Apologies for the less than appetizing photograph.  Sausage isn’t the most photogenic food.  But it is delicious, especially when you take the time to make it yourself (and extra-specially when you manage to do it without a proper grinder!).

I use a food processor all the time to grind chicken thighs for meatballs, burgers, and sausage, but I wasn’t sure it would work with pork.  Chicken thighs are naturally lean and have little connective tissue, but the cuts of pork often used for making sausage — butt and shoulder — are tougher, more sinewy, and usually require slow, moist-heat cooking to make them tender.  Could my trusty Cuisinart chop the meat finely and evenly enough to make a tender sausage?  A 12 dollar slab of pork butt and an hour or two of my time seemed a reasonable gamble.

There are a few hard and fast rules for making sausage.  The meat has to be very, very cold so that it’s chopped, not mushed.  Once it’s ground and seasoned, it needs to be mixed vigorously — this makes the mixture sticky so it holds together.  And sausage has to be fatty — a ratio of 3 or 4:1, meat to fat — which usually means you have to grind some fat back into the mix.  (Full disclosure:  I broke this last rule.  The piece of meat I bought was pretty fatty — 5:1, maybe — and the sausage turned out fine.)

You can stuff the mixture into casings, if you like, or cook it as bulk sausage, which is less time intensive and just as tasty.  I cooked most of the sausage in patties (for the freezer) and browned the rest for dinner tonight (with broccoli rabe and barley).  It received rave reviews from the whole gang.

Pork sausage with garlic and herbs

Yield:  About 3 lbs. bulk sausage

3 lb. boneless pork butt (the fattiest one you can find)

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 Spanish onion, finely chopped

1/4 c. minced garlic (6-8 cloves)

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh sage leaves

3 tsp. kosher salt

3 tbsp. white wine (or just use water)

Freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Using a very sharp knife, cut pork into cubes no larger than 1-inch square.  Place in a gallon-sized, zip-top plastic bag and freeze for at least an hour, or until meat is fairly firm but not frozen solid.  (When the meat is partially frozen, the food processor will chop it.  If the meat is too warm, you run the risk of processing it into a gooey paste.)

While pork is in freezer, warm a skillet over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender, about 8 minutes.  Stir in garlic and herbs and cook two minutes more.  Transfer onion mixer to a small container with a lid and refrigerate until cold.

Using a food processor, grind pork in three batches.  Hold the machine steady with one hand while you push the pulse button with the other.  Process, scraping down the bowl once or twice, until meat is well-chopped (but still chunky) and cohesive but not so long that it becomes pasty.  Transfer ground meat to a mixing bowl and repeat with remaining batches.

Add onion mixture, salt, wine or water, and pepper to ground meat.  Mix very well with a spoon, your hands, or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until seasonings are well-incorporated and mixture is sticky.  Refrigerate the mixture overnight, if possible, before cooking.  You can freeze the uncooked sausage, stuff it into casings, or form it into patties.  Cooked sausage freezes well, too.

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