It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but somewhere early on, my wife and I got in the habit of cooking from scratch. She is a pretty good cook and I’m not bad. We were never much into using pre-prepared foods like jarred spaghetti sauce or canned vegetables. You know all those articles about how bad processed food can be for you, especially in regard to added salt, sugar, or fat? Well, cooking it yourself from scratch avoids these problems. After all, you control what goes in to it.

Cooking isn’t some special ability that only some people have. It’s mostly experience plus a little knowledge. You can start by getting a good cookbook and following the recipes. (I started many years ago with the Joy of Cooking, then James Beard’s American Cookery, and lately I’ve been favoring Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.) These will give you a place to start and recipes to follow. After that, it’s just a matter of practice.

So, we’re obviously not averse to making things ourselves. However, that’s not to say that it always turns out well. I had been thinking that it wouldn’t be hard to make our own breakfast sausage. After all, I already had a meat grinder (it came as a bonus when we bought a KitchenAid mixer a while back) and recipes are easy to come by. What with the ground beef recalls, I had been reading how it was cheaper and healthier to grind your own meat. You just bought a good piece of chuck (or whatever) and you knew what was in it – unlike commercially produced ground meat where you had no control over what cuts of meat went into it. Yes, it is more trouble, but not that much more.

The recipe called for ground pork. OK, no problem, I’ll just go to the grocery store and see what looks good. My first thought was pork chops, but were too lean. Like it or not, sausage needs a certain amount of fat – usually fatback. Unfortunately, fatback is hard to come by. I had never seen it in our local grocery store, so I needed something else – something not too lean.

The boneless short ribs looked good, the price was good, and I had good luck with other short rib recipes. I cut the short ribs into one-inch chunks, mixed them with the spices and put the in the ‘fridge overnight. The next morning I set up the mixer with the grinder attachment and ground the meat. I shaped them into patties and fried one up to check the seasonings.

The texture was terrible! Like eating sausage-flavored gravel.

Turns out, the reason my other short rib recipes had worked so well is that they were all braises – dishes that used long slow cooking to break down the tough connective tissue in the short ribs. Without slow cooking, the sausage was almost inedible. Fortunately, I had only made a small one-pound batch. I froze the rest to be used in the future when we make spaghetti sauce, chili, or some other slow-cooked dish.

It hasn’t put me off of trying to make my own sausages. I consider it another experiment. Next time I’ll choose better.

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