You can make your own healthier pepperoni sausage at home, using beef — or dehydrated tomatoes for a vegan version, — without nitrates or nitrites (curing salts), and decrease the risks normally associated with home curing and aging or drying — by slowly roasting or baking it. Plus, you will be eating it within few days — instead of months later.
I have made plenty of cured and dried sausages — particularly pepperoni, in my time, but even having worked in microbiology, studied nutrition, and worked in health care, I found the steps needed to ensure its safety could be daunting. It is also well known now that curing salts can lead to cancer especially when consumed too frequently.
There are many obstacles to safely curing and drying sausages at home to avoid parasites and botulism.
For example, it is very difficult to safely make cured pork pepperoni at home — due to the inability to obtain the freezing temperatures (minus 200 F degrees) required for a couple a weeks to a month — just so that pork — commonly infected with the larvae of a worm called Trichinella spiralis — is actually safe to be turned into pepperoni which is made with uncooked meat.
You need at all times to keep any raw meat used at a constantly safe low temperature (no more than 40 F degrees) requiring not only a chilled, temperature controlled room but also that all equipment, bowls, and utensils be kept chilled.
Curing salts (nitrates/nitrites which can cause cancer) come in various types and using the wrong one could be dangerous — such as using one intended for a longer cure on a short cure sausage. They must always be kept out of the reach of children and must be stored someplace other than the kitchen and well labeled to avoid the danger of its being mistaken for regular table salt.
Plus, it takes a very, very long time for the sausage to cure and dry (which is done within a controlled temperature range). While it could be smoke cured, that also takes longer than this slow baked version, and pepperoni is not traditionally smoke cured.
Because it is being made without curing salts this pepperoni will not be the pink color that you are probably used to seeing. It is a grey cooked beef sort of color.
Mix water, vinegar, and 2 teaspoons salt. Add cracked peppercorns and soak for one hour. Pour through wire mesh strainer or a colander with very small openings, then place peppercorns on a paper towel to drain for a few minutes. Pat dry before adding to sausage. This helps soften them a bit so there is less chance of chipping a tooth.
Place seasonings (except for the pepper corns and wine) and the brown sugar in food processor, spice or coffee grinder and blend until fine.
Add seasonings, wine, and peppercorns to meat, combine well and evenly using very clean hands or food processor.
Seal in airtight container and refrigerate for 48 hours.
Form meat into two long logs or rolls (or if desired stuff into prepared casings).
If desired, can roll logs without casings in additional cracked peppercorns (pre-soaked as above) and/or other seasonings.
Place a rack on a baking sheet — with sides (to prevent juices from running off the pan).
Put the logs onto rack.
You want to keep the sausages from coming into contact with the juices so that they can dry and quick cure in the oven so the use of a rack is important.
Bake at 200 degrees for 8 hours, rotating logs a quarter turn every 1 to 2 hours.
Logs should be fairly dry and firm when finished. Pat dry with paper towel to remove any remaining excess grease and allow meat to rest for 30 minutes.
Chill for 2 to 4 hours before thin slicing to serve.
Refrigerate for up to 10 days or freeze for longer storage.
To use as pizza topping:
Remove casing if any, thin slice.
Briefly dip each slice in ice water and allow excess water to drip off before adding to pizza. This prevents them from over cooking or burning before the rest of the pizza is ready.
Pre-bake the pizza most of the way then add the slices as a topping for the last 6 or 7 minutes of the total bake time.
To prepare casings if using: