This sage sausage recipe was inspired by the simple sausage sandwiches I used to get from the Barron's Beef stand at the Baltimore Farmer's Market every Sunday morning. Barron's stand was tucked away in the back of the market, with a few huge grills with hanging slabs of pit beef and rows and rows of sausages. The line always wrapped at least twice, so you had to get there early. For just $4, you'd walk away with a perfectly juicy sage sausage with a satisfying snap in the skin, tucked in a hot dog bun and wrapped in aluminum foil.
It's been a few years since we moved out of Baltimore, but as we've been packing up our apartment in L.A. for our move to Boston next week (!!!), I found some frozen pork shoulder in the freezer and decided to try recreating Barron's sage sausage at home.
(And yes, I've buried the lede here: We're moving to Boston! I've been accepted to Cambridge School of Culinary Arts where I'll be pursuing a baking and pastry certification that will help me develop even better recipes for you all and to continue chasing my dream of working in food media.)
But that's not what this post is about. It's about sausage. And how sausage is made.
I've made sausage before, usually basic breakfast sausages and stuff like that. And with the help of the meat grinder attachment for the KitchenAid mixer, grinding the meat is the easy part.
The much harder part is getting the ground sausage meat into the delicate casings, even with the help of a sausage stuffing attachment. Sausage casings are made of collagen (natural casings are made from animal intestines, artificial casings are made from collagen and cellulose) and are very, very fine and tear easily.
When I started developing this recipe, I had two things I wanted to try. One, I wanted to see if it was possible to "grind" the pork without using a meat grinder — similar to how we use a cleaver to make "ground" chicken for pad krapow gai. Unfortunately, this was a bust. Pork butt (or pork shoulder) is far too fatty to chop the way you can chop chicken, even with a cleaver.
Second, I had initially planned to cook these as sausage patties, but as I was grinding the meat, I started to wonder if there was perhaps another way to mimic the sausage shape even without the casings.
I divided the ground meat into 6 portions, rolled them tightly in saran wrap, and let them chill in the fridge overnight. I wasn't sure if they'd hold together when I cooked them, but I had a feeling I was on to something.
Reader, I was totally on to something. They held together beautifully. They were super flavorful, and they didn't lose too much moisture in the cooking process either. Of course they're not quite as juicy as they'd be with casings, which hold the rendered fat inside as they cook, but they're still really dang good.
I sliced them on a diagonal to make oval medallions, layered them in a hot dog bun, and when I closed my eyes and took a bite, it was just like being back at the farmer's market in Baltimore.
a few quick notes on sage sausage
- Sausage meat usually has a 70/30 fat to meat ratio. The fat is necessary for flavor, taste, and texture. If you tried to make a sausage using store-bought pre-ground pork (which usually 80/20, or even 90/10 if you go with "lean" or "super lean" ground pork) you'll end up with a dry, crumbly, mealy, tasteless sausage. You really do need to use nice fatty pork butt for this and grind it yourself (or get the butcher counter to grind it for you).
- If you don't feel like rolling these into logs, you can totally take this sausage mixture and cook it as patties on a skillet or if you're feeling ambitious, go ahead and stuff it into casings. It's up to you!
- I love a simple serving preparation for these — a hot dog bun and sausage is all I need. But they're also good served up with sauerkraut, caramelized onions, and/or mustard.
- Pork butt (aka pork shoulder) usually comes in packages of 4-12 pounds. This recipe calls for just 1 pound. You can either increase the recipe to make more sausages, or you can divide the pork shoulder and freeze it in smaller portions so it's easier to use.
- If you can't find boneless pork butt, bone-in is fine. Just use a sharp boning knife to remove the bone. Just remember you lose about 1 lb of weight once the bone is removed.
- Don't skip or rush the chilling steps here. If you try to grind fatty meat that hasn't been chilled, the fat will melt and gum up your grinder. If you don't let them chill after you've rolled and wrapped the sausages in plastic wrap, they're far more likely to fall apart when you cook them.
other recipes you might like
sage breakfast sausage (no casings)
- 1 lb pork butt (or shoulder)
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage (minced)
- 1 clove garlic (minced)
- 1½ teaspoon fennel seeds (lightly crushed)
- 2 teaspoon diamond crystal kosher salt (1 teaspoon if using another brand)
- 1½ teaspoon brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon whole nutmeg (freshly grated, always!)
- Use a sharp knife to cut the pork into 1" cubes. Leave as much fat on as you can. It's okay if some pieces are entirely fatty. Remove the bone if using bone-in meat.Cover and chill for 30 minutes in the fridge so the fat is nice and cool and won't melt when you grind it.
- Set up your meat grinder and run the chilled meat through the machine. Pause occasionally to make sure the meat isn't jammed or squishing out around the screw-in mechanism holding the grinding plates in place. Cover the ground pork and chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.
- While the meat is chilling, prep your herbs and spices. Mix them into the chilled ground pork (do not overmix!) just until well combined and evenly distributed.
- Heat a small amount of oil in a pan and fry a small 1 teaspoon dollop of the mixture to taste. Adjust seasoning as needed.
- If making sausage patties: Divide mixture up into 6-8 equal pieces, roll into balls, flatten, and pan fry over medium heat for 3-4 minutes per side.
to make sausage with no casing
- Lay a large sheet of plastic wrap down on your counter.
- Dollop about ¼ cup of the sausage mixture in the bottom center of the plastic about 3" up from the edge closest to you. Fold the bottom edge of the plastic (the one closest to you) up over the sausage mixture.
- Cup your fingers over the plastic and sausage and slide them toward your body, pulling the sausage with them. Don't roll the sausage. Pull it with your fingers firmly against the counter so that the sausage forms a log shape about 1" thick.
- Now roll the log forward to wrap it tightly with the rest of the plastic. Twist the ends closed as you go to squish as much of the meat mixture tightly in the wrap. You don't want any large air pockets trapped inside. Tuck the twisted ends under the log.
- Repeat with remaining sausage mixture (use a kitchen scale or measuring cup to ensure they're all the same size) and chill in the fridge for several hours or overnight so that the sausages chill and hold their shape better.
- To cook, unwrap the sausages from the plastic and cook on a hot skillet, rolling them across the surface of the pan to prevent them from flattening out on one side. Sausages are done when they reach an internal temp of 160°F on an instant-read thermometer.
- Serve in a hot dog bun or sliced on a diagonal into medallions.
- For food safety reasons I do NOT recommend poaching these in the plastic wrap. Different brands and types of plastic wrap have wildly varied melting points and it's best not to risk the plastic melting or leeching into your food.