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Simple sausage

People who love laws and sausages should never watch either one being made, according to the old political saying attributed to the German general and chancellor Otto von Bismarck, suggesting that it's sometimes best not to be fully aware of the ingredients or the process that go into either legislation or sausage-making.

Indeed, whoever invented the first sausage was most likely trying to find a palatable way to use some of the less appealing innards and other parts left over after the butcher trimmed out the steaks, chops and other goodies considered more desirable. And if floor sweepings, sawdust or other unidentified objects found their way into the grinder along with the ears, snouts and tails, who's going to notice?

When you think about it, it's surprising that anybody likes sausage at all. But we do, we do. It's delicious stuff, the kind of quintessential peasant fare that takes us back to our roots no matter where our ancestors came from. Just about every culture on Earth boasts some kind of sausage or similar dish that involves chopping or grinding odd bits of meat (or poultry or seafood) with spices and putting it up in a form that can be eaten right away or easily packaged and transported.

I've occasionally thought about making serious sausage at home, but the investment in time, equipment and ingredients puts me off. Buying an old-fashioned meat grinder, tracking down sausage casings, taking the time needed to make a decent batch ... and then having maybe 100,000 calories, many of them fat, to dispose of responsibly? Somehow it just seems like more trouble than it's worth.

But then someone in our Food Lovers' Discussion Group mentioned a little-known culinary treat from Milwaukee ... the bratwurst burger! In a flash, I saw the concept: Forget the grinder. Ignore the slippery, messy art of sausage-stuffing. Why not simply buy a little ground meat (paying the worthwhile premium for quality product), and modify traditional sausage recipes into simple, quick burgers or meatballs?

Good question. Let's give it a try! I started with a simple version of bratwurst - a light blend of ground veal and pork flavored primarily with coriander seed - formed into burger-like patties and grilled over charcoal. That worked so well that I followed up a day or two later with Italian sausage, ground pork flavored with fennel seed and a dash of hot red peppers, shaped into meatballs and served over pasta with fresh tomato sauce.

The possibilities are endless. I can see chicken sausage, duck sausage, even fresh seafood sausages on the bill of fare. If you come up with other ideas and try them, I hope you'll take the time to tell me about it.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

1/2 pound (250g) ground veal
1/2 pound (250g) ground pork
1/4 cup (60g) white bread crumbs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon (5g) ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground mace (or nutmeg)
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp salt

1 pound ground pork
1 egg
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 or 2 garlic cloves
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (more if you like it hot)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt


1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. If you prefer to approximate the texture of commercial bratwurst, process them in a food processor (steel blade) until the meat is chopped very fine, but I decided to keep the coarser texture of normally ground meat.

2. Form into burger-like patties, and grill over charcoal or gas or, if you prefer, cook in a nonstick skillet in a small amount of vegetable oil. Five minutes on a side should be plenty; you want to cook pork through but not overcook it to the point of dryness.

3. I served them like hamburgers, using small toasted white buns with lettuce, tomato and thin-sliced Vidalia onion; mayo or mustard to taste.

1. Break the egg and whisk it with a fork. Stir it into the ground pork, handling gently.

2. Grind the fennel seeds lightly with a mortar and pestle. Mince the garlic very fine. Stir them and all the remaining ingredients into the pork and egg mix.

3. Form into smallish meatballs, roughly 3/4 inch (20 mm). Cook in a nonstick skillet with a little vegetable oil until well-browned.

4. To finish the dish, I made a cup or so of quick fresh-tomato sauce (July 25, 2002 FoodLetter) and put the cooked meatballs in the sauce to simmer for the last 10 minutes, then served the sauce and meatballs over spaghetti.

MATCHING WINE: The blend of lighter meats and aromatic spices in the bratwurst called for a dry, "interesting" white, and Austrian Grüner Veltliner filled the bill nicely. Spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs calls for a country Italian red, but any dry, robust red table wine will do - the inexpensive, good-value Osborne Solaz from Spain and Egri Bikaver from Hungary featured in the June 30, 2004 30 Second Wine Advisor worked fine.

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of these recipes, suitable for printing, online at

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Simple sausage"

To read (and, if you like, participate in) Hoke Harden's discussion of Milwaukee and Sheboygan bratwurst on the Food Lovers' Discussion Group, click to the topic "In Praise of Greatness,"

Click the REPLY button on the forum page to post a comment or response. (If your E-mail software broke this long link in half, take care to paste it all back into one line before you enter it in your Web browser.)

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If you have suggestions or comments about The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter, or if you would like to suggest a topic for a coming edition and recipe, please drop me a note at I really enjoy hearing from you, and I try to give a personal reply to all mail if I possibly can.

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Thursday, July 8, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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