Amy and Kara Play with Meat

First published in Skirt! Magazine.


I love pork. Sausages, bacon, pork chops, scrapple, pork cheeks, fat back – any and all of it. You know that game you play with your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend where you give each other one impossible “freebee?” My husband took January Jones. I took Jimmy Dean.

I love freaking pork products.

So you can imagine my glee when I flipped through a copy of Saveur Magazine and stumbled upon a recipe for kielbasa from the Grammercy Tavern in New York City. I only bought the magazine because I thought it would make me look sophisticated and worldly to the checkout lady at Fresh Market. Little did I know I would find such an epiphany inside it’s glossy pages.

I could make my own sausage!

This hit me like a bolt from the blue, for five reasons:

  1. Being married to a Polish fellow, kielbasa is sort of thing.
  2. I love pork products.
  3. We came THIS close to going to Gramercy Tavern last time we were in New York City, opting at the last second to try 11 Madison (Fabulous! But here’s a tip: don’t go to Mario Batali’s Casa Mono for lunch beforehand, because the waiters at 11 Madison don’t like it when they dutifully bring you the fifth of seven courses and instead of oohing and aahing you laugh in their faces and ask them if they are insane.)
  4. For that trip we stayed at the Gramercy Hotel, which is our favorite in NYC so far, and that has the word “Gramercy” in it.
  5. I love pork products.

So, I thought I’d make kielbasa. I called in my friend Kara for backup, because she is who I immediately think of in times like these. Kara’s that kind of girl. You could be inspired by an article on how to give yourself an authentic prison tattoo using food dye and a sewing needle, and Kara will be at your doorstep 10 minutes later with a bottle of McCormick’s Blue Number 3 and fourteen different sizes of needles.

As it turns out, Kara has made sausage before, so she arrived with all the right sausage attachments for my Kitchen Aid Mixer. If you don’t know what a Kitchen Aid Mixer is, then clearly you’re much younger than me, or not married, because until 2005, it was a nationwide law that you receive a Kitchen Aid Mixer on your wedding day.  Also in the rule book: putting that mixer in a prominent place in your kitchen, and then never looking at it again, except the once a year that you scoop a dusty dead fly out of the bowl.

So Kara shows up at 2pm and we commence the sausage making.

Ok, meat casings are pretty funny looking.

I had gone to the local butcher and purchased the 3lbs each of pork belly and beef chuck. We cut it into one inch squares and proceeded to feed it into the grinder attachment for the Kitchen Aid. I had never ground meat before, but I have to say, there is a visceral reaction to watching the threads of fat and muscle squish through that metal screen. You’re simultaneously reminded of the opening of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the Saw movie franchise. It just feels like something you were supposed to be doing your whole life.

Unfortunately, I was handing Kara the cubes o’ meat while standing right in front of the mixer attachment, so every time it suffered a sputtery air bubble, I was spattered with flecks of meat. By the end of it, I looked like the only girl left alive at the end of a horror movie, wearing the remains of my sorority sisters on my tee shirt.  I SO wished the neighborhood girl scouts would show up with their cookies just then, so I could answer the door covered with blood and sinew. “Sure, I’d love some cookies, girls! I have some money here in the basement somewhere, just follow me down…”

When the Kitchen Aid clogged, we would scrape the meat out of it ,and blood would pour out from behind the blockage. It was surreal. And as a bonus, I got to make all the obligatory jokes with my husband about how  I would dispose of his body after he finally asked for me to rub his back one too many times.

At one point the grinder clogged badly enough that Kara had to dismantle the unit. I peered into it, my face an inch away from the now exposed blade-disc, when Kara reached for the switch, thinking that turning it back on might help dislodge the blockage. I barely missed having my face sheared off, which naturally sent us into peals of hysterical giggling.

Note to self: Wait until after the dangerous parts to open the first bottle of wine.

After the meat was ground, I read the recipe past the part where I got to grind meat for the first time. I’m not what you call a “planner.”

Turns out at this point, we were supposed to let the meat season for 24 hours.


We skipped that part.

Note to self: Read whole recipe through at least once before starting.

Next we stuffed the sausages, with real pig intestine skin casings I’d ordered online a few days before. Turns out you really can order anything over the Internet.

Kara fed the meat into the sausage stuffer and I eased it into the casing, twisting off  links at varying intervals, until we had a phallic string of various shapes and sizes. “I remember him,” said Kara, as I’d twist one off. “I remember him. Ooh, I really remember him…”

Next I read more of the recipe and discovered we were supposed to put our sausages into a smoker that I did not actually own.

Note to self: Re-read last note.

We did a makeshift thing with some wood chips and my charred, ancient grill, which looks like some sort of busted-ass Transformer from the 1950’s. Then we had another bottle of wine. Then we removed the sausages from the grill and pan fried them, giddy with anticipation.

They were utterly disgusting.

We over-smoked them and turned greasy, wonderful pork products into tubes of sawdust.

I was crushed.

But, we will try again.

Oh yes, my crispy pork lovelies, we will try again.

Amy Vansant
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3 Responses

  1. Rebecca

    Loved your article. Have you read Julie Powell’s book Cleaving? It’s a story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. Your description of the sinew splatter and whatnot reminded me of her book.



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