Cast Iron Pans Cast iron pan owners swear by them for their even dispersal of heat and non stick nature. However, iron is not as happy go lucky as other metals. Initially, the pan must be seasoned with vegetable oil in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for at least an hour. Each time you heat the pan with oil, it will season till it obtains a beautiful dark color. Don't wash off the black patina thinking it is dirty. In fact, never use soap or scour the pan or you will remove the essence of the pan. Dry your iron pan on the stove with medium heat but watch it so it doesn't burn.
My Favorite Pan My favorite pan is a twenty dollar cast iron pan. I remember vividly how my step-father coveted his iron pan and warned us about not using soap to clean it. Seasoned and maintained properly, an iron pan can last forever. It is better than any non stick pan and far more durable. It's thick base holds heat better than any pan in my arsenal and prevents food from burning by dispersing the heat.
I fiddled around a lot with the ingredients in this sausage recipe but it was worth the effort. Now it's a classic in my household. A little spicy but not too hot. What you really get is a flavor explosion of balanced jalapeño, cilantro, green onion, garlic, cumin, chili powder and, of course, chicken. And that's what I like best about these sausages. The chicken flavor is not masked but elevated by the supporting cast of ingredients.
Grinding your meat produces a fresher product than what you buy at the supermarket. Ground meat at the market has been sitting in a package soaking up plastic and Styrofoam all day long... yuck! It's not hard to grind your own meat if you have a Kitchenaid with the grinding attachment. Start by partially freezing your meat as it will grind more easily and the fat won't liquify. I like placing it on a rack in a jelly roll pan so the bottom freezes also. Usually thirty minutes is enough time to get it frozen enough to grind better.
Grind the meat through the coarsest grinding plate. Leave the skins on for added flavor and fat necessary to make a good sausage. Also grind the bacon through a little bit at a time with each chicken thigh so it is evenly distributed. Try to complete this process as efficiently as possible so the meat remains partially frozen through the second grind and case stuffing.
Partially mix the vegetables and seasoning with the ground meat as the second grind with the finer grinding plate will mix the ingredients as well. A coarse chop is all that is needed for the jalapeños and green onions. I don't even chop the cilantro or remove the stems. My issue with stems is mouth feel. Since everything is going to get pulverized, I only remove the bottom part of the stem.
I leave some of the cilantro whole to manually mix at the end. I like how the large pieces of cilantro show through the sausage casings, giving it a rustic feel. It also gives me a final chance to mix the ingredients to make sure they are evenly distributed. However, don't overwork the meat or it will become dense. We aren't worried about the overworking that ruins burger meat. In fact, sausage meat will crumble as you are cutting it if it hasn't been properly mixed. Just don't work the meat to a point where the fat melts.
It's always a good idea to test the seasoning level before stuffing your sausages. Just create a patty or two and fry it up in a skillet. If you don't have a sausage stuffer or don't want to go the extra step, this is a great way to eat sausages too. You can even put them on a bun and make a sausage burger!
The Kitchenaid grinder can also stuff sausages but I have found it less than adequate. It's so inconsistent at extruding the meat that the sausages come out lumpy unless you have lots of patience. It's also far too easy to introduce air into the meat that I found myself popping the casings every six inches to let out the air pockets. Speed is also a factor. When I finally got my Lem Sausage Stuffer, I reduced sausage stuffing from thirty minutes to a couple minutes.
Natural Sausage Casings are easy to find and store. I order them off the internet and store them almost indefinitely in the refrigerator, as long as they are covered in kosher or sea salt. When you are ready to use them, just soak them in a cup of water for thirty minutes to remove the salt.
Use a little vegetable shortening so the sausage casings comes on and off the stuffing tube easily. Once the casing is in place, tie the end with a little butcher's twine and get ready to extrude.
Stuffing the sausages should only take a few minutes. Once you get the hang of it, the sausages just naturally slide off the stuffer with very little effort. You do have to pull the sausage away from the stuffing tube to get the meat evenly distributed but it's more finesse than brute force. If you see any air pockets, just poke the casing with a toothpick.
Twist the sausages every six inches or so and tie them off with butcher's twine. I tied each segment twice so I can cut down the middle just before cooking, keeping each sausage self-contained.
The last step is to cook your beautiful sausages. That could be in a frying pan, the grill or even a smoker. Smoking sausages is a whole extra skill set so let's focus on frying or grilling. Cook the sausages on medium heat. When your sausages begin to show color on both sides, watch for the juices to start escaping from the casings, sometimes violently with a geyser of fluid so be careful. Stop cooking at this point so your sausages remain juicy and let them rest a little before serving.