Resourceful hunters, butchers, and cooks have been piecing together and preserving scraps of meat and fat as sausage for thousands of years. The process, which has roots in almost every cuisine around the world, came about as a simple and effective way to stretch valuable protein, and the transformation of those ingredients into a juicy, deeply seasoned product is pure culinary alchemy.
These days, most sausage production is done by professionals who have the expertise and equipment to stuff, dry, smoke, and/or ferment the meat. But fresh bulk sausage is much simpler: It’s nothing more than salted, seasoned meat that you grind and vigorously mix, and anyone with a meat grinder or food processor, a solid grasp of the fundamentals, and a reliable formula can churn out a great batch. Once you’ve mastered the core technique, you can flavor sausage any way you like, and since it’s easy to portion into small batches and freezes well, you can keep it on hand for countless applications: breakfast patties; frittatas; ragus; and pastas such as my all-time favorite, orecchiette con rapini e salsiccia (orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage).
The fundamentals and a reliable formula are what I wanted to nail down here, and most sources suggest the same basic process: Start with a cut of pork that boasts plenty of fat; cut it into small pieces; cure the meat for several hours with a precise amount of salt and any other seasonings you want to add; briefly freeze the meat so that it’s firm but not frozen; finely grind it in a meat grinder or a food processor; and finally, knead the ground meat vigorously by hand so that it becomes cohesive and sticky.
“Sausage is like meat, perfected,” said J. Kenji López-Alt, a chef and former Cook’s Illustrated editor who cofounded Wursthall in San Mateo, California, where house-made links headline the menu. Unlike a perfect steak, which requires sourcing a cut with the ideal ratio of meat to fat and working hard to keep its juices intact when you cook it, with sausage “you build all that stuff in,” he said.
Read on, and I’ll detail how these steps lead to the juicy, snappy texture that defines great fresh sausage plus walk you through my formula that can be flavored with spice blends or used as a base for your own seasonings.