So I’m late, as usual.
I’ve just discovered Charcutepalooza: a ‘year of meat’ in which a group of bloggers learn about charcuterie through a series of monthly challenges, and then report on the experience. The brainchild of Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy, festivities have so far included making duck prosciutto, hot smoked salmon, and home-cured bacon. Salivating over the thought of
making eating these sorts of goodies myself, I impulsively joined the ranks, thumbing my nose at the fact that I am completely broke and have no budget for any new kitchen equipment or expensive cuts of meat. No smokers, no stuffers, no terrine dishes, no duck breasts, nothing.
As many of you know, I am on hiatus from my new nomadic lifestyle and have upgraded from living in my car to living in my Grandmother’s now-empty, crumbling 200-year-old house in Maine. While this means I have free range of Grandma’s liquor cabinet and my pick of beautiful vintage everything, it also means I am living without some of the more modern conveniences I have grown accustomed to—like an oven that heats in less than 2 hours, or above 200 degrees F.
Immediately calling my predicament into focus, this month the charcuterie challenge is to make your own sausages. The good news is that pork shoulder ‘is a very economical cut of meat’ according to my new friend, Chris the butcher. You may have guessed the bad news, which is that Grandma didn’t leave me with a shiny new KitchenAid mixer.
No, she left me with something that was a bone of contention between her and my mother for years, something which has been sitting in its decaying original box in an ancient cupboard since I was little. The mere mention of it elicited a stage-whispered argument between mother, aunts, and uncles, while Grandma carried on stubbornly cranking out corned beef hash in the kitchen.
She left the meat grinder.
My mother was always horrified that Grandma was grinding food as recently as 2009 with a machine built and bought in the 1940’s. She was sure it held the dried-up remains of her childhood dinners, fermented over the decades into secret nuggets of botulism. But I’ll always have a soft spot for the crusty thing.
The first time my husband met my grandmother was about seven years ago, when we flew to Maine from our home in London for Christmas. The whole extended family was there, but Steve knew Grandma would be the toughest one to win over. He watched for opportunities, and made two tactical moves.
As we walked in the door on the first day, we found Grandma spitting and cursing at an ancient pressure cooker. The release valve had finally given out, making it impossible to get the lid off. It had been stuck for nearly 24 hours, while everyone tentatively breathed a sigh of relief that they wouldn’t have to eat the contents: the traditional Christmas Eve ‘porcupine meatballs’. Yes, ground beef and rice balls locked in a pressure cooker with a can of tomato soup for an hour was Grandma’s specialty.
‘I can get that open for you, easy,’ Steve said, while everyone else in the room shot daggers in his direction. He took the cooker, pounced out into the yard, and plunged the whole thing into the snow, letting the metal contract. A few minutes later it opened easily. Grandma was pleased that What’s-his-name had solved her problem, but otherwise didn’t show too much interest in him. For one thing she couldn’t understand his English accent, and for another she wasn’t born yesterday.
In his second move, Steve decided to stand on Grandma’s side of the line in the sand, and show interest in something only she appreciated. He can’t help it, he likes to play with fire. He went into the cupboard and inspected the meat grinder.
‘Grandma,’ he asked sweetly, in front of everyone. ‘Steph says you have a meat grinder, could I borrow it to make dinner?’
My mother’s face flushed with panic. ‘NO!’ she hissed, keeping her voice (almost) down so Grandma (almost) wouldn’t hear. ‘It’s unsanitary. Do NOT use the meat grinder.’ But it was too late. Grandma’s eyes lit up, and she scampered off to show how neatly she had kept all of the original parts, how functional it still was after all these years.
For Mom, it was strike two against Steve. He gambled that she would forgive him quickly—and in the end he was right—but the real judgment came from Grandma when we were getting ready to go back to England. She gave him a kiss on the cheek goodbye, and said ‘See you next time, Steve.’ He was in.
It feels like a long time ago now. Grandma is gone, and here we are back in the US, in her house. In this strange period of transition, the past and the present twist around each other in my mind and in my daily life. I’m thinking about the future but surrounded by my personal history.
I want to learn about charcuterie, but there is only one tool available for the job. So tonight the kitchen is covered in pork. The grinder is clamped to the table, and there are bowls of ice and sage and discarded sinew cluttering every surface. Our dinner of puff pastry sausage rolls is baking (very slowly) in the oven.
We skipped stuffing the meat into casings, and have gone instead for a sage and ginger breakfast sausage recipe from the *official* Charcutepalooza book: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. In an ideal world, we would have ground the meat more finely and worked the mixture more thoroughly. But in the end only one blade on the grinder was functional, and I was only able to stir until my arm gave out.
The final texture is a little too coarse, but the good news is the sausage tastes fantastic. It’s juicy and aromatic, and full of garlic, ginger, and fresh sage—without even a hint of residue from Grandma’s corned beef hash.
- 1 sheet store-bought puff pastry
I won’t give the recipes from Ruhlman’s book, but if you’re at all interested in charcuterie you should buy it for yourself—it is packed with information, and reads like you’re taking a class rather than looking at a cookbook. However, no matter what sausages you have on hand, this is a super-easy comfort dish.
If you’re working with uncased sausage meat, form it into a long cylinder about an inch thick, and a little shorter than your puff pastry sheet. If you’re using sausages in casing, just line up a few down the center of your pastry, again leaving a little empty pastry at each edge.
Fold the pastry over the sausage and seal all of the edges, so that you’ve made an envelope around the meat. Trim any excess pastry, and then cut the sausage rolls into 1-2 inch pieces.
Bake on a tray at 375 F/ 190 C (if your oven goes that high!) until the sausage is cooked through and the pastry is golden brown, about 45 minutes.