Sausage can be made from a variety of meats – beef, chicken, turkey, lamb – but the most common is pork. While many prepackaged sausages come pre-mixed with fat and loaded with spices and preservatives, it is possible to buy plain sausage in bulk and add your own seasonings.
Sausage generally is much fattier than regular ground meat; it can contain up to 30 percent fat. If you are buying freshly ground or bulk sausage, ask the butcher if fat was added or if he knows the approximate fat content. A higher fat content makes a richer sausage that can stand up to strong spices.
Beef and lamb sausage have heavier flavors and also can stand toe-to-toe with some pretty spicy flavors. Poultry and pork sausages are lighter and are best seasoned with mild to medium herbs and spices.
Unless you’re avoiding salt for health reasons, you’ll want a little salt in your sausage mix. It makes the meat flavors stand out. Fine sea salt or pickling salt are best. Use a fine-grain salt that easily dissolves in the meat and fat. If you plan on adding pre-mixed spice blends, read the ingredients first; you don’t want to double up the salt content as a little goes a long way.
If you buy fresh or bulk sausage, take a moment to get some fresh peppercorns instead of using a weak blend from the grocery shelf. Grind it very fine so you don’t bite into a big chunk of peppercorn.
Sausage really shines when it is dressed with a balance of chopped, fresh herbs; seeds and finely chopped bits of fresh garlic or ginger; and powdered spices. The fresh herbs and chunks give the sausage more texture, color and interest. The powdered spices dissolve into the fat and deliver a “pow” factor through the sausage.
If you are seasoning sausage for one large dinner, such as meatballs and spaghetti for a crowd, choose seasonings from the cuisine that matches the dish. For Italian meatballs, choose fresh basil, oregano, dill, Italian parsley, garlic and fennel seed. Or try making your family’s heirloom recipe for kielbasa, chorizo or boudin noir.
If you are seasoning your sausage to be an all-purpose supply for sausage patties, meatballs and toppings, stick with fresh herbs and spices in the mild to medium zones. When you are preparing a dish later, you may add hotter spices.
After you decide on the spices and seasonings you want to use, saute some of the sausage in a pan, taste it and adjust. Some spices grow hotter or stronger after they have been in the sausage for a while and have had a chance to dissolve into the fat, so if you are working with really hot spices such as curry, chipotle, red pepper flakes and mustard, go easy.
If you’ve bought sausage in bulk, try making separate batches using different seasoning blends.