Uncork the pork

By The Associated Press Published:

If the idea of preparing a hearty batch of homemade sausage appeals, take a look at the new recipe and serving suggestions offered here by sausage specialists and cookbook authors Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

Sausage making is probably easier than you think. And once youve made the basic mixture it wouldnt be difficult to cook up sausage-based fare to please the gang if youre entertaining a Super Bowl crowd, or planning tailgating or any other kind of lighthearted dining occasion.

Ruhlman and Polcyn are reliable guides on the subject of sausages. Their latest book is Charcuterie (Norton, 2005, $35). Ruhlman, who lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, is co-author of The French Laundry Cookbook; Polcyn, chef-owner of Five Lakes Grill, Milford, Mich., is a charcuterie instructor at Schoolcraft College, Livonia, Mich.

Charcuterie is the elegant French term whose roots are chair (flesh) and cuit (cooked) and whose range includes sausage. In their book, Ruhlman and Polcyn define sausage as a combination of ingredients that are ground and then simply cooked or smoked in varying ways, with intriguing results.

Theyve developed an original recipe for The Associated Press, a caramelized onion and fresh marjoram pork sausage mixture and thats just the beginning.

One of the best features about this sausage mixture is its versatility, Ruhlman says. Of course, it can be used to make conventional sausages, stuffed into casings using a stuffer or a stuffer attachment to your standing mixer, he explains.

But it can also be prepared loose. You could cook the sausage meat as breakfast or sandwich patties, use with pasta, add it to soup or grill it. It would also make a fine stuffing.

Caramelized onions add a complex sweetness to any dish and work especially well with the pork in this sausage, Polcyn says. My mother made sausage with marjoram on holidays, so this is a special flavor for me. This isnt necessarily a classic sausage flavor combination, but its one that really works.

Cooks can experiment, use the basic recipe, try some of the suggested uses, then go on to discover their own favorite variations.

The sausage mixture will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days, or, well-wrapped, in the freezer for about a month. If you do not wish to make as much sausage as the recipe produces, the recipe can easily be halved. You can either grind your own pork, or buy pre-ground pork, as explained in the recipe that follows.

Heres the basic recipe:

Caramelized Onion and

Fresh Marjoram Sausage

5 pounds fresh pork shoulder butt, diced into 1-inch cubes (see note)

3 tablespoons kosher salt

5 tablespoons fresh marjoram, finely chopped and tightly packed

1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 cup ice water

1 cup caramelized onions (recipe below)

Combine all ingredients except water and onions; toss by hand to distribute seasonings. Grind mixture through 1/4-inch (medium) plate into a bowl set in ice. Place mixture in bowl of stand mixer; add onions and water. Paddle or mix until liquid is incorporated and the mixture has developed a uniform, tacky appearance, about 2 minutes on medium speed. Cook a small portion, taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Number of servings varies, based on method of use.

Note: If you do not have a meat grinder or meat-grinding attachment to a stand mixer, order pre-ground pork from your butcher; just make sure to specify 25 to 30 percent fat. The authors do not recommend a food processor as an alternative for this type of sausage because they say it produces meat with more of a paste-like consistency, which does not create a pleasing end-product texture.

Caramelized Onions

2 large Spanish onions, finely cut, julienne-style

2 tablespoons butter

Melt butter in thick-bottomed pan that has a tight-fitting lid. Add onions and sweat gently, covered, over medium heat. When onions are soft, about 5 minutes, remove lid and turn heat to high, stirring constantly, to caramelize the natural sugars. When onions are deep-brown in color, 10 to 15 minutes, remove from heat and allow to cool. When chilled, place onions on cutting board and finely chop for sausage.

Nutrition information per 4-ounce (1/2 cup) sausage serving: 290 cal., 22 g total fat (8 g saturated), 85 mg chol., 620 mg sodium, 2 g carbo., 20 g pro., 0 g fiber.

Recipe suggestions for your homemade sausage

One of the best features of this flavorful homemade sausage mixture is its versatility. Following are a few simple ideas to start with, all quickly made.

Breakfast patties. Divide sausage mixture into 2-ounce portions (about 1/4 cup each), shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Add as many patties as will comfortably fit without crowding pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until done. Keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining patties.

Serve 2 patties per person, topped with 2 poached eggs.

Grilled sausage sandwiches. Divide sausage into 4-ounce portions (about 1/2 cup each) and form into oval-shaped patties about 3/4-inch thick. Grill over direct heat over medium-hot fire 5 minutes per side, turning once, until an instant-read thermometer reads 160 degrees F.

Serve immediately on crusty rolls with good Dijon mustard and slices of jarred roasted red peppers.

Sausage and Pasta Toss

(Start to finish 20 to 30 minutes)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound sausage

28-ounce can diced tomatoes

2 teaspoons dried oregano

12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips

1 pound penne, cooked, drained, kept warm

1/4 cup fresh basil, finely sliced

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste.

Heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage; saute until browned, breaking up with fork, about 4 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, dried oregano and roasted red peppers. Cook for 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring frequently. Toss with penne and basil, thinly sliced. Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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