As I merrily pushed the seasoned pork through the grinder into the casings, I was transported back to two vivid sausagey memories: first, how I was nicknamed the “sausage queen” when I was in cooking school because I had taken to it so quickly; and second, a private moment I had in Germany years ago.
It was the winter of 2010, and Shannon and I had been seeing each other for 6 months. That December, Shannon had successfully undergone what we hoped (and still hope) would be the last of his cancer surgeries. Fearless and in love, we decided to celebrate with a trip overseas.
After a few days visiting with my parents in Spoleto, Italy, where they live half the year, we journeyed off to Berlin, where neither of us had ever been. Our days there were long, full of the thrill of exploring such an incredible city, and on our second night we wound up in Berlin’s monstrous central train station, Hauptbahnhof, unsure of exactly what our next move was. We had been from one end of the city to the other that day – in museums and galleries and historic Platzes, all in about 5 degrees with a light to moderate snow. We were starving and over-budget so we decided to take advantage of the many food stalls within the station. We purchased a large beer for Shannon, a humongous turkey drumstick, a couple shortribs, fries, and some famous German currywurst (fried German sausage cut into slices with curry flavored ketchup). We fell silent as we sat on a stone bench, struck dumb by the cavernous glass cathedral of transit, with levels of train tracks and walkways that seemed dangerously close to each other and yet meticulously organized- the ultimate German design experience if you ask me. I gave in to my fatigue and sat hunched over, slurping the shortrib juice off one hand while grabbing bits of sausage with the other.
Then suddenly, all I could hear was click clack, click clack, click clack, click clack. I raised my ketchup stained face to see a tall and slender brunette in high black stilettos striding across the concourse. She was wearing a perfectly tailored black trenchcoat, which pushed open as she walked, revealing thigh high, black seamed stockings held up by a lace and leather gartered corset. She sauntered like she had a secret she had no intention of keeping. Her skin was pale, eyes dark with long lashes, and lips painted a striking dark burgundy. She didn’t look cheap though. She looked like an advertisement for sexy empowerment.
Much like a deer in headlights- a greasy deer that is- I was stunned by this vision. This perfectly coiffed party girl or high paid prostitute had caught me in my most unattractive moment. Of course, she didn’t see me. I was invisible to her, for which I was grateful. I felt like a bloated teen, in the midst of her first menstrual flow; so far from a suave, powerful woman. Or the ugly unadoptable puppy peering sadly through the glass of the pet store window. I sneaked a peek at Shannon, who was blissfully gulping his beer and devouring more food while watching trains and people shuttle in and out of the station. Luckily, he didn’t see my girl, and couldn’t tell what jealous agony I was feeling. When my wishes of being swallowed by a random German sinkhole did not come to fruition, I shoved the final piece of sausage into my mouth and sighed. Sometimes travel just gets the best of you.
But the thing is…
While I doubt I’m ever going to be a woman who can walk comfortably through a train station in nothing but a trenchcoat, I feel that powerful and confident when I’m cooking. The kitchen is really the only place where I know, for a fact, that I’ll be able to connect with the smouldering, fearless, brazen, cocksure chef that I want to be- even if I am always covered in food. There is a great deal of power in knowing you can make anything you want to eat from scratch.
This recipe for fennel sausage is from Mozza, Nancy Silverton’s cookbook from her restaurant of the same name. I’ve written about this cookbook before because I love her take on food (see ”Wait, you fried what?“). Her dishes are smart and simple- letting the real food shine. The secret ingredient in many of her dishes is fennel pollen. When I went to pick some up at Kalystuyan’s, one of the best spice stores on the planet, I was instructed to get it from the cashier. When I asked the check out girl, she whispered it was $29 for one ounce and was I still interested. I leaned in an whispered that was ok with me, feeling very much like I was in the middle of a high stakes drug deal. She slid the metal tin across the counter to me and I felt a chill of thrill roll down my spine. New toys, new secrets. I needed to get back to my sausage queen days and make something that even the priciest party girl would envy.
Spicy Fennel Sausage
- 3 tablespoons fennel seeds
- 4 pounds boneless pork shoulder
- 1 pound pork fatback
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic (about 10 large cloves)
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons hot paprika (to adjust spiciness, I would change to 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 tablespoon hot paprika or all sweet paprika for no spiciness)
- 1 tablespoon fennel pollen
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 3/4 cup ice water
- Toast the fennel seeds in a small skillet over high heat, shaking the skillet to keep the seeds from burning, until they are fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour the seeds onto a plate and set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Cut the pork shoulder and fatback into 1-inch cubes and put the cubes in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the garlic, salt, sugar, pepper, paprika, fennel pollen, and toasted fennel seeds. Stir the seasonings together and sprinkle them over the pork and fatback. Toss to coat the meat with the seasonings, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to two days.
- Fit a meat grinder with the largest die and have the bowl of a standing mixer handy. Remove the meat from the refrigerator and pass it through the grinder, catching the ground meat into the mixing bowl.
- Fit the standing mixer with the paddle attachment. Combine the vinegar and ice water. Put the bowl with the ground meat in it on the standing mixer and mix them on low speed, gradually adding the vinegar and water until the meat is slightly sticky; you may not use all of the liquid.
- At this point, I passed the meat through the grinder without the die into sausage casings, but you can use the sausage in loose bulk form as it is.
- It will keep for 5 days in the fridge or up to 3 months in the freezer.