If you've always nursed a yen to make your own sausage, but you don't own a meat grinder and you're dubious about the joys of stuffing ground meat into casings, this recipe for rustic sausage patties is for you.
So what about this ground meat mixture qualifies it as sausage? The answer is threefold: the seasonings, the way the ground meat is mixed, and the high fat content of the mixture. Most hamburger meat contains 15 to 20 percent fat. Ground chuck clocks in at about 30 percent. But when it comes to sausage, most of which is made from pork, the fat averages 30 to 50 percent.
And—big surprise!—that's why we love it so much. The flavor and juiciness are enhanced greatly by all that fat.
Still, there's no reason to get crazy, which is why I've walked a middle line here, aiming for a fat content around 35 percent. Pork shoulder (also known as pork butt or Boston butt) is my cut of choice. It's inexpensive, tasty and rich with fat. But the ratio of meat to fat varies even within a given piece of pork shoulder. Some parts are leaner, some fattier. In order to arrive at just the right ratio, you need to slice off the fat and weigh it, then weigh the meat, too.
Next, it's time to toss in a couple slices of bacon, which is my way of adding smokiness to the sausages without actually having to smoke them.
Given that most folks don't own a meat grinder, we're going to use a food processor to "grind" the meat. First, however, the meat and fat must be frozen. This helps them break up more evenly during processing, and helps prevent them from overheating in the machine. You can take advantage of that freezing time to cook and chill the onion mixture.
When all of the ingredients are combined—the ground meat, fat, onion, and seasonings—it's important to mix them well. Kneading makes the finished sausages denser and springier. These qualities are what make a sausage a sausage rather than a burger, which should be loose and crumbly.
I call for the cooking and tasting of a "test pilot," or tiny sample patty, before launching into full production. It's a safe way to decide if the sausage is seasoned to your taste, given that you shouldn't just pinch off and gobble down a piece of raw meat. First, it's just not safe. Second, raw meat requires different seasoning than cooked meat.
The patties can be formed a day ahead and chilled, which will improve their flavor even further. One last caveat: Be careful not to overcook the patties. All they'll need is three minutes per side, plus a few more with the lentils. If you cook them to well done, they'll be dry.
I love the combination of pork and beans, which is why I paired these rustic sausage patties with warm lentils. The lentils and their cooking liquid are poured into the same skillet in which the sausages were grilled. This step deglazes the browned sausage juices on the bottom of the skillet and marries the pork to the lentils. If you want to make this dish more substantial, you might stir some baby spinach or kale into the lentils and let them wilt before adding the sausages. Or throw in some steamed baby carrots. Or both. It's all good.
RUSTIC SAUSAGE PATTIES WITH LENTILS
Start to finish: 1 hour 30 minutes (45 minutes active)
For the sausage patties:
12 ounces trimmed pork shoulder meat, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
4 ounces fresh pork fat (from the trimmed shoulder meat), cut into 1-inch pieces
2 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup finely minced yellow onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the lentil salad:
1 cup dry lentils
2 to 2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock or broth
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Chopped fresh parsley, to serve
To make the sausages, in a shallow container such as a baking dish or small sheet pan, spread out the pork, fat and bacon. Freeze, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, sage and thyme, then cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a shallow bowl and refrigerate until cooled to room temperature. Reserve the skillet.
Once the pork has chilled in the freezer for 30 minutes, transfer the fat and bacon to a food processor. Pulse until it is very finely chopped, then transfer to a bowl. Add the pork chunks to the processor and pulse until finely chopped. Return the fat-bacon mixture to the processor and pulse several times to mix. Transfer the mixture back to the bowl along with the cooled onion mixture, the salt and pepper.
Knead the mixture for several minutes, or until it is mixed well and holds together when you squeeze it with your fingers.
In a small skillet, test a small piece of the sausage mixture, cooking it until nicely browned on both sides. Adjust seasoning as needed. Shape the mixture into twelve 2-inch patties, then chill, covered, until ready to cook.
While the patties chill, prepare the lentil salad. In a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high, combine the lentils and 2 cups of the chicken broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook the lentils, partially covered, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are just tender.
When the lentils are nearly done cooking, heat the reserved large skillet over medium. Working in batches, add the sausage patties to the skillet and cook until they are nicely browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the patties to a plate.
Pour off and discard all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the skillet, then add to the skillet the cooked lentils along with their cooking liquid, the sherry vinegar and Dijon mustard. Simmer gently, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet, for 2 minutes, adding more chicken broth if desired to achieve a soupy consistency. Add the patties to the skillet and simmer gently for 2 minutes.
To serve, transfer a mound of the lentil mixture to each of 4 serving bowls, then top with 3 patties and garnish with chopped fresh parsley.
Nutrition information per serving: 590 calories; 310 calories from fat (53 percent of total calories); 34 g fat (10 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 80 mg cholesterol; 500 mg sodium; 33 g carbohydrate; 12 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 38 g protein.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton is the host of public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals." She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows, including "Cooking Live." Her latest cookbook is "Home Cooking 101."
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Banner image: This Feb. 15, 2016 photo shows rustic sausage patties with lentils in Concord, N.H. Fresh sausage is easily made at home using a food processor to grind pork shoulder, pork fat and bacon with a handful of seasonings. A simple and vinegary lentil salad is the perfect complement to the rich and fatty goodness of the sausages. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)