For awhile now, my husband and I have had a bit of a closet obsession with root beer. With a great root beer, you get an amazing blend of spices that compliments the sassafras and gives the beverage its character. All this flavor is rounded out by the creaminess of the vanilla. In balancing out these two characteristics, you get a wide variety of products ranging from spicy to creamy, that fit different palates.
The “ah ha” moment for us was realizing most of the spices are pretty normal, everyday cooking spices (anise, clove, cinnamon, mint, ginger) and that you can get root beer flavor in a savory dish without dumping in a bottle of sugary soda. Of course our first stab at root beer cooking, we had no idea if it would work, so we were lucky the flavor actually came through! Now we have a litany of dishes we hope to “root beerify” at some point.
Once our annual “Encased Meat Fest” came around, we aspired to take a stab at something more interesting and decided to attempt another root beerification. As a starting point, we looked to one of our favorite root beers: Virgil’s (These guys agree). They were kind enough to post some highlights of their ingredient list on the website. By cross referencing this list with our spice rack, we basically came up with the main ingredient list. I wish I could say it was more scientific, but you have to start somewhere.
The next question was how much of each spice to use. To get some ideas, we consulted ‘Home Sausage Making’ by Susan Mahnke Peery. Using a few spice heavy recipes, we settled on our ratios and were surprised by how little of each ingredient was actually needed.
The final decision was how much vanilla to add. This we reasoned would round out the flavor and tie the spice characteristics back to being from root beer. If the spices were off, we figured it would just taste like a spiced Christmas sausage, but too much creaminess could take it to a weird place that pork just doesn’t belong. Below is the recipe we executed with great first attempt success! Up next — making actual root beer without using a root beer extract — natural and raw ingredients only!
4 feet Medium hog casing
2 1/2 pounds of pork butt
1/3 pound pork fat
2 tbs molasses
2 tbs Virgil’s root beer
2 tsp Madagascar vanilla extract
1 tbs anise seed
1 tbs star anise
2 tbs clove
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tbs salt
1. Prepare the casing. See below.*
2. Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl. (We ground everything fine with a mortar and pestle.)
3. Combine the wet ingredients in another bowl. This step placed us at a crossroad. One of our goals was to not use any actual root beer — just the raw components. The molasses and vanilla extract alone felt too thick in consistency, so to thin it out the most natural solution was to toss in a bit a Virgil’s into the mix.
4. Cut the meat and fat into 1 inch cubes and freeze for about 30 minutes. This helps to firm the meat up before grinding.
5. Grind the meat and fat together through the coarse disk of your meat grinder.
6. In a large bowl, add the dry ingredients to the ground meat and mix well with your hands. Once thoroughly mixed, add the wet ingredients. The wet ingredients should form a light coating throughout the mixture. It is good practice to keep placing the mixing bowl into another bowl filled with ice. This will keep the meat cold and lessens the risk of bacteria growth.
Practice Safe Sausage making! (http://www.sausagemaking.org/safety.html)
5. Stuff the mixture into the casings, prick the air pockets, and twist off into 4-5 inch links. Cut the links apart with a sharp knife.
6. Freeze any sausages you don’t want to cook. Grill the others until cooked through (160 degrees fahrenheit). For indoor grilling, place the sausages on a grill pan over medium heat and cook for approximately 10 minutes, turning frequently, until browned. For outdoor grilling, do not prick the sausages before grilling, or you will lose a lot of flavor and moisture along with the fat and juices in the sausage. Grill over medium heat for around 10 minutes.
*Snip off 4 feet of casing and rinse it under cool water. Place into a bowl of cool water to cover and let it soak for about a half hour. Rinse the casing again under cool running water. Hold one end of the casing open under the faucet nozzle. Holding the casing in place, turn on the cold water gently, then more forcefully, to flush out any salt in the casing and pinpoint any tears or breaks. Cut out the section that has any tears or holes. Soak the casing again but this time, add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar for each cup of cool water in the bowl. This softens the casing and makes it more transparent. Leave in the solution until you are ready to stuff it, then rinse well and drain.