You know the old saying “close only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades”? Well, close is seldom close enough when it comes to certain foods, it’s either get the real-deal or go home and make it yourself.
Unless you live in a town that has a well-stocked Greek deli, you are likely not going to find real loukaniko (loo-KAH-nee-koh). There aren’t really other types of sausages that are close at all in flavor that I have found, either. Loukaniko varies from one region of Greece to another in terms of the kinds of seasonings used. This version is more common to what you would find in the northern portion of the country, whereas orange and cinnamon is more popular in the warmer southern areas.
Now let me be the first to admit, I am no sausage stuffing expert. I make really good sausages in terms of seasonings and texture, but I am still learning the various techniques needed to get a properly formed link. Practice makes perfect, right? Obviously making sausage links does require certain pieces of equipment, but there are alternatives if you don’t happen to have the various tools. You know, sausage patties taste pretty good, too!
Something else to keep in mind, making sausages, especially if you’re new to it, does take some time. I have some stop and continue later points built in, too, to help make the task a little easier.
Fennel & Leek Loukaniko (Greek Sausage) Recipe
Loukaniko is traditionally made with ground pork sometimes mixed with ground lamb, but you can use all pork. You can also start with pre-ground pork if you don’t have your own meat grinder, or even use a food processor to grind your own. These sausages do not use any type of curing preservative, so be sure to either consume them within a couple of days, or place them in the freezer for longer storage. Serve these loukaniko with a lemon wedge to squeeze over the sausages for the best flavor!
- 4 lbs. pork, like pork shoulder roast, or pre-ground pork, but not lean cuts (or use 3 lbs. pork and 1 pound of leg of lamb)
- 1 lb. pork fat, like fat-back
- 2-3 large leeks finely chopped, roots and any tough leaf tips removed, about 1 lb total
- 4 Tbsp. finely minced garlic
- 1 Tbsp. crushed coriander seed
- 1 Tbsp. crushed fennel seed
- 1 Tbsp. dried oregano, Greek preferred
- 3 Tbsp. lemon or orange zest (my preference is for lemon, but orange is more traditional)
- 1/4 cup lemon or orange juice (match the juice to the zest used), chilled
- 1/4 cup white wine, chilled
- 2 to 2 1/2 Tbsp. salt, or to taste
- 2 to 3 tsp. ground black pepper, use your preference
Sausage making was usually done in the fall, back in the day before freezers and refrigerators. The cooler temperatures would have helped keep the meat from spoiling, but it also had the added benefit of creating the ideal conditions for getting the best texture in the sausages. Cold meat keeps the fat uniformly mixed in instead of separating out. If that happens, you get clumped dry meat swimming in goo. Not the most tasty.
Soooo… what this means is that you need to keep everything cold. Like really, really cold. Unless you are making your sausage in a cold room or outside on a very cold day, you will be moving your materials in and out of the refrigerator, or even freezer, somewhat frequently. It’s okay, you can use those down times when things are chilling to do prep work, take a break, go to the bathroom, whatever!
If you are starting with unground meat, cut it into chunks small enough to work with your meat grinder. Cut your pork fat into same sized chunks and toss together with your meat in a large bowl. Cover the bowl and place it into the fridge, or even the freezer, to get well chilled, but not frozen. While you are waiting, you can get your other ingredients prepared.
I have the KitchenAid stand mixer meat grinder attachment**. Whatever type you have, you will want to start your grinding on a coarse setting first following the manufacture’s instructions. Be sure to put meat chunks mixed in with fat chunks in order to get the two materials mixed together. Once you have ground your meat on the coarse setting, cover it again and back to the fridge or freezer it goes! You want it good and cold, but don’t go so far as to freeze it.
**If you don’t have a food grinder and don’t have pre-ground meat, lay your meat and fat chunks on a tray and place in the freezer until somewhat frozen. Then pulse a few chunks at a time in a food processor until it resembles ground meat. It’s not going to be the same, but it will still get you a decent product. You will also not need to do a second “grinding” since you can pulse until it is a smoother texture. Once you’ve processed your meat, you will want to place it back into the fridge to chill well again.
Grind the meat again using the finer setting. And back into the fridge it goes. I can’t emphasize enough the need for cold meat and fat! After it has chilled again, mix in all your other ingredients. I like to do this with just my hands so that I can feel whether the consistency is right. It’s also fun just to smoosh it around in my hands! It should become somewhat pasty and kind of sticky. Make sure that your ingredients are well distributed in the sausage meat. And, you guessed it, back into the fridge.
At this point, you can take a small amount and cook it in a pan in order to safely test the level of seasoning. Keep in mind that the mixture hasn’t had a chance to completely blend all the flavors, yet, and that they will intensify over time. So, if it seems a little under seasoned, it’s probably just right. Otherwise, you can add a little more if desired.
**If you have made sausages before, you probably don’t need to read the rest of this. If this is a new process to you, read on!**
If you are not going to make links, congratulations! You are almost done! You will want to let the meat mixture sit for the flavors to blend for at least a few hours, better if you do it overnight. The mixture can then be formed into patties for cooking just like hamburgers, or even rolled into meatball shapes and baked or fried. Be sure to cook it thoroughly!
If you are making links then you will need to have casings ready to go. I have used both natural hog casings as well as collagen casings. Natural casings will have a better end texture, but do require more preparation. Collagen casings are easier and cheaper. In the end it’s up to you. Prepare your casings according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
For links you will also need some type of sausage stuffer. Your time is too valuable and life is too short to try to stuff sausages with a funnel. Really. I have the sausage stuffer attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer, and the shape of the “horn” does not allow me to put an entire length of collagen casing all at once, so I just cut a section that will fit so as not to contaminate any amount I won’t be needing. Also, my attachment has a small piece that is supposed to go in between the grinder and the horn. I don’t use it because it slows down the sausage and allows it to become too warm while moving into the casing.
I am no expert at stuffing sausages, but I have learned a few things along the way. First, do not tie off the end of your casing until after you have filling in it, otherwise you will trap air. Leave 6 inches of the casing unfilled to have room to tie your knot later. Slowly allow the meat to fill the casing until it is almost, but not quite full, trying to avoid any air bubbles. You don’t want it so stiff that it pops when you cook them. Don’t try to twist off links until after you’ve filled your casing, just let the length of casing fill in one long sausage. Leave at least an 8 inch tail unfilled for space from twisting links and to tie a knot.
Once you have your length of sausage made, tie a “balloon knot” at the end, then pinch it about 6 inches up and twist about 3 to 4 times. Make another pinch at 6 more inches from the end, and this time twist in the opposite direction of the first link. Keep doing this until you reach the last section, then tie another knot. Collagen casings have a habit of unraveling when the links are cut apart, but they will still hold your sausage in.
You may have some air bubbles no matter how hard you tried not to. With natural casings you can prick the bubbles with a clean needle and the casing will shrink up and seal the hole. Collagen casings don’t seem to do this, and I’m not sure if it is better to prick them or leave them be. I noticed that juices shot out of the holes when sausages were cooked when that didn’t happen with natural casings.
Once all your links are twisted off, set them on a rack and put them in the refrigerator to set up for at least 12 hours. This gives a chance for flavors to blend and the casings to dry. At this point you can cook them or freeze them. I like to gently simmer the sausages in a pan with about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom. This way the casings harden with less likelihood of bursting. A quick searing in a pan with olive oil, or on the grill afterward will give the brown color and proper texture and taste you want in a sausage. Enjoy!