See my new and improved recipe for Homemade Longanisa.
Below is my original post on longanisa.
Sausage is as near a universal food as you can get. Of course, France, Italy, and Germany all have their own unique sausage incarnates, but so does China, Mexico, Spain, the good ‘ol USA, and countless other cultures. But, seeing as I’m Filipino, and this is a Filipino Food Blog, I must mention with pride that most distinct Filipino sausage redolent of black pepper, vinegar, and garlic: Longanisa.
Although I’ve only somewhat recently come to appreciate the vinegary virtues of Longanisa, there was a time in my life when I avoided this sausage at all costs. One hot, San Fernando Valley summer when I was a wee little boy, my dad sweated away in our little kitchen making homemade Longanisa. I remember him squishing fatty pork chunks through his old school hand-cranked meat grinder, and then stuffing this slippery mess into lengths and lengths of pig intestines. While this scenario may be old-hat to grizzled sausage-making veterans, it was a bit disturbing to me as a little kid, what with all the grease and pig guts. Quite simply, I was grossed out.
This isn’t to say I avoided all sausage consumption. Oh no. I ate my fair share of hot dogs as a kid. But every time I saw Longanisa on our dinner table, I remembered pig guts and my dad’s greazy meat grinder—memories strong enough to prevent me from enjoying a truly delicious Filipino specialty.
Years later, after reading “The Jungle” in high school, I figured that there were worse things that could end up in sausage besides grease and pig guts. And last I checked, my father had all 10 digits in tact. As such, my aversion to Longanisa slowly gave way, link by garlicky link.
I started eating the Longanisa my mother would sometimes bring home from the Asian market. These store-bought links were fairly decent, if not overly sweet and filled with preservatives, food coloring, and who knows what else. But nothing compared to the gold-standard of Longanisas in my family—those made by my grandmother’s sister. Yup, my great aunt twists a mean Longanisa link—chopping her pork and stuffing her casings all by hand. My great aunt’s homemade Longanisa, I slowly learned, was the best sausage I’ve tasted—grease, pig guts, and all.
Even more years later, after reading Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie and after returning from a charcuterie and salumi-filled vacation in Europe, I learned that grease and pig parts are to be revered rather than feared. It also helped that the Filipino love of pork that was hardwired into my brain eventually made itself more dominant.
So, a few weeks ago, I decided I’d try my hand at homemade Longanisa, using Charcuterie as a guide. Although Charcuterie was written by non-Filipinos, I wanted to use it as a guideline for making Filipino sausage because it’s a great cookbook with sound sausage-making advice regardless of who wrote it. While there is no Longanisa recipe in Charcuterie, Ruhlman and Polcyn have a great “master ratio” for a standard sausage that consists of 5 pounds of pork and fat, 1.5 ounces of kosher salt, seasonings, and 1 cup of ice-cold liquid. Armed with this master ratio, and my Pinoy tastebuds, I went about creating my own recipe for homemade Filipino Longanisa.
[Sausage-making is a long process that is well worth the effort. And if you couldn’t already tell from the title of this entry, this will be a long post that is (hopefully) well worth reading.]
Ingredients-wise, Longanisa is a very straightforward and simple sausage. There may be some variables between the different sausages in the different regions of the Philippines, but Longanisa usually contains pork (of course), salt, black pepper, vinegar, and garlic. The latter two ingredients in that list are what makes or breaks Longanisa. For those who have never had this Filipino sausage, it sometimes verges on being a vinegar and garlic sausage laced with pork, rather than the other way around. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it’s done right. But for my sausage, I wanted the porcine to be the protagonist.
For my purposes, I cut Ruhlman’s master ratio in half since I knew five pounds of sausage would last my wife and I for five years. Also, pork butt is the cut of meat to use for most sausages since it contains a near-perfect amount of meat and fat. So I started with 2.5 pounds of the fattiest and most high-quality boneless pork butt I could find:
A beaut that pork butt is, no? It’s an all-natural organic pork shoulder (pork shoulder and pork butt are the exact same cut of meat) from Whole Foods. After purchasing your pork, it will go through what I call the “Four Stages of Chill”: Seasoning and Chilling, Grinding and Chilling, Stuffing and Chilling, and finally Cooking, Eating, and Chillin’ Out.
What’s with all the chilling and/or chillin’ you ask? Like Andre 3000 once posited, “What’s cooler than being cool? Ice Cold!” So, keeping your pork cold is perhaps THE most important aspect of sausage making. Chilling the pork helps to keep the fat solid; if the fat melts, the finished sausage will end up being dry and bland and then you will weep and curse the heavens. Keep the fat cold at all costs! Ice Cold!
Whenever you are done prepping the pork in one of my aforementioned stages, stash it in the fridge to chill out. You should also be sure to stash in the fridge any other implements that will be touching the pork during grinding as well. So if you are using a KitchenAid, as I did, you should place your mixer bowl, the grinder attachments, and the paddle attachment in the fridge. Don’t worry, this will all make more sense as we go along (I hope).
Seasoning and Chilling
I started by cutting the pork butt into pieces that were small enough to fit into the feeder tube of the meat grinder attachment of my KitchenAid stand mixer. Yes, hand chopping your pork gives way to the best, and most traditional, texture for Longanisa. But if you are like me and have little patience and time, a meat grinder makes sausage-making that much easier and enjoyable.
After cubing the pork, I then seasoned it with 0.75 ounces (about 1.5 tablespoons) of kosher salt to stay in line with Ruhlman’s ratio. After that, I was on my own as far as the rest of the seasonings went. So I dumped in some freshly ground black pepper, some red pepper flakes, and some finely diced garlic. I mixed the meat and seasonings together in a big bowl and let it sit in the fridge overnight so that the flavors would meld and the pork would chill (Ice Cold!).
If you’re keeping score at home, so far I have the pork, salt, and seasonings from Ruhlman’s master ratio. All that is missing is the ice-cold liquid. Ruhlman uses ice-cold red wine for a lot of his sausage recipes because red wine not only provides another flavor, but since it is cold when mixed in with the meat the red wine also helps to keep the fat from melting. Instead of red wine, I chilled some beer and some cane vinegar overnight in the fridge. I kept the beer and vinegar in separate containers from the pork and seasonings. They were to be mixed together the next day after grinding.
Grinding and Chilling
After a night in the refrigerator, the pork was ready to be ground. Following Ruhlman’s suggestion in Charcuterie, I ground the pork using the small die of my meat grinder rather than the large die. Remember, all of the grinder parts should have also been chilled in the fridge, and you should use a chilled mixer bowl set in a larger bowl of ice to catch the ground meat:
After all of the seasoned pork has been ground into the cold mixer bowl, place the mixer bowl onto the base of your stand mixer and mix the ground meat for 1 minute using your chilled paddle attachment. While the meat is mixing, pour in the chilled beer and vinegar:
Mixing the meat and liquids together helps to ensure that all of the seasonings and flavors are evenly distributed. It is at this point where you should check that these seasonings and flavors are to your liking. After mixing the meat and liquids for one minute, make yourself a small patty of this sausage mixture and fry it in a skillet until the patty is cooked through (you should return the rest of the meat mixture to the refrigerator while you do this).
Taste the patty. Does it taste good? Does it need more salt, more pepper, more garlic? For me, I found that there wasn’t enough of a vinegar flavor—the cane vinegar just wasn’t providing enough bite. So I added cider vinegar to the meat mixture, mixed for another minute, and made another patty to taste. This time it was closer to the vinegary flavor of Longanisa I was looking for. If you skip this taste-testing step, you will possibly stuff your sausage casings with underseasoned meat and end up with a whole batch of sausage that won’t taste as good as you’d like.
The flavor of beer is probably negligible in the final cooked product, but I put it in my recipe because there’s nothing cooler than telling someone “There’s beer in that there homemade sausage!” It’s true. The mere mention of beer makes any homemade product that much better. For instance: “There’s beer in that marinade!” or “There’s beer in that sauce!” and “There’s beer in that ice cream!” Well, OK, it probably doesn’t work for everything, but you get the point.
After finding the right balance of flavor for the meat mixture, it was time for another chill session. I put the mixer bowl of the seasoned ground meat in the refrigerator for another hour. This hour in the fridge helped to ensure the meat stayed cold after the beating it took from the mixer.
Stuffing and Chilling
Ok, this was the step I feared the most: working with the sausage casings. Although you can buy synthetic casings made from collagen, I wanted to use the real thing: hog casings that are the linings of a pig’s small intestines. Yummy! I found my hog casings at Claro’s Italian Market, but if you don’t live in SoCal there are numerous places on the web from where you can order hog casings.
The hog casings I used came packed in salt, so I soaked them overnight in water, changed the water in the morning and soaked for another hour, then rinsed the insides out by running the tap through the end of the casing. Although the memories of my father and pig guts ran through my mind, working with these casings was not as gross (or even as difficult) as I thought it would be.
After ensuring that my sausage casings were well rinsed and free of any salt, I was ready for stuffing.
I placed the stuffing attachment onto my mixer and fed the ground meat into the stuffing attachment just until it peeked out of the end:
After the ground meat was in the stuffer, I placed the entire length of hog casing over the stuffing tube, leaving a couple of inches at the end. I tied this end with kitchen twine and poked a tiny hole through the casing with a pin (this lets the meat flow into the casing more easily). I then turned on my mixer at medium speed and stuffed away.
Notice that I placed my stand mixer on a lower plane than my work surface so that there was less stress on the sausage casing (I didn’t want it dangling above my counter):
Now the fun part began—twisting off individual Longanisa links. You can use a ruler to measure off exact lengths of Longanisa, but I just used the width of my palm to measure. Once you find the desired link length, pinch the sausage and twist to form a link and then tie off each link with more twine:
Once you have your links tied off, poke any air pockets in the sausage with a pin. Then, wrap the Longanisa in foil, place in a zip-top bag and return it to the refrigerator to chill until you are ready to cook. Ruhlman says freshly made sausage will last a week in the fridge, or up to 3 months in the freezer, so keep that in mind for long-term storage.
Cooking, Eating, and Chillin’ Out
The hard part is done folks. But trust me, the few hours spent in the kitchen making your own homemade sausage is well worth the effort. That is, unless you end up overcooking your sausage.
I triumphantly brought some of my freshly made Longanisa over to my parents’ house so that they would heap praises upon me and declare me as their favorite son to the whole family. Unfortunately, all was lost once my father got his tongs on my links.
My dad grilled the sausages over the grates of Hell, wringing out every ounce of juice and fat as he tortured my links over direct high heat for at least 20 minutes:
With each sizzle and spit over the hot coals, I knew my sausages were dying a slow death at the hands of my father. I just didn’t say anything because you can’t tell a man his business at his own grill—especially my father. Had I said anything to him he would have ripped my heart out with his tongs, or at the very least punched me in the throat.
When the merciless burning was done, my sausages were rendered into something resembling Satan’s poo:
Although burnt to a crisp, all was not lost. My parents said that the flavor was darn close to my great-aunt’s Longanisa, but the texture wasn’t right and it just lacked the fat needed to make it juicy. I agreed with them about the flavor and texture, but I quietly nodded my head and kept my mouth shut about all the fat being lost to the fire. Fortunately, I still had more sausages waiting in my fridge for me to cook my way.
In Charcuterie, Ruhlman recommends cooking freshly made pork sausage until it reaches an internal temperature of 150-degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily, I am the proud owner of an instant-read thermometer and a probe thermometer (Nerd!), so hitting that 150-degree mark was easy for me whether I was grilling, sautéing, or broiling my Longanisa. And yes, I did cook my Longanisa in all those various ways.
Despite the incident on my dad’s barbecue, I must say, grilling was definitely my favorite way of cooking Longanisa. I first browned the Longanisa over direct heat on my grill for about 3-5 minutes a side. I then placed my probe thermometer into one of the links and moved the sausage to a cooler part of the grill and cooked over indirect heat until I hit the 150-degree mark.
Ruhlman is right on with the cooking temperature as the sausage was fully cooked but still juicy, fatty, and delicious. If you don’t have a thermometer, it’ll take some practice cooking the perfect Longanisa. But if you first get some color on the casings, then continue to cook very slowly over very low heat, you will be rewarded with juicy sausage.
After my first batch of sausages was consumed, I actually made another batch the following weekend, tinkering a bit more with my recipe. Instead of using cane vinegar as I originally did, I used all cider vinegar for my second batch. I also upped the amount of garlic and used the large die on the meat grinder rather than the small die I used before. I found the coarser grind of meat made for a better Longanisa as it was closer to hand-chopped.
The recipe I provide below is all my own, but all of the sausage-making techniques I used came from Charcuterie. I can’t recommend that book highly enough. In addition to having a number of recipes for sausages and other preparations for cured and smoked meats, it provides a great baseline from which you can create your own unique sausages.
While my Longanisa will never match that of my great aunt’s, it was perhaps one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had in the kitchen, maybe even in life. I made my own sausage for cryin’ out loud! Two weekends in a row! Despite my childhood fears of grease and pig guts, I’ve learned that there is nothing better than making your own Longanisa from scratch, cooking it, and then eating it with some tomatoes and steamed white rice while chillin’ out with a cold beer (Ice Cold!).
Homemade Longanisa (Filipino Sausage)
Yield: About 18-20 sausage links
2.5 lbs. boneless pork butt (make sure it is well-marbled with fat), cut into small cubes
0.75 oz. (about 1.5 tablespoons) kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
10 large cloves of garlic, finely diced
¼ cup chilled beer
½ cup chilled cider vinegar
Hog casings, soaked overnight in water and then rinsed well.
Combine the cubed pork, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and garlic in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Using a meat grinder attachment and stand mixer, coarsely grind the chilled pork mixture into a chilled bowl set within a larger bowl of ice. Using the paddle attachment of the stand mixer, mix the ground pork while pouring in the chilled beer and vinegar. Continue to mix for one minute.
Form a small patty from the sausage mixture and fry the patty in a bit of oil until cooked throughout. Taste the cooked patty for seasoning. Add additional seasoning to sausage mixture if needed, and mix again for another minute. Cover and return the sausage mixture to the refrigerator and chill for one hour.
After fitting a sausage stuffer attachment to the stand mixer, feed the sausage stuffer with the sausage mixture just until the meat appears at the end of the stuffing tube. Place a length of rinsed hog casing over the stuffing tube, leaving a few inches extra. Tie the end of the hog casing with kitchen twine and poke a small hole in the end with a clean pin.
Turn the mixer on medium speed, and stuff the casing with all of the meat mixture. Tie off the open ends of the casing with more kitchen twine. Using the width of your palm, measure off individual links by pinching the sausage, twisting links, and then tying the links with kitchen twine.
Cut off individual links as needed and cook until the sausage reaches an internal temperature of 150-degrees.
Although Longanisa can be enjoyed any time of day, it is usually eaten for breakfast in the Philippines, along with fried rice, tomatoes, and a fried egg: