No matter how hard you try, no matter how carefully you follow the directions, sometimes things just don’t work out.
That’s the risk I accept when I try a new recipe. I read it thoroughly and follow it exactly the first time. I shop carefully for the ingredients, trying to buy precisely what is listed. I prepare all my ingredients and set up my cooking area so that I can move seamlessly from step to step. And still, sometimes, when I’m all done and I take a bite, I know right away that I never, ever want to put that in my mouth again.
Earlier this year, my husband brought home a beautiful cookbook from the library, “Maine Classics: More than 150 Delicious Recipes from Down East” by Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier. The book was lovely, nicely designed, great photographs and typography.
In my experience, beautiful cookbooks often lack utility. Either they’re so big and heavy that they’re difficult to read, never mind use, or the authors, editors and designers have spent all their time making them look good, and none of their time making sure the recipes work or are even interesting.
But this book seemed good on all fronts. At that time, I had never heard of the authors, but now it turns out they’re two of the competitors on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters. (Actually, since this was written, Gaier was eliminated for his lackluster in the Teppanyaki challenge.)
So I photocopied some of the recipes — Mark’s Boston Brown Bread, Cranberry Upside-Down Cake, Grilled Chicken with Justin’s Coffee Barbecue Sauce, and Turkey Breakfast Sausage, which I decided to make first.
I like sausage. I like that something that was created before refrigeration to help preserve meat actually turned out to be delicious and can be made in infinite variety using just about any meat, poultry or fish. Also, a little sausage goes a long way. So it’s a good choice economically and if you’re a carnivore trying to make vegetables the primary component of your diet.
I liked this recipe because the ingredients weren’t too exotic, it seemed easy to make, and in its introduction, Gaier and Frasier say “People tend to try to make turkey taste like pork in sausages but it’s not like it at all so even if you love the usual pork sausage, try this in your sausage biscuits or gravy or with your eggs for a very different flavor.” I hate bacon made out of turkey or turkey made out of tofu. What the heck? Why not just make something delicious out of turkey or tofu without forcing these very fine ingredients to imitate something we love and would never choose to forego?
So I went shopping for the ingredients. I did stumble a bit over the fatback. First, who wants to buy that much fat knowing that you’re going to eat it, albeit bit-by-bit over time? Second, all they had in the meat case at my local grocer was salt pork, and I didn’t feel like shopping around. Undaunted, I picked up a pork roast with a lovely, ½- to ¾-inch layer of white fat across the top and I asked the woman at the meat counter to cut off the fat so that I could buy just that. She didn’t blink an eye. I think it cost me 17 cents.
Armed with my ingredients, I carefully followed the directions and fried up a couple of patties for my husband and I to sample.
Oh, they were bad. Way too salty. So salty that any other flavor — maple syrup, nutmeg, fresh sage, even the red onion — was rendered invisible. I mean so much salt that you could have left these babies on the counter for a month and they wouldn’t have spoiled.
But I am my mother’s daughter, so I certainly wasn’t going to throw them away. Instead, I shaped the patties, layered them with waxed paper and threw them in the freezer.
Since then, I’ve been using them in ones and twos in things like fritattas and with beans or greens, more as a flavoring than as a protein element. The trick is, I don’t use any other salt in the recipe. None. Not in the eggs, not on the vegetables. None. As long as I don’t mix it with another salty ingredient (no Parmesan, please), we’ve been able to enjoy them even though they were not a success.
I’m going to make this recipe again because I think it has potential, and I’m including it here for you in case you want to experiment with me. Next time, as noted in the recipe, I’m going to use half (or maybe even a quarter) of the called for amount of salt.
Turkey Breakfast Sausage
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
¼ cup finely chopped onion (I used red onion)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon chili flakes (I used red pepper flakes)
1/3 cup finely chopped fatback
1 pound ground turkey
1 tablespoon kosher salt (The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons but that was way too salty. Feel free to reduce it even further, and let me know how it works out.)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 cup maple syrup
Mix the cornstarch with the cold water. In another bowl, mix together all of the other ingredients. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the turkey mixture and combine. Form into patties (I think I got more than 12 small patties out of one recipe) and sauté over medium-high heat or cook on a hot grill. Serve at once.
Original recipe from “Maine Classics: More than 150 Delicious Recipes from Down East” by Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier
Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share comments or recipes with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.