Like most recipe development at the Rancho Cookhouse, classic flavors are researched, studied and then executed. Our new sausage line took time to develop. We whittle down the thousand of flavor combinations and ingredients available and found what was best suited for our needs; recipe versatility, culturally traditional ingredients and of course, flavor.
And it all starts with the grind.
Our fresh pork trim is ground with back fat at a 60/40 ratio. This means the ground pork used for our sausages is 60% lean pork meat and 40% back fat. We combine the meat and fat with out cookhouse-created, custom spice blends and allow this mixture to rest in the refrigerator overnight. The salt, in each of the four sausage spice blends, acts as a bonding agent and helps prepare the protein to begin to form an ideal stuffing texture. After resting overnight, we take the sausage bonding process one step further. We knead the mixture of meat and spices by hand until it becomes sticky and cohesive. We are looking for a tacky consistency. "Much like the gluten structure that you form when kneading a bread dough," said Brooke Houston, our Rancho chef.
At the Rancho, we stuff the sausage into natural hog casings. Hog casings give a great snap to sausages and when cooked, create an appealing golden-brown exterior. Once the sausage mixture is stuffed, Houston twists them into links and then "braids" the links. She does this for easier handling and to prevent "unfurling" while the sausages hang to dry. Houston will hang the sausages overnight in low-humidity refrigerators. Although hanging them is not absolutely necessary, it gives the casings a change to dry, she said. This helps create a better sausage texture and "snappier" casing. It also allows the sausages to cure lightly and "lets the flavors get to know one another," Houston said. "As the moisture in the sausage slightly drops, the flavors become more concentrated."
Local California Pork, Worldly Flavors
Our Sweet Italian sausage is the foolproof, first step introduction to our sausage line. Houston focused on keeping these links simple, allowing the flavor of our pork to shine through the hints of fennel, garlic and coriander.
A sausage with a more robust flavor profile is the Rancho's variation of a Basque-inspired chorizo. Basque chorizo can be cured or smoked but we wanted to take the familiar flavors of the traditional sausage and replicate it in a fresh format. "Unlike it's Mexican counterpart, the focus isn't on heat [spice] but on the flavor of the mild and sweet pepper we used," Houston said. She blended garlic with sweet, bitter and smoked paprika. "With a hint of lemon zest, for brightness," added Houston.
The other two flavors that round out the Rancho fresh sausage line are derived from two regions of France. Alsace, in the Northeast and Toulouse, to the south.
Alsatian cuisine has many influences from their neighbor Germany, including their love of pork. Because of this, we took familiar warming spices (clove, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon) and packed them into this sausage. With it's savory and sweet notes, this sausage is a perfect addition to any fall or winter dish. "This sausage would be great on the grill with winter squash and apples," Houston said.
The final sausage is our Toulouse, French Country sausage. This sausage is an important addition at the Rancho because it is one of the most traditional sausages used in a favorite Rancho Recipe, cassoulet. Our adaptation is mixed with Llano Seco uncured bacon, thyme, garlic and red wine.
Although the four flavors we created for our first round of fresh sausages are distinct, they are also versatile and can be prepared in an array of recipes. They are fantastic on their own or can be used in sandwiches, pastas, bean stews or even meatballs. "The possibilities are nearly endless," Houston said.