Hanging Out in Rockford: Making sausages and other things: The Zen of sausage making

By Mike Leifheit


When I was young, I read a book by Robert Persig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I remember it having a big effect on me. I have been striving in my older years to live more in the present. Making sausages is like that, you get into the zone. If you are doing it right, that is. Everything has its frustrations, and sausage making is no exception.

I call Jonathon, and he agrees to come to my aid again. He, I and Elise hang out, while Katy sits to one side, doing her inventory work she does every Wednesday. We have come up with a recipe for Italian sausage, but we are going to kick it up a notch. In addition to the usual fennel seed and garlic, we are going to add a pound of fresh basil and 15 or so jalapeno peppers to add some spiciness.

At first, the grinding goes slowly, but then I figure out that the blade of the cutting unit needs to be against the extrusion plate. When you assemble it in this manner, the cutting blade is constantly rubbing against the plate and keeping it clear so the meat can pass through. All of a sudden, the meat starts flying through the grinder. We grind the entire second half of the pork in minutes. Then, we reassemble the sausage machine for packing the sausage into casings. This doesn’t go as well.

When I was a young man standing at Broadway Certified (store name and names of the participants supplied by an anonymous telephone caller) watching Bill Parks or his partner Guy Masetti, the sausages used to come shooting off the horn of the grinder. But today, I can only get a slow flow of sausage, and my arm gets terribly sore from trying to push the meat into the supply horn on the big, old Toledo. I am a total trooper, however, and fight my way through to the end of the 60 pounds of meat. When we are done, we have a sizeable amount of Italian sausage. We are several hours from start to finish.

I am so tired I can hardly walk. After the others leave, I go for a shower. It hurts to bend over to pick up the soap. I struggle through, however, as I want to try some of the cooked sausages. José cooks the first batch of sausages to one 165 degrees, and while they are delicious, they seem to be a little dry. I tell him to cook some until they are no longer pink inside, and then temp them to see what the temperature is.

He does this, and reports back that the ideal doneness occurs at 150. This should be fine, as we are using whole-muscle pork, and it is even OK to serve it pink. Cooked in this manner, the sausages are moist and delicious. We decide, however, that the next time we make them, we will double the basil and cut back on the jalapeno slightly. Also, at Jonathon’s suggestion, we are going to roast the garlic.

But overall, the reception of our sausage is outstanding. People simply love the Italian sausage we have made. There are only a few comments in the opposite direction, but these seem to amount more to expressions of personal taste. The comment we hear the most is that this is the best Italian sausage they have ever tasted.

The day after the Labor Day holiday and the On The Waterfront Festival is usually one of the worst days of the year. We send out an e-mail to our Irish Rose e-mail list (you can get on it at irishrosesaloon.net), offering a two-piece sausage dinner with fire-roasted tomato marinara and linguini for $4.95. We are packed, and sell out all the sausage except for one order. We double our business from the previous year.

More next week.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

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