Hanging Out in Rockford: Making sausages and other things—Sausages and laws

By Mike Leifheit


There are two things you do not want to see made, so the goes wisdom, according to the popular press: sausages and laws. Well, after engaging in the art of sausage-making, and yes, I said the art, I am ready to dispute that. Making sausage is cooking. Cooking is an art. Making laws is an art also. That is, if you are going to do it right. Maybe we should all get involved in the art of making law. Maybe everyone who has an opinion should call his or her legislators. I have, more than once, more than twice. When I make the sausages, I get right into the ground pork mixture, right up to the elbows to mix the spices evenly. Do we care more about our sausages than our laws? Maybe we should get into this lawmaking process up to our elbows, too.

After we talk about socialized medicine, after we eat our delicious sandwiches, I say it is time to get back because I have sausage to make. Today, I am going to make the Polish because I want to smoke it, and I need to have it ready by 3 when José will be there to start the wood fire. It works better if it isn’t too hot, and there is more smoke when you are just starting the fire.

I am still having a hard time getting the sausages to move off the horn. While I am struggling to force the meat into the casings, Gerlinde, Jonathon, Elise and Katy talk about Gerlinde night and decide on Oct. 6 for the event. I have a feeling I am still doing something wrong, but again, I hang in there, and produce 30 pounds of beautiful rope, which José pinches off into perfect sausages and places in baking pans to put in the smoke oven.

Armed with the advice from Mike Eichmann, José toasts the sausages to a beautiful pink in the old wood oven, the old wood oven we bought from Jack Stephenson 20 years ago when no one thought our wood-fired oven was a good idea. The sausages themselves are simple and delicious. I give samples at the bar to Frank, Gautam and Dave, who are sitting commiserating about the economy.

I am pretty damn tired. Originally, I thought I would make 60 pounds of sausage today, but it has gotten the best of me, and I only manage to complete 30. I retire early, and look forward to getting back into it the next day. Later that night, as I lie in my bed, I am thinking about the process. Yes, I lie in my bed at night and think about how to make sausages. Sometimes it is that way, if you have a passion.

Eureka! I have an idea. I have not been entirely happy with the consistency of the sausages I have been making so far. I have found the meat to be too finely ground. You have to grind the meat two times. Once just to break it up so you can mix in the spices. The second time when you pack it into the casings. I have been using a fine plate for the first grinding, and then the kidney plate for the second. The kidney plate has larger holes that are kidney shaped. I decide to use the larger plate for both runs.

I start to run the meat through using the larger plate, and that is working, but something else is on my side. I have stored the meat in a cooler that is particularly cold, and the fat is very firm. The fat isn’t breaking down and sticking to the inside of the horn. The meat is flying through the grinder. I grind all 30 pounds in 10 minutes or less.

Fortunately, Jonathon and Gerlinde have prepared all my spices the previous day. I mix them in, and then wisely put the mixture, or most of it, in the refrigerator to stay cool. This is a very good decision. When I start filling the casings, the rope flies off the horn, the way I remember from the old days when I would watch the sausage-makers down on Broadway. In one hour, I pack all 30 pounds of sausage.

Later that evening, we cook some of the new sausage. Because it is bratwurst, we boil some, and we cook some over the fire. Both are the best sausages I have ever eaten. Everyone at the bar agrees. I am a sausage-maker finally. Now, if we could just do something about health insurance. Couldn’t some of our legislators go to France, where they have the finest health care in the world (at half the cost of ours) and ask their advice? But to do this, we would have to set aside our ideology and approach it from a learning standpoint. It’s like making sausages.

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.

From the October 7-13, 2009 issue

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