The classic universal edible link – usually meat – comes in many shapes, sizes and configurations, an endless variety of savory flavor and texture. When made of pure good ingredients and with care, a sausage is a singular delight like no other. That kind of quality is not for sale on every streetcorner, so it’s well-worth seeking out the carefully made ones – even learning how to make them yourself if you can, so you can control exactly what goes into them. A Highland butcher is selling 32 varieties of sausage, and teaching others how to create their own.
“Sausage is my passion,” says Mark Elia of Elia’s Meat Market. He says that people deserve to know what’s “inside the link,” and to be able to control the kind of meat, what parts of the animal and any additives that go in, because with much commercial sausage, that’s an unknown. He shares his knowledge of his favorite thing, sausage-making, at intimate, customized classes in the back of the shop. For his class “Old World Sausage-Making,” a maximum of five students start with coffee, sweets and jokes and choose a configuration for the 20 pounds of sausage that they will take home at the end of the day. They pick from 13 different recipes, from Italian sweet or hot to bratwurst to broccoli rabe (a best-seller and Elia’s personal favorite). The students can make all one kind, ten-pound bags of two kinds or five-pound bags of four.
Each sausage apprentice has his or her own workstation equipped with a small commercial KitchenAid mixer (with sturdy metal gears, instead of the nylon of the home models) that is set up with a meat-grinder attachment and a mixing bowl and paddle for folding the sausage seasoning spices into the meat. The class gets to work, learning how to the take the bone and scraps off the pork butts: a cut that Elia chooses for its fat-to-lean ratio, crucial for juicy sausages. Then he directs them as they cube the meat into small-enough pieces to feed into the hopper of the grinder. There are tastings throughout the class, and some will grill up a piece of sausage meat to test for seasonings as they go along – although Elia says that this won’t taste exactly like the sausage, because of the different cooking methods.
After a lunch break the class flushes the sausage casings, which are already clean, but need to have the salt in which they’re packed thoroughly rinsed off, and Elia shows the class how to get them ready for stuffing. At about 1 p.m. the stuffing begins: a good time for some more of the ribald jokes to which sausage stuffing lends itself. Elia recalls a bachelorette party when they were especially spicy: “Worse than the men,” Elia laughs. “I have some fun teaching this class,” he adds.