My First Attempt at Sausage Making

Otto von Bismarck once famously compared legislation to sausage-making: either one was better left unseen. As even seemingly minor political questions in the United States become more and more contentious, Bismarck’s advice seems sage–at least when it comes to politics. What about sausage? Having never made sausage before, I couldn’t have told you. But I did spend my undergraduate career studying politics; if Bismarck’s comparison was apt then surely my knowledge of politics would make for easy sausage-making. As it turns out, the processes are remarkably similar.

homemade sausages on a plate

Step 1: Ignore all the Experts

The world is filled with people who devote their lives to studying complex problems for no other reason than a desire to solve them. As a lawmaker, it’s absolutely paramount to ignore these people–after all, God chose you for office, not them. It goes the same with sausage; there are cookbooks in the local bookstore and library filled with sausage recipes: there are probably even some on my own bookshelf. The Internet gives me access to thousands of sausage recipes developed by competent cooks with years of experience making sausage. But what do they know? I went rogue and left the cookbooks on the shelves.

Step 2: Misunderstand the Situation

The background for this sausage-making session is this: last winter, my friend Shawn decided to become a vegetarian. Consequently, his freezer full of game–provided by his avid hunter stepfather–was of no use to him. And so one cold winter in the parking lot of Stub & Herb’s, Shawn provided us with a foam cooler full of mostly unlabeled frozen bags that he identified as duck, venison and goose–unfortunately I neglected to carefully remember which was which.

After the better part of a year dipping into this bounty for feasts of wild game, I was down to one large bag of unidentified meat. Pulling it out of the freezer I was pretty sure I remembered that this bag contained goose, but as days of gradual thawing in the refrigerator passed I became less confident. When sausage day came I had to rely on the same thing so many of our elected officials use every day: research? Hah, who has the time? I went with my gut. Looking at the deep red color, I took a deep whiff of the meat and decided with confidence that this was, without a doubt, venison.

Two weeks later I can say with equal confidence that the meat was definitely goose.

Step 3: Break it into Manageable Parts

cutting goose meat into cubes on a cutting board

The issues brought before our congresses are often hopelessly immense, affecting great segments of society. Faced with such a situation, many of us would be paralyzed: how can we change things when so many people will be hurt, even if many more benefit? But rather than freeze in the face of the immensity of their task, our august leaders know the best way to tackle a complex issue is to break it into smaller, easier-to-understand titles, sections, subtitles, subsections, addenda, clauses and footnotes. Or, when making sausage, cut the meat into manageable 1″ chunks. Putting them in the freezer for thirty minutes helps firm them.

Step 4: Add a lot of Extra Stuff

One and a half pounds of half-frozen chunks of mystery meat hardly sounds appetizing, nor are, in most cases, bills brought before Congress in their original form particularly palatable. Luckily, it’s easy to add in enough enticements to make even the worst stinker of a bill passable, or the lowest grade of soon-to-rot meat into a delicious hot dog. Passing a bill to cut Medicare benefits? Throw in a rider to insure children–everybody loves kids! Funding the military? Might as well build an ethanol plant back home; it’s a lot of money either way. Sausage-making is a little more constrained here since the adjuncts have to somehow go with the meat you are using, rather than just tossing in any old thing. For my goose (that I thought was venison) I added 44 grams of garlic and onion, 8 grams of black pepper, 3 grams of juniper berries and 15 grams of salt (NB: this sausage was over-seasoned, in the future I’ll cut some of the pepper and juniper).

Incidentally if I had added some pork it not only would have improved the sausage it would also have made the metaphor behind the post all the more fitting.

Step 5:  Mangle it Beyond Recognition

With the ingredients assembled, all that remains is to introduce your bill to the various committees, subcommittees, sub-subcommittees, caucuses, interest groups and lobbyists who will happily amend, rewrite and otherwise modify it. The process in sausage-making is much simpler–toss everything in a meat grinder running at full tilt–but achieves the same result.

meat grinding plate with meat oozing from it

This was certainly the step that Bismarck had in mind when he warned against observing these processes; in either case it ain’t pretty.

Step 6: Package It

All that grinding and chopping is sure to leave you with a mess and more than a little blood on your hands. The same is true in sausage-making. Few would be excited to eat the loose-meat slop that exits the grinder–what’s needed is a little salesmanship. Enter the sausage-casing: a way to take all those sundry bits and package them into an appealing cylinder that will plump as it cooks. Although it is important when filling sausage casing to leave enough space to be able to twist off the links, when attempting to pass legislation it is most important that the text be printed on as few pages as possible, lest your opponents gain a valuable prop.

stuffing meat into sausage casing with a KitchenAid mixer

Step 7: Ram it Down their Throats

a forkful of sausage

The sausages are stuffed, the pages are all written and the votes taken, the only thing that remains is to foist your work on an unsuspecting public or, to borrow a phrase from some of our more enlightened contemporary political philosophers, to “ram it down their throats.” Of course, if you’ve done a good job obscuring the whole sausage-making process from your diners’ eyes, this will be less necessary as they’ll be allured by the aromas and ignorant of all the necessary gore. This is easy enough to achieve in a home kitchen–just have your guests arrive well after the meat grinder is cleaned up and put away.


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9 comments on “My First Attempt at Sausage Making”

  1. A Ann 24 October, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Absolutely hilarious! And so apropos! Just as I was thinking about making sausage patties from my (already ground) turkey in the fridge. I’m thinking sage, fennel, hot pepper, garlic and thyme. Any thoughts?

  2. Shawn 24 October, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Your post is fun, entertaining, and well-written as always Tom. Glad you managed to push through the frozen meats and make something new.


  3. Kevin 24 October, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Time to look at the ‘Seinfeld’ sausage making episode again!

  4. Tom 24 October, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Aunt Ann – I recently made a breakfast sausage (possible post forthcoming?) using onion, garlic, sage, fennel, salt and pepper. It was missing something – maybe the hot pepper and thyme will be it. The key seems to be to salt it sufficiently.

  5. Brian 24 October, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    I’ve had Ruhlman’s “Charcuterie” sitting on my bookshelf for over a year now. I haven’t made anything from it yet, but this makes me want to finally make my first sausage. What type of casing did you use?

  6. Linda 25 October, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Juan says this is material for The New Yorker. Very humorous and well written.

  7. Ryan 25 October, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    This might be the best martha and tom post of all time. I found myself LOLing more than one occasion.

    Putting your degree to good use!

  8. trout caviar 26 October, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Tom, with this acute understanding of the legislative process, you should run for office. I would vote for you. But, if you ran again, you’d be a bum, and I would have to throw you out….

    Nice job. Good looking sausage.


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