by Jennifer Sartell
Photos by author
Welcome back to the DIY Chicken Sausage series! Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and keeping the tradition of warm weather festivities, we will be grilling outdoors with friends and family. I have our music selection of Sousa marches, and patriotic overtures ready to mingle among the smoky scent of the charcoal flame. Boxes of sparklers and a bag of water balloons are ready for the little ones to enjoy. The cooler and picnic basket are washed and ready for the late night fireworks display in town. And my father’s flag proudly waves on, as a symbol of the freedom that we celebrate!
The menu for tomorrow also celebrates the bounty of our labors and all that Iron Oak Farm is producing this season. I will be making a platter of deviled eggs generously provided by our laying hens. I will add to the creamy yolk mixture green onions from the garden and minced sweet pickles that we canned last summer. We will also be enjoying a fresh broccoli and pea salad, zucchini and baby onion kabobs, and sipping strawberry lemonade fizzies that I will make from the strawberries we picked last week. But the highlight of our barbeque meal will be the homemade Sweet Italian Chicken Sausage!
The great thing about this chicken sausage is that anyone can make it. Don’t let a lack of sausage-making equipment keep you from enjoying this delicious chicken recipe. I’ll show you how we do the complete process (with all the gadgets) … as well as let you in on the modifications. If you find sausage making is for you, then you can take the next step and purchase the grinder, grinding disks, filling attachments, etc.
One of the reasons I like to make my own sausage is that I can control the quality of ingredients that go into the links. There are no nitrates, no fillers and no scary preservatives. Store-bought sausages are one of the most unpronounceable ingredient-laden products you can purchase. When we first started making homemade sausages, we bought a couple of premixed sausage seasoning packets, and even those have LOTS of unnecessary additives. I like the fact that I know what I’m putting into this recipe.
For those of you who have never made sausage, this recipe has a good basic sausage flavor. It’s mild, sweet and similar in taste to a typical store-bought sausage. But feel free to experiment! Sausage making has endless possibilities. You could add some onions, cumin and cayenne to create more of a chorizo flavor. Maple syrup or maple sugar would make for a great breakfast sausage. Oregano and basil would give even more of an Italian zing. I’m planning on creating a dried cherry with blue cheese sausage in the near future. There’s SO much you can do!
For this recipe you will need a few basic ingredients:
4 pounds of boneless chicken, mixed parts and organ meat
1/4 pound bacon
6 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh cracked pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fennel seeds
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
A couple tablespoons water
If you want to go the full nine yards and purchase the “official” sausage-making equipment you will need: (shown left to right)
A meat grinder with cutting blade
large grinding disk
fine grinding disk
casings (shown below)
And … if you want to take it one step further (you won’t regret this I promise) … a smoker! I’ll be talking more about this in my next post.
To begin, soak your casings in cold water. They should soak for about 30 minutes to soften. We use all-natural hog casings preserved in salt. Yes … They’re what you think they are … but I’d rather eat something natural than the silicone alternative. We get our casings from a local butcher/bulk spice store, Central Michigan Butcher Supply, but if you’re having a hard time finding sausage-making supplies in your area, try outdoor hunting supply stores like Bass Pro Shops or ask your grocery store butcher. This recipe will make approximately 12 feet of sausage links.
Next, debone your chicken. (For step-by-step deboning instructions, visit my post DIY Chicken Sausage Part 1: Deboning the Chicken.) You will want roughly 4 pounds of chicken total, which is about two to four whole chickens (depending on their size).
Pass the chicken parts through the meat grinder fitted with the large grind disk. This is the first grind, which breaks up the chicken and allows it to be mixed with the other ingredients. It also mixes the dark meat and organ meat with the white meat. Sausage is all about evenly distributing the flavors throughout. Several grindings helps to accomplish this. We use a hand-crank metal grinder that clamps to our countertop. Our model is made by Lehman’s, but many options are available, including electric. If you don’t have a meat grinder, don’t despair … You can always use your food processor.
Once the chicken is ground, it’s time to add the bacon. I dice the bacon up so it mixes easily into the chicken. The addition of bacon gives the chicken a delicious salty pork flavor. The fats in the bacon also help to keep the sausage juicy. Chicken sausage can dry out during cooking because chicken is more of a lean meat.
Then I take the brown sugar, salt, fennel, pepper, and garlic and pulverize them in the food processor. Add the spices and a little water to the chicken and mix thoroughly. The chicken mixture should be slightly sticky.
Then run this back through the meat grinder with the fine disk attachment. I give it a good stir and inspect the mixture. If the spices look like they’re well incorporated, you can go right on to filling the links. If not, stir it, and run it through again.
At this point I like to taste the sausage. I like to see if it needs anything before we go through the trouble of filling the casings. I take a tablespoon or so, make a little patty and throw it in the frying pan. I cook it thoroughly and give it a taste. Sometimes it’s good to have someone around with self control, to remind you that you’re having company over and that you can’t eat all the sausage yourself … But this, of course, is optional …
Moving on …This is where we fill the casings. If you are new to making sausage, and you don’t have a meat grinder or casings, you can portion your sausage onto sheets of plastic wrap. Form the sausage into a tube and wrap securely with the plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight to firm up and then slice into patties. This can be grilled or fried in the frying pan. If you want to make the links, then read on …
Fit your grinder with the filling tube. The casing package should tell you approximately how wide the tube should be. If not, most hog casings should fit onto the 1/2-inch tube. There are plastic or metal tube fittings … It’s really a matter of preference which one you choose. A longer tube will hold more casing, which can be handy if you’re making a lot of sausage at a time.
When getting ready to feed the casings onto the tube, it sometimes helps to hold the end of the casing under running water. It will open up the end (which can stick together) and allow the water to fill the length of the casing.
This will untangle any twists and make it easier to feed onto the tube.
Spray the tube with a bit of cooking spray (this allows the casings to slide on easily). The butcher supply stores sell a silicone spray, but I prefer to use the more natural cooking oils. Then feed the casing onto the tube. It will wrinkle up on itself, and you’ll have bubbles trapped. This is fine: It will all work out in the filling. When the whole casing is on the tube, tie a knot.
Now comes the fun part! Start feeding your meat mixture into the grinder, and voilà! out comes the sausage! Don’t force the sausage to fill too tight, because later when you twist the links, the casings can break.
When the entire casing tube is filled, tie the end.
You can then make your links by twisting the sausage into desired lengths. Refrigerate uncovered overnight to firm up. The casings will harden slightly, and you’ll be able to cut the individual links apart without the sausage breaking out.
These sausages are delicious grilled on the grill, or sautéed in a pan with onions and peppers. It also gives spaghetti an extra boost when sliced into the marinara and poured over a plate of pasta! But if you want to take your sausage making one step further, I recommend smoking the links in a smoker. Join me in my next post, where I take you through the steps of smoking this delicious chicken sausage!
For more fun with sausage making, read my other posts:
Tough Meat, Tough Decisions: Intro to Homemade Chicken Sausage
DIY Chicken Sausage, Part 1: De-boning the Chicken
DIY Chicken Sausage, Part 3: Smoked to Deliciousness!