Italians don’t cut corners. We do everything with care. An old-school Italian sausage should contain pork butt, salt, chili, and fennel, that’s it.
Photo via Flickr user Ernesto Andrade
Mario Garisto sells just one thing at his store, Sorella Toronto: links upon links of the same Italian sausage his great-grandmother has been making a century ago in the Calabria region, also known as the toe of Italy's boot. As with many Italian cooks, Garisto is fiercely strict about what defines his country's cooking. For him, a proper Italian sausage is more than a tube of meat scraps and should only contain three ingredients. Here's why.
When it comes to sausages, people can do whatever they want. But when it comes to Italian sausage, I get a bit taken aback when you add other things because it's a misrepresentation of Italian food, and if you put it in front of an Italian, they won't eat it, just like if you put cream in a carbonara.
Italians don't cut corners. We do everything with care. An old-school Italian sausage should contain pork butt, and from there it's just salt, chili, and fennel, that's it.
There are a lot of corners being cut when it comes to the sausages you'd find at grocery stores and some butcher shops. People use the nose-to-tail wording like they're doing a service, but it's still trimmings and entrails. A proper sausage should just have 100 percent meat.
There's also a lot of fat added. Sausage has a reputation for being fatty, but for Italians, sausages are served on a plate and not a bun. It's just like any other protein. The flavour should come from the meat, not the fat. Any fat should come from the meat, and we find that 85 percent meat and 15 percent fat works for us. The only fat we use is the fat already in the pork butt after I trim and clean it.
Adding water weight—oil, wine, water, crushed ice cubes—is a common trick to make them heavier and seem meatier than they are.
I shouldn't have to write it out, but on my board it says that my sausages contain no gluten, no dairy, no water, no oil, no preservatives, and no nitrates. People ask if it's a choice that I made my sausages gluten-free, but a good sausage should be anyway. People are too used to sausages containing sugar, oats, bread crumbs, and nitrates to help maintain its shelf life. I wouldn't even think of adding them, but the customer needs to know because they're so used to purchasing sausages that have oil, sugar, gluten, dairy, or whatever.
Some recipes also call for wine. The reason behind that is that if you add too much salt, the wine helps wash it away, but it just adds water weight and the alcohol cooks the sausage a bit, creating a bit of an off flavour, and you're probably not even using good wine anyway. If your sausages are exploding, it means there's oil in it. The oil starts to boil and bursts through the casing. It's also why your sausage is taking longer to cook and shrinks so much when you cook it. Adding water weight—oil, wine, water, crushed ice cubes—is a common trick to make them heavier and seem meatier than they are.
The texture shouldn't be be pasty like a hot dog or a patty. Italian sausage is coarse and thick. When you break the casing open, you want to see chunks of the fat and the meat. Same for the fennel. We use fennel seeds, not the ground or powdered stuff. The powder create that fennel taste in every bite, which can mask an over-seasoned sausage. You only get the taste of the fennel if you get the bite with the seed, it acts as a refresher for the palette.
I've been making these sausages since I was six or seven. I was at my grandfather's house with my great-grandmother, turning the grinder because either everyone was getting too tired to do it, or I was being a pest so they gave me something to do. We have five generations in one room and I felt like an adult. Now, my brother's five-year-old son is helping to turn the sausage crank. There's a reason why it's been done this way for so long: it works.
As told to Karon Liu.