Sausage Epiphanies: The Two Percent Solution
Every so often in the world of home cooking, you come across a gadget, recipe, or trick that is so great you swear you’ll never do things differently again. A few of my favorites: never grab a charcoal starter barehanded, bananas are gross, fish sauce is great for seasoning tomato sauce, and the Big Green Egg is a magical grill built by Samurai Space Aliens from another dimension.
Two percent is a simple premise: when making fresh sausage at home, say for a Charcutepalooza June challenge, the amount of salt added should equal 2% of the full weight of your meat and fat. This may sound elementary, but the result was the most well-balanced and flavorful sausage I’ve ever made… or had, for that matter.
I can say this with some authority, because I’ve spent the last two years making sausage on a regular basis with my trusted and battle-tested pork partner in crime, Mike. We’ve done Italian sausage three ways. We’ve made fresh chorizo and chorizo for curing. We’ve done “green” sausage in the Louisiana-style. We’ve made saucisson sec. We’ve made merguez. We’ve had good days and bad days.
Fresh Italian links, versatile as they are, have been our bane, but we were determined to get things right. We went after the best ingredients we could find. I picked up 20 pounds of pork shoulder from Eco Friendly Foods at the Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market in D.C. The shoulder was from a Poland China-Duroc-Berkshire-Hampshire-Chester White cross breed hog, known and revered by chefs in the U.S. as the “Farmer’s Cross.” Although some restaurant kitchens prefer to make charcuterie from Eco Friendly Foods' fattier cross-breeds, including the Berkshire-Red Waddle-Ossabaw (the Berker-Waddle Baw), the Farmer’s Cross has been fine-tuned over decades to produce juicy cooking cuts.
In addition to high-quality pork, I went on a shopping spree at The Sausage Debauchery, buying Sicilian Flamingo Sea Salt, Marinella Calabrian hot pepper powder, and Marinella Wild Mountain fennel seeds. These relatively inexpensive premium products make a huge difference, particularly in fresh sausage where clean, notable flavors are paramount. The fennel seeds and pollen in particular are almost different products than you will find in even high-end supermarkets. That good.
A test patty reveals the magic of "two percent."
Our process was same as ever. I put the cubed shoulder and some back fat in the freezer along with all the components of my sausage grinding attachment for the KitchenAid mixer. Once they were near-freezing, we pulled everything out and went to work. I tend to eye how much fat is needed to richen the sausage these days, and once we added a reasonable amount, we seasoned the un-ground mixture with two percent salt, 1.5 percent pepper powder, and .87 percent fennel seeds, which is the classic Italian link recipe belonging to Sausage Debauchery's Scott Stegen. Exact ratios really matter, so we measured everything out in grams on a digital kitchen scale.
After grinding, we added a touch of ice cold filtered water, mixed for one minute, and grabbed a good patty out of the bowl for our taste test. I was pleased with the amount of fat the patty released in the pan as it cooked, just enough to create a little slick sizzle. We pulled it off, split it in half, and tasted it.