I thought the kids were not coming over this weekend, they have been on and off on a low carb diet. Myr just got back from Italy and they had a friend’s wedding on Saturday, so I thought they were not coming over. Jan had challenged me to do a gourmet “pigs in a blanket.” The kids have changes their minds and are coming over, but they will eat high carb.
In the US, “pigs in a blanket” usually refers to small Vienna sausages or hot dogs wrapped in pre-made commercial biscuit dough and are usually served at parties. They can also be breakfast pork sausages wrapped in a pancakes and served for breakfast. I wanted this to be a dinner main course, so I wanted to do something a bit more savory and homemade.
Note: If you live in a former British Empire country, you would probably call this a sausage bun. In England, “a pig in a blanket” is a small sausage wrapped in bacon. Sounds good to me, but Jan would never touch it.
I though the crust I had made for empanadas earlier this week would make a very good “blanket.” I had used the last of my homemade Italian sausage in the empanadas. In making more, I wanted to vary the meat spicing, so I used sage and oregano, instead of thyme and I added some onion powder.
Note: When I woke up this morning, I had the fancy to make American breakfast “pigs in a blanket.” I have added that version below my recipe. I would hesitate to even call this a recipe, it is more of an assembly.
After Dinner Note: Between the “pigs in a blanket” and the empanadas I made for this dinner, we had no need for forks—they were perfect “finger foods.”
Both Jan and Miriam thought the sausage tasted like kubideh—which is strange—because the meat and spicing are completely different, as is the method of cooking.
Karl’s Pigs in a Blanket
Karl’s Pork Sausage
2 lb. pork shoulder, coarsely ground (20% fat)
3 Tbs. soy sauce
½ cup flat leafed parsley, minced
12 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. rubbed sage
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. Mediterranean oregano
¾ tsp. nutmeg, fresh grated
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbs. butter or oil
2 cups flour, AP
½ Tbs. Kosher salt
1 tsp. onion powder
1 stick (½ cup) frozen unsalted butter
1 large egg, cold from the refrigerator
½ cup ice water
1 Tbs. distilled white vinegar
Note: Actually, I am making empanadas as well and I made a double batch of the crust. I used 40% of the dough for the pigs and 60% for the empanadas.
Making the sausage
Note: Ideally, you want to make your pork sausage the night before, but you can do it the morning of the meal.
Cut pork into ½ inch strips, lay them on a small tray, and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Tip: Remove as much “silver skin” as you can. The gristle clogs the cutting blades of the meat grinder and the meat that does get through is mashed to a paste, not cut into fine bits.
Note: This time half freezes the pork, firming it up, and making for a cleaner cut when you are grinding the meat.
Coarsely grind the pork into a large bowl.
Add the soy sauce, parsley and garlic.
Tip: The soy sauce adds to the umami flavor of the meat, but you are not adding so much that it tastes like Asian pork.
Finely grind pepper in spice mill
Add the onion, sage, salt, oregano, nutmeg, and red pepper to the spice mill and pulse several times to mix.
Add the spices to the pork.
Mix the spices into the pork well.
Tip: You are trying to break the protein strand during this mixing. Chopping the mix with a spatula and aggressive stirring are what you want to do. This is a good time to use your hands. Squish the pork through your fingers to distribute the spices, especially the soy sauce and salt, evenly through the mixture.
Cover the pork and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Note: This is food chemistry. During the resting time, the salt—and the salt in the soy sauce—initially breaks down the protein fibers in the meat. After it has had time to break down the proteins strands, the working the meat a second time causes the protein bits to start linking up again, forming a network—in the same way that kneading bread dough creates a gluten network. It is this mesh of proteins that gives sausage its distinctive texture.
Massage the meat, pulling a spatula towards you in long strokes. Starting at one edge of the bowl, keep working around the bowl, until the meat starts to discolor and thicken.
Tip: After five minutes the meat will become quite stiff, but—if you have the stamina and forearm strength—you want to work the meat for 15-20 minutes.
Note: You do not want to use any cutting or tearing motions, because you are trying to get the protein chains to link up, not tear them apart. If you have a marble pastry stone you can wet your hands—so the meat does not stick to them—and actually knead the meat, in the same way you would bread dough.
Cover the meat in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least four hours.
Tip: Overnight is better.
Making the Crust
Place several ice cubes into a cup of water.
Sift the flour, salt, and onion powder together several times in a large bowl to get a complete and even mixture.
Use a box grater to shred the frozen butter into the flour.
Tip: As the butter shreds build up in the bowl, stir them into the flour to coat them.
Use a pastry cutter to chop the shreds into tiny pieces.
Tip: To get a flaky dough the butter must remain cold, so that it does not bind with the flour. You want to handle the butter and dough as little as possible with your warm hands—why Jan has always been better at crusts than me.
Note: The German expression, “Cold hands, warm heart,” is never more true than in making butter pastry. My wife might like holding my “warm hands,” but they melt butter like nobody’s business. It was not until I figured out to use a spatula for the mixing that I even came close to the right texture.
Measure out one half cup of ice water and add the egg and vinegar. Whisk the mixture to blend.
Note: The vinegar inhibits the proteins in the flour from forming gluten. There is not enough vinegar to make it taste “sour.”
Make a “well” in the flour and add the liquid.
Use a spatula to mix the flour into the dough until most of the dry flour has been incorporated.
Turn the dough out onto a clean smooth surface and knead the dough 3-5 times.
Tip: Not 3-5 minutes, only 3-5 kneads, the more you handle the dough the more the butter will melt and the more gluten will form, making your dough tough.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator to chill for at least one hour.
Making the Pigs in Blankets
Divide the sausage into eight equal portions.
Shape the sausage into a one inch thick by five inch cylindrical capsule.
Tip: Make it look like a hot dog / sausage.
Note: Cylindrical capsule is actually the proper term for the shape of a hotdog—those geometrists, always having to make the apparently simple complex.
In a skillet, fry the sausages in a tablespoon of butter or oil, until well browned on all sides.
Tip: You might be tempted to simply take the raw sausage and wrap it in the crust as a short cut. You could do this, but your final product would not have as much flavor and the lower part of your “blanket” might get soggy. No one likes a “wet blanket.”
Note: Pre-frying the sausage does two things. Much of the complex flavor of a sausage comes from when the heat causes the Maillard reaction. This browning creates new and complex compounds on the surface of the meat that our taste buds identify as savory. The second thing the frying does is seal the surface of the sausage, keeping the juices in the meat and off the crust.
Set the sausages aside to cool.
Tip: You do not need to worry about cooking the sausages through, just that your get a good browning an all sides.
Note: In fact, it is better if you have raw meat in the center, as it would then not overcook during baking. I have wondered if I should freeze the sausages a bit, to prevent the centers from cooking at all.
Preheat your oven to 425º F.
Divide the dough into eight equal portions and roll them into balls.
On a well floured, clean, smooth surface, roll each dough ball into a 3×5 inch rectangle.
Place the cooled sausage along one edge and roll it up in the dough.
Tip: Pinch the seam in several places to keep it from unrolling.
Place each pig, seam side down, on a parchment paper lined baking tray.
Bake the “pigs in a blanket” for 20-25 minutes, until well browned on top.
Remove to a wire rack and cool to warm.
American Pigs in a Blanket
Note: At our house the preferred breakfast link is chicken, but use whatever small, breakfast sausage that you eat in the morning.
2 breakfast sausages per person
½ cup of your favorite pancake batter per person
1. Fry the sausages.
2. Cook the pancakes.
Tip: You want them to be fairly thin and just a little bigger than the sausages.
3. Roll the sausages in the pancakes and put them on a plate, seam side down.
4. Serve with syrup and fresh fruit.