There is something almost irresistible about sausage. Maybe it's the aroma it creates as it sizzles and sputters in a hot skillet. Or possibly the way its distinctive flavors permeate the most meager soup or stew, turning an otherwise simple meal into something sublime. It's like haute cuisine for the masses. The mere thought of it is enough to make one salivate. But, unfortunately, sausage is often a misunderstood food. It seems to have a bad rap, and is sometimes viewed as unhealthy and thought to contain certain "mystery" ingredients. While it is most likely true that some food companies may abuse their marketing power to try to mislead the public and use less-than-desirable meat and non-meat fillers (the component that always wierds me out on ingredient lists is "mechanically separated chicken," or pork, or beef, etc), the days of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" are long gone; commercially made sausage is strictly regulated. When purchased from a reputable purveyor sausage is a wholesome food" it's simply ground seasoned meat (there's also the alternative of fish, poultry and vegetable sausages). In it's most basic form sausage is sort of a simple country-style pate. Actually, it's not unlike highly seasoned hamburger, except that the most common choice of meat for sausage is pork, whereas beef is requisite for burgers. Making your own sausage is also a feasible option, and by doing so you have total control over its ingredients and seasoning. In a home setting sausage may be left in its bulk form for ease and convenience; it can be cooked "loose," as a component of another recipe, or formed into patties rather that stuffed into casings.
While there are countless types of sausages, they can be divided into two basic categories: fresh and smoked. Fresh sausage is as aforementioned simply raw ground meat (more often than not, pork) that has been salted, seasoned, and may or may not be contained within a casing. Fresh sausage always needs to be cooked before it is consumed, unless it clearly states on the package in which it was purchased that it is fully cooked. Smoked sausage, on the other hand, is most always stuffed into casings, and during the smoking process these sausages are often thoroughly cooked. Fully cooked smoked sausage can be eaten straight from the package if desired. There is also a third, subcategory of sausages, which are dried, but for matters of simplicity this article specifically the recipes will deal solely with the fresh variety.
The definition of sausage listed in Webster's dictionary states simply "chopped, seasoned pork, etc., often stuffed into casings." As accurate as it is, though, this blunt description does not do this humble yet wondrous food justice. Sausage, as commonplace as it is, is part of almost every diet around the globe, and has been a very long time. The first recorded mention of sausage was by Homer in the Odyssey during the 9th century. And Roman butchers formed guilds to keep their sausage-making techniques secret; even then their shops were inspected for sanitary conditions by the Roman government (though one can only imagine what was deemed "sanitary" so long ago).
Like many foods that exist today sausage was born out of necessity, as a form of food preservation and utilization. Through trial and error, no doubt, ancient peoples learned that unless meat was consumed shortly after slaughter it would spoil, and be unfit for human consumption. By pounding (and later grinding) the meat with salt and spices, and sometimes drying it, its consumable timeframe was increased thrice fold. Interestingly, the word sausage is based on the Middle English sausige, which is derived from the Latin salsus meaning "salted" (the modern word sauce is also a derivative of salsus). Sausage was also originally an opportunity to utilize parts of an animal that otherwise might not offer many desirable options, such as the extremely tough and fatty portions, and also various unmentionables, such as ears, cheeks, testicles, etc. (the original "mystery meat"). Most ancient cultures being frugal by necessity, and not wasting a single part of an animal, began to stuff various organs of their slaughtered animals with seasoned and ground meat, such as their stomachs and intestines. Whether any care to admit it these practices are still in use everywhere; the Scottish delicacy haggis, for example, is stuffed stomach, and the intestines of animals are commonly referred to as casings."
Making fresh sausage at home is a very simple task, but there are a few basic health and sanitary guidelines one should adhere to. First, make sure that any equipment used be it mixing bowls, spoons, whatever is very clean and well chilled. This is especially imperative if grinding your own meat. And even more importantly, make sure that the meat is kept cold throughout the sausage making process. Keeping the meat cold not only insures a sanitary product but a tasty one as well if the meat becomes too warm its fat will begin to melt, which translates to moisture loss in the sausage, and would yield a dry and grainy texture in the finished product. And lastly, whether it's based on pork, beef, lamb, poultry, or fish, always take the necessary precautions to insure that sausage is cooked thoroughly before serving