast

Since most sausage recipes would call for normal fatback, you need to adjust your approach with salted fatback and remove the majority of additional salt you would add during prep.  Other prep items that were done off camera: deboning the pork shoulder and cubing the meat.  At that point, about 2 hours before the real business of sausage making would get started, the fat, meat, and the grinding plates for the Kitchenaid grinder all went into the freezer.

Quick note on the freezing of all items which was previously covered in (one hit wonder) Uncle Timmy’s Stupid Recipe’s For Jerks: keeping the fat and meat ice cold is essential for making good sausage.  In the case of Italian sausage, you want the fat and meat to be visibly separate inside the casing, not all smeared together.  Since grinders get very hot very fast, the freezing of the actual grinder in addition to the fat and meat helps keep everything as separate as possible.

Back to the sausage, all told I had 7-8 pounds of shoulder meat and a little over a pound of salted fatback.  That requires a lot of seasoning, so to start I lightly toasted a 1 ounce container of fennel seeds in a pan and poured them into a mortar with a few peppercorns.

I wish I used my mortar and pestle more but I don't.  Most of the time it's wear I rest my vegetable brush on the countertop

I wish I used my mortar and pestle more but I don’t.  Most of the time it’s where I rest my vegetable brush on the countertop

After a quick few rounds of pestle rotation in the mortar, the pepper and fennel seed were ground to a fine powder that would be easier to distribute throughout the meat.

Smelled pretty strong, but, again, I was seasoning a lot of meat with this stuff

Smelled pretty strong, but, again, I was seasoning a lot of meat with this stuff

The seasoning went into a bowl with the frozen cubes of pork and fat, a little salt, a few tablespoons of sugar, a couple chopped cloves of garlic, and a whole bunch worth of torn parsley.  Once everything was tossed and well combined, the bowl went back into the freezer for another hour.  And this was a very full and very large bowl.

Thought a human being would give a little perspective on the size of the bowl.  Sort of worked.  Thats a normal sized high school soccer coach if that helps

Thought a human being would give a little perspective on the size of the bowl. Sort of worked.  Thats a normal sized high school soccer coach if that helps

With the meat and fat nearly frozen again, I started assembling the extremely cold pieces of the Kitchenaid grinder  as quickly as possible to avoid them warming up too much.  Then, working fast, the frozen meat went through the grinder on a coarse grind setting since I wanted the finish product to be sausage and not a puree.  We’ve all seen me grind meat on this blog before, so no picture needed for that piece of the process.

Once the meat/fat/parsley mixture was completely ground, it went back into the freezer for a half hour, then into the mixing bowl portion of the Kitchenaid along with a cup of a dry red wine and red wine vinegar mixture.  I used the paddle attachment on the mixer to combine the liquid with the meat and make sure that all fat, meat, and parsley were evenly distributed in the sausage.

This was relatively unappetizing to watch for some reason.  It looked like the meat was trying to escape with every rotation before it was foiled and fell back into the bowl

This was relatively unappetizing to watch for some reason.  It looked like the meat was trying to escape with every rotation before it was foiled and fell back into the bowl

Once it was well combined, I separated the ground mixture into two approximately even portions; one which would go directly into casings (for sweet Italian sausage) and the other which would get added seasonings (for hot Italian sausage).  The hot Italian portion went back into the freezer.

With the grinding complete, I switched out the grinder plate with the sausage stuffing attachment on the Kitchenaid.  There are some people who go bonkers on the internets about not using these attachments because they can make the sausage too hot which will cause it to nearly emulsify instead of staying in sausage form.  This includes people I trust as sound food advisors.  But, it was what I had and I had to make do.

First step was removing one of the casings from the cold water it had been soaking in for a couple hours, finding an end, figuring out how to open it, and bunching it up on the stuffing nozzle.

You might feel like your mind is in the gutter for some of the associations this imagery conjures, but then you remember that you are looking at a whole lamb intestine bunched up on a plastic nozzle

You might feel like your mind is in the gutter for some of the associations this imagery conjures, but then you remember that you are looking at 15′ of hog intestine bunched up on a plastic nozzle.  I expected no aroma/flavor on the casing , but it was actually kind of nice, like griddle seared hog fat.  And yes that smells nice to me

We loaded the meat into the tray and slowly started pushing it down into the stuffer where I would carefully feed it into the casing.  Keeping the pipeline full of meat was a pain, as was trying to keep the thickness and density consistent.  At least for round 1, it was a two man job.

That's some clenched face effort right there.  I really wanted this to be the light hearted, polka soundtrack sausage making that Kramer and Newman did together, but it ended up being serious work

That’s some clenched face effort right there.  I really wanted this to be the light hearted, polka soundtrack sausage making that Kramer and Newman did together, but it ended up being serious work

The casings have a natural curve to them, which made it easy to coil the sausage as it filled the casing.  This was key since otherwise I have no idea where I would have laid down a 15′ stretch of forcemeat.

I think this isn't even the full coil, we had a couple more feet to go.  That chip bag clip in the middle was soooo unnecessary

I think this isn’t even the full coil, we had a couple more feet to go. That chip bag clip in the middle was soooo unnecessary.  Also unnecessary, the four extra casings in the background that I had no need to soak and went unused

Once the sausage was fully in the casings, we carefully went through and twisted the sausage every 4 to 5 inches to make the individual links.  Then went through and tied a knot between each link with kitchen twine to make it easier to hang.

Kristi found Conman's posing for the foto hilarious.  He does know the secret to good action shots

Kristi found Conman’s posing for the foto hilarious.  He does know the secret to good action shots (hint, no action).  Also, I guess the random items strewn all over the butcher block is telling of the number of hours we’d been hanging out and imbibing

With the sweet Italians fully prepped, they went onto a laundry drying rack to hang and dry for a few hours.  While the rest of the crew watched the NFC championship (yes, this all happened awhile ago), I ground up oregano and red pepper flake in the mortar and mixed it into the remaining near-frozen sausage meat along with paprika to make the hot Italians.

I then went about loading into the casings solo, which wasn’t as hard as I expected, but only in hindsight did I realize that I packed the casings much more dense and fat when working alone.  I’m guessing I just got distracted and wasn’t feeding out enough casing.  This meant that when twisting the sausage into links a couple links burst which gave me some extra sausage meat to eat.  But first, the drying rack.

Thing of beauty.  You can see how fat and stubby the hots are.  Kristi went into the basement and found me this rack to dry the sausage on.  We are unclear if it was left by our previous neighbors, or if our current neighbors currently hang dry their sweaters on it and stuff.  Not a good neighbor, folks.  Not a good neighbor

Thing of beauty.  You can see how fat and stubby the hots are.  Kristi went into the basement and found me this rack to dry the sausage on.  We are unclear if it was left by our previous neighbors, or if our current neighbors hang dry their sweaters on it and stuff.  Not a good neighbor, folks.  Not a good neighbor

The extra hot Italian sausage meat was fried up in patties and served on potato rolls with sauteed broccoli rabe and melted provolone.

The regular sausage was tasty and had a starring role in a couple of Sunday Gravies, but the hots were so effing good.  Really flavorful, but went so nicely with a little cheese and rabe

The regular sausage was tasty and had a starring role in a couple of Sunday Gravies, but the hots were so effing good.  Really flavorful and went so nicely with a little cheese and rabe

The sausage sandwich was delicious, as I’m sure you’d guessed I would say.  The hot sausage had a lot of heat and strong flavor which played well with the cheese and rabe.  Not a sausage you’d want to eat before riding in an elevator with coworkers or having a conversation with a close talker, but very tasty.

The cased sweet Italians and hot Italians went into a tupperware in the fridge for a couple days until I decided to freeze them all.

Thats about 4 pounds worth, and the hots were in a different container.  I made a lot of sausage

That’s about 5 pounds worth, and the hots were in a different container.  I made a lot of sausage

The regular Italian sausage was solid and worked well as an ingredient in a couple rounds of Sunday Gravy.  Nothing too notable about the flavor, just tasted like a good sausage.  Though, this whole sasuage making experience made me realize how much more fat is in the regular Italian sausages I buy and eat than what I made.  Not a bad thing, but it really does make those versions more enjoyable when grilled on their own.

Since then I’ve made more sausage, which I will likely document soon.  I wouldnt grade it as highly succesful as this round, but a good experience regardless.  Till then.

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Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Meatballs

A few weeks ago I caught up with a friend from college that occasionally reads the blog.  During the course of a relatively serious discussion about MBA internship opportunities, he said something along the line of, “more importantly, do you have a good meatball recipe?”  Gotta say, it made me feel pretty inadequate.  Not only did I not have a good meatball recipe, I couldn’t even say that I’ve ever liked a traditional meatball I’d made.  Sure, I’ve cooked lots of enjoyable turkey meatballs during ill-fated attempts at diets, but I didn’t have a go-to normal recipe.  I dodged the question and moved along.

With a lot of heavy snowfall recently, I didn’t have to wait too long to take a shot at honing my meatball craft.  My goal was to replicate the absurdly good meatballs from Vila Di Roma in Philadelphia, but of course I didn’t follow the one known aspect of that recipe: 100% 80/20 ground beef.  Instead I started with a pound of pork and a pound of veal.

Every time I see the "meatloaf mix" at the grocery store that supposedly includes beef, veal, and pork I shake my head and wonder who would buy that.  Then I get hungry because of how delicious that combination sounds

Every time I see the “meatloaf mix” at the grocery store (that supposedly includes beef, veal, and pork) I shake my head and wonder who would buy that.  Then I get hungry because of how delicious that combination sounds

In my search for a Vila Di Roma copycat recipe I came across one that used veal and pork and went by the name “the best meatballs recipe”.  Since I am an idiot and believe everything I read on the internet, I decided to work off this recipe and make some changes here and there.  The title may have been a touch overzealous.

I despise following recipes for good reason: I think I know better than their instructions and some of the time, I am correct.  When I am wrong, I forget about it, but when I am right I am pissed that I blindly followed a recipe when it seemed like I was adding to much or too little of something.  With that in mind, here’s the 2 eggs, parsley, seasoning, and fresh grated cheese the recipe recommended.

To invoke the classic Seinfeld Lloyd Braun, glasses and gum episode, "Am I crazy, or is that a lotta cheese?", "IT'S A LOTTA CHEESE!"

To invoke the classic Seinfeld Lloyd Braun, glasses and gum episode, “Am I crazy, or is that a lotta cheese?”, “IT’S A LOTTA CHEESE!”

Using my hands, I went through the grotesque (to watch) process of mixing ground meat with other ingredients.  No ground meat is safe from how unappetizing I can make this process look.  Adding salt and pepper to hamburger patties becomes some sort of bizarre, jiggling dance when I’m in charge.  Whatever, it’s effective and you’ll never get a poorly distributed ingredient in my house.

After this was fully mixed, I added in a few slices of cubed, slightly stale bread and a half cup of warm water.  I am as skeptical now as I was then, but I was surprised by how many meatball recipes called for this.

With the addition of water and bread, I was way off the Vila Di Roma script at this point, so I decided to check back in on a few articles about their meatballs.  That’s where I got a hot tip on coating your hands with olive oil before rolling your meatballs.

Certainly not turning the unappetizing train around with this pic, but it was nice to not have ground meat stuck to my fingers for once when making these

Certainly not turning the unappetizing train around with this pic, but it was nice to not have ground meat stuck to my fingers for once when making these

As usual, I started with a few really small meatballs.  Then, once I made a few bigger ones and liked how they looked I went back and added some more meat to the first few. Once I had 10 or 12 done, I didn’t like how big they all looked and went back through pullign a little meat off of each and re-rolling.  Cooking always seems to bring out the undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive mess inside of me.  Regardless, after a few minutes I had this tray of 24.

If you think I was capable of leaving that last slot open and didn't pull a bit of meat off of a bunch of them to even the number and fill the tray, you aren't reading the blog enough.  Not comfortable with the fact that I am making OCD jokes so soon after Girls drove the topic into the ground

If you think I was capable of leaving that last slot open and didn’t pull a bit of meat off of a bunch of them to even the number and fill the tray, you aren’t reading the blog enough.  Not comfortable with the fact that I am making OCD jokes so soon after Girls drove the topic into the ground

Meatballs are pretty cool to look at in this state.  Don’t believe me?  Here comes the arty natural light shot by the window!

Isn't it nice that for once I am showing a big tray of balls and there isn't anything gross going on?  Seemingly a first for me, need to make something gross soon and get this ship righted

Isn’t it nice that for once I am showing a big tray of balls and there isn’t anything gross going on? Seemingly a first for me, need to make something gross soon and get this ship righted

The meatballs went into a 400F oven and I started working on a simple marinara sauce to compliment them.  I mean really simple.  A couple cans of whole peeled tomatoes chopped up well and dumped on top of a few cloves of minced garlic sauteeing in olive oil.  I let that cook for 15 or so, then added some white wine, basil, salt and black pepper.

Lotsa salt.  I elected not to do the sugar thing since they were canned tomatoes and the wine added a little sweetness

Lotsa salt.  I elected not to do the sugar thing since they were canned tomatoes and the wine added a little sweetness

This simmered together with some regular stirring for about 30 more minutes, at which point the meatballs were about ready to join the party.

"Whoa!!!  You gonna eat that?  Just let me know, because I think that looks amazing!!" - my imaginary supportive cooking friend

“Whoa!!! You gonna eat that?  Just let me know, because I think that looks amazing!!” – my imaginary supportive cooking friend

This was the exact moment that I finally accepted the best way to cook meatballs is something I’m just not willing to do in my house: deep frying.  Fry them up quick to lock in all the fat and cheese stuff that cooked out of these.  The oven wasn’t hot enough to harden the outside quickly.  Oh and I also used way too much cheese.

Quick sidebar: as a kid we used to eat something called “booger chicken” in the Ryan household.  It was bone in chicken thighs and drumsticks baked in an oven with a coating of garlic powder and salt plus a pat of butter on each piece of chicken.  Possibly margarine actually.  Obviously it tasted delicious, but the real root of my love of booger chicken was the “crispies”.   I would sit on the floor by the open oven and use a grapefruit spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan, eating the crispy pieces of seasoned chicken fat and burned butter left behind.  Before writing that I didn’t realize how bad it would look in print.  It was delicious, awful for me, and led to my constant battle with what tastes really good vs. what is healthy.

Anyhoo, that burnt and browned crap between the meatballs?  I would eat that with a grapefruit spoon three times a day and six on Sunday.  It was that delicious; just cheese, animal fat, salt, self loathing and happiness.  If those things go together.  I had to throw it away before I ate too much of it.

Back to the simmering sauce.

This looked far better than expected given the minimal cooking time.  Thank good golly for that Cooks Illustrated book Tim gripes about

This looked far better than expected given the minimal cooking time.  Thank good golly for that Cooks Illustrated book Tim gave me and I wasn’t properly grateful for

Once the meatballs were pried out of their cheesy cement, they looked a little closer to the meatballs I had hoped to make, so I added them to the sauce to simmer for another 30 minutes.

I am 95% certain that we got this pan when my sister-in-law was considering throwing it away.  It has been used 5 times a week for 5 years and I honestly don't know what I will do with myself when I finally have to retire it

I am 95% certain that we got this pan when my sister-in-law was considering throwing it away.  It has been used 5 times a week for 5 years and I honestly don’t know what I will do with myself when I finally have to retire it

I could have left these simmering all day or for multiple days, but I was hungry when the thirty minutes were up and dove in.  How bout a dusting of cheese and one more natural lighting shot before the requisite recap?

This is the best window shot yet and does make the food look more appetixing than the straight down shots from overhead that my belly is blurily poking into the bottom of

This is the best window shot yet and does make the food look more appetizing than the straight down shots from overhead that my belly is blurily poking into the bottom of

The meatballs and sauce were delicious, even if they weren’t quite what I was hoping for.  The Vila Di Roma variety are almost crunchy on the outside and hold together well but have a wonderful tender and uniform consistency inside.  The flavor is mostly just beef with hints of traditional Italian seasonings, all wrapped up in their salty and delicious sauce.  Mine weren’t like that.

I couldn’t have told you that the meatballs I made had pork and veal in them, but you knew it wasn’t beef.  The consistency was slightly rubbery due to the amount of cheese and egg involved, but pretty uniform and not chewy at all.  The flavor was great, if slightly underwhelming because nothing really stood out.  I’m making these meatballs sound awful but we happily ate them for 24 hours with pasta, sub rolls, and on their own.  They were very tasty, just not what I was hoping for.

Next time aroung I’m going all beef and stinking up the house with some deep frying.  I will get these meatballs right, I live too far from Philly not to.

Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: The Italian Beef Sandwich

I love regional sammiches and if I know an area has a signature one, I generally do whatever is necessary to sample it when I visit.  I consumed over 400 cheesesteaks during my two years in Philly, dream about the debris po boy from Mothers on a regular basis, and will write a 1,000 word missive about the Jersey sloppy joe some point soon.  They’re not all winners, though. I wouldn’t recommend you visit Pittsburgh for the soggy french fries and deli meat on stale bread sandwich at Primanti Bros.  Sandwiches You Will Love lost all credibility for me with that one.

On Kristi and my visit to Chicago, I wanted to get the famous Italian beef sandwich.  But, as documented previously, it was a pretty packed couple days and we covered two of the most popular regional specialties in hot dogs and deep dish.  The sandwich had to be passed on for, you know, normal restaurant meals and stuff.  It was a vacation away from Janet for cripes sake.

I don't know if that's all me or my raincoat was full of air, but I don't think I want to know. Not sure if I would tell you either

I don’t know if that’s all me or if my raincoat was full of air, but I don’t think I want to know.  Not sure if I would tell you either

Blah blah blah, I didn’t get the sandwich.  Sounded friggin’ awesome though, sliced roast beef with Italian seasonings, simmered in the cooking juices and loaded onto a sandwich.  Then, the whole sandwich is dipped back into those juices if you so chose.  Yeah, sounded too awesome to not make that for myself.

It all started with a few blade steaks.

My Friday afternoon trips to the Back Bay Shaws get a little crazy.  Anything that isn't bolted down has the potential to be purchased

My Friday afternoon trips to the Back Bay Shaws get a little crazy.  Anything that isn’t bolted down and I haven’t cooked before has the potential to be purchased

As alluded to in the caption, I have thoroughly enjoyed hitting up the supermarket by my office on Fridays for random cuts of beef and pork and usually some seafood as well.  These blade steaks looked good and I’d never cooked them before, so I was completely unaware that they can’t be grilled like a regular steak.  Explains why they were pretty inexpensive and had a visible ribbon of gristle running down the middle.

Since they couldn’t be grilled, what else could I do but take a crack at the Italian Beef Sandwich.  I seasoned the steaks with salt and pepper and put them in a preheated ‘Lil Blue with some olive oil to brown on the stovetop.

The gristle is pretty visible here.  It looked like a slice of the hanger meat, which is probably what I would discover blade steak is if I did even 5 seconds of research.  Meh

The gristle is pretty visible here.  It looked like a slice of the hanger meat, which is probably what I would discover blade steak is if I did even 5 seconds of research.  Meh

After the meat was fully browned, I removed it from the pot and threw in a mix of celery, carrots, and garlic that I had run through the food processor.  After that cooked for a couple of minutes I added in a sliced yellow onion.

IMG_2162

I gave myself a lot of crap for how odd it was to send most of the mirepoix through the food processor and leave the onions whole.  But I wanted them to have a visible presence in the final sammich, and I now have to live with that visually disjointed decision

I cooked the onions until they had a little color on the edges but were otherwise translucent, about 10 minutes.  At which point I deglazed with a cup of red wine, added some dried basil & oregano, and turned the heat up a bit to reduce.

IMG_2164

I will freely admit that this looks like a complete mess.  Usually food shots that look this crappy involve large amounts of grim looking organ meat, but this was just all over the place

After the wine had reduced by about a quarter, I stirred in a few chopped tomatoes, a cup of beef broth and a couple bay leaves.

Smelled like an awesome beef stew, but probably looks like about 30 other previous posts on this blog.  Braising is the tool of the weak and I braise a lot of stuff

Smelled like an awesome beef stew, but probably looks like about 30 other previous posts on this blog.  Braising is the tool of the weak and I braise a lot of stuff

I brought the liquid to a boil then lowered to a simmer for ten minutes to reduce it a bit and let the flavors come together.  Once it looked right (I have no effing idea what that means but its true), I added the blade steaks back in and made sure they were well covered in the liquid and onions.  Lid went on, heat was reduced to low, and left it to cook for 80ish minutes.  At which point I had this.

Not sure what magic happens once the lid goes on, but it seems like stuff goes in a liquid and comes out a thick sauce.  This bears almost no resemblance to what it was an hour and a half earlier

Not sure what magic happens once the lid goes on, but it seems like stuff goes into a liquid and it all comes out a thick sauce.  This bears almost no resemblance to what it was an hour and a half earlier

I fished the blade steaks out with some tongs and gave them a good shake to get the extra sauce and onions off of them before transferring to a cutting board.

For a pound and a half of meat it contracted a ton and looked like barely enough to fill a couple sandwiches.  I think I started telling Kristi she wouldn't like it at this point to secure a larger portion of the meal

For a pound and a half of meat, it contracted a ton and looked like barely enough to fill a couple sandwiches.  I think I started telling Kristi she wouldn’t like it at this point, mostly to secure a larger portion of the meal

I sliced each steak into medium thickness slices since I wanted them to retain some texture then added them back into the cooking liquid.  ‘Lil Blue went back over low heat to simmer for another thirty minutes.

As the simmering time for the braise neared its end, I sliced and lightly toasted a crusty baguette.  A couple big spoonfuls of the braise and lot of the liquid went into the baguette along with a sprinkling of cheese and, on my half, a handful of sliced sweet peppers.

Not enough liquid to do the full dip of the sammy, but I made sure it was soaked and nearly impossible to eat

Not enough liquid to do the full dip of the sammy, but I made sure it was soaked and nearly impossible to eat

With a couple more spoonfuls of cooking liquid and a knife to hold everything in place I gave the sandwich the old close and squeeze.  First I cut Kristi off her half, and then dug in.

This was a cross between the roast pork sandwich at Johns in Philly and some sort of Italian flavored pot roast.  Well, I guess that’s what it was actually.  The meat was tender but not quite to the point that it was like a shredded beef or fall-apart pot roast; still had some texture.  The liquid gave it a french dip like flavor but with the Italian seasonings and tomatoes clearly in there as well.  It was definitely a little salty from the salt on the meat and the reduced broth, but in an enjoyable way.  The parmesan cheese gave some nice contrast sharpness and the pickled peppers added some crunch and contrasting vinegar flavors.  I raced through my half to make sure there was enough for another half.

I left some for Kristi's second half as well.  I am a jerk and all but I save some sammich for the ladies

I left some for Kristi’s second half as well.  I am a jerk and all but I save some sammich for the ladies

Man of the match is probably the crusty Iggys bread since it was just crusty enough to hold it’s crunch/crust while also being completely soggy and soaked with sauce.  This was a solid sandwich.

I was going to make these again for the Super Bowl but couldn’t find the right sized bread.  Probably for the best, we always have way too much food.

Snowstorm this weekend!  Gonna make some sh*t.

Weird Crap I Cook: Italian Liver Sausage

“This isn’t going to have a happy ending.” – Detective William Somerset, Seven

Yeah, that about sums it up.

Last Sunday I headed to the Italian Market with Tim to show him the market where I purchase all of the raw ingredients to make great meals while he criticizes me.  The Italian Market has a couple restaurants, fresh pasta vendors, cheese and cured meat stores, seafood, and a large assortment of butcher shops.  Most of the butchers sell freshly broken down meats, but a few make assorted sausages including my favorite butcher: Cappuccio’s.

Cappuccio’s has a lot of standard butcher shop fare, along with some more exotic items like veal kidneys that got this DB’s mind racing.  However, I still have a little bit of an organ meat hangover from Morocco so I instead focused on their large variety of homemade sausages.

Thought I would need to hit up Google images for this photo but was psyched to see that Carolyn, Kristi's mom, took this shot when they visited in January. I never remember my camera anymore, so the Best of Philly post will likely be all google imaged

Just as I decided to go with their pork, provolone, and broccoli rabe sausage, Tim marched in front of me in line and ordered two pounds for himself.  Freaking jerk, givin’ me pressure to adhere to social norms and not order the same thing, I’ll show him.  Which is how I ended up inquiring about the “Sicilian liver sausages” hanging outside of the refrigerated case that looked like this:

The familiar background should be a hint: I bought it

 

This stuff was hard as a rock and looked extremely dry and deflated.  I, of course, was very intrigued.

Sunday is a slow day at the Italian market and they are mostly just selling the leftovers from the weekend, so the shops staff accordingly.  We weren’t exactly working with Mr. Cappuccio.  This became clear when the sign on the sausages said “Sicilian Liver Sausage” and the butcher said “Northern Italian Sausage” to us when we asked.  As it turned out, the butcher was right about that, he was just wrong about everything else including cooking directions.

Breaking my organ meat hiatus, I bought the smallest strand of sausage that they had and headed home.  A couple days later I returned home from school hungry for lunch (business school makes you feel like a 5 year old again) and decided to cook up the sausage.  Which is what this post is about.

Looked a little like dried chiles. Smelled like dried chiles mixed with wet dog

According to the B team at Cappuccios, the best way to cook the liver sausage is in a pan with water, covered for about 20 minutes.

Every window was open in the apartment and I specifically timed it so that Kristi wouldn’t be home for 6 hours. Serious smells as this really got going

After 20 minutes, I took the lid off annnnnddd… it really didn’t look any different.  I was expecting them to hydrate and plump up but there was none of that, just a lot of funky looking water.

Like I said, that's some funky looking water. Wasn't expecting that. Maybe that color reflects all the good flavors that it was drawing out of the sausages that I couldn't find anywhere when I ate it

After an additional ten minutes, I figured they weren’t going to tenderize much further and pulled them out to trim and test.  First step was removing all of the ties and excess casing.

Honestly, my thought at this point was that it was looking reasonably edible, like charred kielbasa or blood sausage

I cut off a piece and tasted it.

Can't tell whether tis picture looks innocuous or extremely intimidating

When the sausage was described to me, I expected the liver to be pureed and mixed with fat and some sort of cornmeal, rice, or oatmeal.  Instead, its a coarse chopped pig liver with a few spices.  The first bite was rough since the pieces of liver were rubbery, the casing was thick, and it was pretty dry.  The second bite was a better but overall this was not the easy to eat meal I was expecting since I was hoping it would be like Italian scrapple.

At this point, I had no ideas.  I was very close to completely giving up and throwing away the sausage.  Instead, I made the remarkably intelligent decision to add some more ingredients to be ruined by the sausage.  Started it out with throwing red onion and red pepper into a hot pan and letting them caramelize for ten minutes before adding pieces of the sausage.

You can tell from certain pieces in this picture how ridiculously dry the sausage was

After some time cooking together, I added tomato sauce and a few tablespoons of capers.  Because I really like capers and figured the salty/vinegary flavor would help cover up some of the unpleasant strong flavors from the sausage.

I really love capers. Kristi had a caper intervention with me because I kept ruining meals she loved with them

I stirred and simmered this together for 10-15 minutes before shoveling (some of) it into a sub roll, adding a sprinkle (in Peter terms) of cheese, and melting it under the broiler for a couple minutes.

Combine melted cheese and tomato sauce on a sub roll and its always going to look edible. Even if it's hiding some evil

I settled in for my late lunch and started eating.  The first few bites were decent, the sauce had some flavors I like and the hints of liver flavor were good.  However, every second or third bite tasted gamey, irony, and like the intestinal tract.  I have had this experience before with the Italian Market.

This sub was purchased on the same January Italian Market trip with Kristi's parents. It barely even looks like a sandwich in this picture because it got so soggy on the thirty minute walk home

Tripe, beef tongue, and chiles braised together and thrown on a sub roll. Plus some peppers and onions.  The tongue was quite good, but the pieces of tripe tasted very poorly cleaned and like they hadn’t been boiled on their own before braising.  That sub taught me that the occasional bite tasting like a poop chute makes the other bites not worth it.

So, while I ate the whole tripe/tongue sandwich, I decided it was no longer worth it with the liver sausage and gave up a little over halfway through.  All remaining piece of this meal were thrown into a bag and put into the trash outside to help get the smell out of the apartment.  At least the nice folks at Vila Di Roma let me in 2 hours before they opened to pickup a to-go order of meatballs so the trip wasn’t a complete bust.

These are sooooo good. I have to buy them every time I visit the market

A short postscript: I went back to the market this past Saturday since we had friends in town visiting and hit Cappuccio’s to buy some of their edible sausages.  Saturday is the big day for them, so they had their best crew working.  When I asked about the liver sausage and explained my trouble cooking it, the guy behind the counter said cooking in olive oil over water is the way to go.  The sausage won’t ever plump up the way I expected, but the casing and hard chunks of liver will break down a bit.  Regardless, he said 90% of his customers just eat it in it’s dried form like its a Slim Jim, which we both agreed was disgusting.  I won’t be cooking this sausage again.

Nothing beats kicking off a food blog post with a quote from a Morgan Freeman character, but it was my attempt to forewarn that post was a little all over the place and only mildly edible.  ‘Til next time.