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Mar 29, 2007 10:44 PM

Italian Sausage

Just a couple of questions that've been nagging me:

1 - What makes Italian sausage "Italian"? Seasonings, meat, presentation?

2 - Are Italian sausage sandwiches served in Italy and, if so, how're they prepared and are they served with sides?

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  1. I believe it is the seasonings - of which I tend to believe fennel seed is the most vital.

    5 Replies
    1. re: kare_raisu

      I believe Italian sausage in the US has to have fennel seed or be called something else. USDA rule.

      1. re: coll

        Don't think so - I used to work with a woman who liked Italian sausage but hated fennel, and would buy only that which had none, which she was apparently able to find readily. And this was in Nashville, where the only Italian sausage available is major brands.

        1. re: Will Owen

          A professional meat buyer told me this, so it's probably true. Here in NY you can always get them either way, but he said if you ask for "Italian sausage" and don't specify, you're supposed to get it with fennel. USDA regulation or some such. Probably more inportant on the wholesale end.

      2. re: kare_raisu

        Fennel is merely one type, albeit the most common in the US, however not in Italy.

        Pepperoni is an example of an Italian-American invention (it is, I believe, a distant relative or friend, as it were, of Calabrese-style salsicce picante). Ask for pepperoni in Italy, and you won't get a sausage!!

        The most common types of fresh pork sausages in the Meditteranean are based on Greek prototypes: Loukaniko - morphs variously into lugarnica, lugarnika, loganiza, luganiza, et cet. as you go into the Balkans, Italy, Spain, et cet. They don't have fennel seed.

        1. re: Karl S

          if you ask for a pepperoni pizza in italy you get a pizza with peppers on it- peperone....... it happened to me in venice lol

      3. I have read that the seasoned ground pork sausage is an American invention, it is (was?) not traditionally served in Italy. "Real" Italian Sausages are things such as salami, mortadella, etc.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Alan408

          we must remember that "fresh" sausage of whatever country came into existence with the advent of refrigeration.

          1. re: byrd

            actually, that's not quite true. colder climates in northern europe allowed for meats to stay fresh for periods of time.

            "italian sausage" gets slapped on all sorts of products now. all over europe, different regions had their own specialties, so calling something "italian" these days is pretty generic.

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              the Italian sausage that I know from the border of Umbria and Tuscany is only pork and salt. The best I have ever had is from the butcher Trabalza of Mercatale di Cortona. They make their own daily, and it is that same sausage that is traditionally hung from the rafters by the fireplace, as the proscuitti were (from hooks) to dry. It is eaten raw when it is fresh as well as cooked, and it is eaten dried from two or three weeks onwards.

            2. re: byrd

              My first generation Italian-American Grandparents used to make fresh sausage every fall. They'd cook it a bit, put it in jars, top off with fat and put in the cellar. My dad said it kept through winter.

          2. On Sausages in general:


            In same article, re. Italian sausage:

            "Italian sausages are often a mix of pork and veal. In the USA, these are defined as having a minimum of 85% meat, and must contain salt, pepper, and either fennel or anise."

            Also, re. Italian sausage:


            1 Reply
            1. re: RicRios

              If you mean fresh sausages, the basic type is from coarse-ground pork,usually without fennel, but sometimes with (and sometimes with crushed red pepper or even wine), usually grilled. I've had them on rolls, plain usually, or grilled plain as a main dish, hardly ever (as is typical in Italy) with extensive condiments, perhaps excepting sauteed onion or mushrooms. There are a number of sausage ragus, too, for pasta or polenta.
              Salumi--or salt-cured/dried sausages--are a much different item, of course, with much greater regional variety.

            2. 1 - I think it's the spices also, but, I don't know for sure. I do know I love to use spicy & mild Itallian sausage in my spaghetti sauce along with diced pork loin

              2 - Don't know...I think that's something like "french fries" though.

              4 Replies
              1. re: californiagirl

                In the U.S. for a product to be labled Italian Sausage it must have fennel or anise. (it doesn't matter what they do in Italy we're talking about the U.S.) The two accepted versions are sweet and hot. Sweet cannot have red pepper while the red pepper is what give hot its kick. Mild is similar to hot but with a reduced amount of red pepper. It can be cooked or raw, links, bulk, ropes, patties, etc.

                1. re: RiccardoC

                  The best Italian sausage around these parts (Pasadena, CA) is from the Roma Deli down the street. It's made every day by the ancient Sicilian guy who owns the place, it's the only kind he makes, and it's got no fennel. Of course it's not sold as Italian Sausage, simply as "sausage".

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    In general "Italian" fresh sausage is not served in a Panino in Italy. Now, having said that at many Sagras, everything is served on rolls/bread. In Lecce I had a stewed field greens sandwich, not at all a current day thing, even in Puglia. The most common, and delicious sandwich is Porchetta. A slowly spit roasted whole pig that is stuffed with herbs and garlic and carved up when you order. Make sure you ask for "crusta" skin!!!!!

                    1. re: ospreycove

                      At a sandwich joint in Rome I got a cold egg and spinach sandwich (cold because it was late and they weren't gonna turn on the press for three crazy Americans) which I chose just because it was so weird. It was also strangely delicious.

                      Always thought I'd like to get back to Puglia. Now I've got another good reason.

              2. To appreciate how Italians make sausage, you need to taste other nationalities' versions and compare. The British, for example, put cereal in their sausages, which gives them an, uhm, interesting texture.

                13 Replies
                1. re: pdxgastro

                  The Brits are hardly alone in this. While a lot of Polish sausages are all-meat and wonderful, their blood sausage is made with kasha, which I found perfectly vile. Cajun boudin blanc is largely rice, which ain't bad at all. There's also a Swedish sausage with potatoes...

                  The ingredient the British use is rusk, which is essentially zweiback or Melba toast. There is a strict limit now on how much they can use; I gather it was over-used as a cheap extender, but since people had gotten to like the taste they kept some in. Bangers are a good example, and I like those okay, in moderation.

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    All blood sausage has fillers, lot of them. Korean blood sausage is mostly rice and mung bean noodles.

                    1. re: paulj

                      From Hertzmann: "Traditional boudin de Paris will contain equal quantities of blood, fat, and cooked onions, but the proportions can vary widely. Different seasonings may be used, fruit or vegetables may be added, and various aromatics may be included. Common additions include apples and chestnuts." Chestnuts are starchy (too starchy for me) but I don't think the boudin noir we had in Nice had much in the way of filler. I'm guessing they were much like the Parisian ones. And BOY were they good! Unlike our friend's wretched Polish ones...

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        Aren't fillers a bit like weeds? If you don't want them, they are fillers. If you do want them, they are legitimate ingredients.

                        1. re: paulj

                          I would tend to reserve the term for plant-sourced carbohydrates: breadcrumbs, cracked wheat, rice, potatoes. Certainly not any meat product, and probably not fruit or vegetables. Onion, garlic, capers, currants, are more seasoning/flavoring agents than filler. "Filler" I think denotes that which adds bulk but (by design) NOT flavor.

                          I'm still obsessing about the kasha in that Polish stuff. The guy who brought it, a friend's 90-year-old dad visiting from New York, obviously considered it the star of the table around which we were standing doing frozen-vodka shots. "Vilusz!" he hollered at me, "I thought you liked blood sausage!" "So did I," I replied...

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            A filler can be anything that is cheaper than the meat itself. Cereal or plant matter, all the same, it's not meat and it's also not "seasoning". As a matter of fact, using cheaper cuts of the same meat is considered a filler. This is how the industry/USDA in this country classifies it anyway. If you make it yourself for home consumption, then call it what you will.

                            1. re: coll

                              You mean like the meat "by products" in some hotdogs and bologna, like eyelids, noses, lips, etc?

                              1. re: ospreycove

                                No not even, just deboned meat from the backbone and the like. Maybe some blood and fat. In human food, this type of ingredient is called "extender".Byproducts usually are some of the less desirable organs plus the intestines, also the feet and heads (which obviously includes eyelids, noses and lips) but these go into petfood more.

                                1. re: coll

                                  Coll, I trhink these little goodies are not specfically excluded from the production of low end products.

                                  1. re: ospreycove

                                    Probably not, but I bet they make more money selling them for dog food!

                                    1. re: coll

                                      They *are* perfectly edible food bits, perfect for both sausage and dog foods. It's only the luxuries of modernity that give us the idea that it's OK to waste them.

                                      1. re: Karl S

                                        Karl S, How about this for smaller "Carbon footprint" hotdogs. "Buy .....the new and improved, earth friendly, Green Dogs! Now made with lips, snouts and eyelids and the taste that great, great Grandma and Grandpa, looked forward to every October, when the family hog was slaughtered!!!
                                        I'll wager if done right, the taste would be better than the hyped, hormoned, colored, plastic tube encased stuff that is on the store shelf today.
                                        I still will take my trippa alla Romana over any flavor enhanced product available.

                                        1. re: ospreycove

                                          We need Mario Batali to promote.

                                          Let's not forget the cheeks.