Despite all of the sausage I made earlier in the year, I neglected to make breakfast sausage. There is something warming about well-browned breakfast sausage popping in the skillet, the smell wafting through the air. It lends an air of comfort, even confidence to the morning. Of course, I did grow up near a city once nicknamed Porkopolis.
Clearly, this had to be just the right breakfast sausage – it had to evoke these early emotions and memories. But what recipe to make? My charcuterie bible had little to say on the matter. Other sausage making books had not one or two, but dozens of recipes in them with ingredients ranging from ginger to thyme to fennel. During a weak moment, I considered the idea that maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal after all. Breakfast sausages have probably been made as many ways as there have been cooks. But we had something special in mind: the remembered, delicious flavor of those nearly burnt meat patties that probably came in a sad plastic tube from the grocery.
It was then I had the epiphany: The Joy of Cooking would know. After a number of disappointing experiences with this legendary tome, I came back to it for the sausage. Sure enough, page 727 has a single recipe for “Country or Breakfast Sausage.” Looking through the book again, I was reminded of how seemingly rooted in the midwest its recipes are. They are recipes from an earlier home. Although obvious in retrospect, I never really appreciated that there might be the basis of a food culture there. Clearly not as developed as the standards from various regions of Italy or France, but present in its own unique way. In fact, for many of the standard preparations, whether breakfast sausage or egg noodles, The Joy provides simple, direct instructions that don’t surprise and taste like our childhood. It’s considerably more well-rounded than I ever would have guessed earlier – from cardoons to miner’s lettuce – many of the foods I’m only now discovering on the West Coast are covered.
And of course, without any fennel, chicken, veal, or thyme, here’s our classic breakfast sausage:
Childhood Breakfast Sausage
1.5 lbs. pork shoulder
0.5 lbs. pork backfat
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper (coarse grind)
1.5 tsp dried sage
0.5 tsp dried marjoram
0.25 tsp dried savory
0.125 tsp dried ginger (ground)
pinch of cloves (ground)
pinch of red pepper (flakes)
0.25 cups of water
Cube the pork and fat. Mix well with dry spices and allow to rest covered in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Run the cubes through the coarse die on the meat grinder into a cold bowl. Carefully turn and mix with the quarter cup of water. Don’t work the meat too aggressively. For this type of sausage we prefer a coarser, more mealy texture without the nice bind that’s needed for a stuffed sausage. This should freeze well until it’s needed.
To cook: make small patties and cook in a skillet over medium heat until crunchy on both sides.
If you need a refresher on how to make sausage, see my earlier step-by-step article.