As if Mother Nature knew the turn in seasons was upon her, the Labor Day holiday came and brought with it a sudden drop in temperature. For the home chef, this chilly fall weather suggests meals that are heartier than the summer tomato salads and chilled sliced cucumbers made using produce spilling out of our gardens. It means belly-warming meals like steaming soup, chili, or if you’re in the mood for a traditional Czech or German treat, homemade sausage. Chef John Schumacher of Grill 212 in New Prague welcomed the Heavy Table into his kitchen to show us how he prepares his classic Hotel White Sausage — stuffed with pheasant, chicken, and turkey. (The dish is available on the menu as an appetizer for $7 or a sandwich for $10.) Below are a few tips from – cue Ferris Bueller reference – one of the Abe Fromans of Minnesota.
Treat Spices Right
You can really use anything in your sausage. If pleasing your palate means cinnamon or juniper berries, go for it. Schumacher uses nutmeg, fennel, and dried chives in his Hotel White Sausage. If you are using whole spices, though, he recommends baking them prior to grinding. The oils in whole spices retreat to the center, but you can coax them out and distribute them evenly with heat.
Moisture is Key
Throughout the process, Schumacher reminds us of how he salvages moisture. For example, he only uses certain parts of the pheasant – like the thighs, legs, and skin – and doesn’t use the breast. This recipe calls for two parts chicken, one part turkey, and one part pheasant. He doesn’t use as much pheasant because it would be drying. He uses fresh breadcrumbs rather than dried. Schumacher uses whole wheat for this recipe, but you can change it up by replacing whole wheat with rye or sourdough. “A lot of people make the mistake of using dry breadcrumbs, and when they’re cooking the sausage it burns,” he says. He also incorporates heavy cream into the sausage mixture, which not only adds moisture but also acts as a binding agent and distributes the fat evenly.
As with all food prep — but particularly for sausage — sanitizing is an uber important step in the process. We’re talking bleach, here. Schumacher thoroughly cleans his kitchen equipment before usage, immediately after usage, and once again before putting it away. Sanitize surfaces prior to working on them, and again, after. Wash your hands before, during, after, and again.
You want to use cold ingredients and kitchen equipment. Schumacher chopped his turkey, pheasant, and chicken frozen – that’s how cold you want it. The meat should be so cold that it numbs your fingertips when working with it. This will help hold in as much moisture as possible (warm meat will lose its juiciness during the grinding process). Also, by using cold, firm meat there is a smaller surface area, meaning less room, and heat, for bacteria to grow.
Find the Right Recipe
“I won’t give you the recipe for my Hotel White Sausage, but I’ll tell you what’s in it,” Schumacher teases. Though having authored numerous cookbooks, there are some dishes Schumacher would like to keep to himself. “Remember, I didn’t invent anything here. All of this was probably done thousands of years ago.”