...and now for something completely different,
Sausage making is a very old art. The Babylonians were making them around 1500BC. Homer, somewhere around 900BC, mentions them in the Odyssey. Literature from 500BC refers to Salami, a sausage originated in the now destroyed ancient city Salamis on the east coast of Cyprus. The Romans were very fond of them and had their fresh variant often at festivals. They called it "salus" meaning salted or preserved meat and it is through the Latin root that we get the word "sausage". By the Middle Ages the now commercial art was widespread with many being named after cities that specialized in unique variations. Sausages like Bologna, Frankfurt, Genoa, Berliner, Braunschwieger, Goteberg are but a few and in fact nearly every country in the world has their own unique traditions.
My interest in sausage making started when I was given an unrestored antique sausage press for my birthday. After completing the first task of restoring the press I was given some cherished family recipes (this goes back at least 5 generations). I should mention that the sausage I make is the fresh type. I have yet to get into curing and smoking meat although I am currently researching wood-fired smoker/grill designs.
If you've never tried a homemade sausage you don't know what your missing. Get those industrial store bought things out of your head (essentially equivalent to a lard sandwich buttered with salt peter). Those are made to be very cheap. The sausages I'm referring to use the best cuts of meat, are lean, and use a multitude of fresh ingredients and spices. The two (home made vs. store bought) are incomparable, sort of like Porterhouse steak vs. suet.
Grinder, scale & press
The basic equipment needed for making sausage are a means to cut and grind the meat, mixing bowls for adding all the spices and a press for pushing the meat into casings. Shown above are my grinder, my press, and my weigh scale. The latter two were inexpensive antiques I restored from pitted rust condition. For small runs even the press is optional as you can make patties instead. For the longest while I used a small Moulinex grinder although simply getting the butcher to grind for you is likely far easier. Hand grinders are another inexpensive alternative. Given the infrequency with which I do this I find the hardest part is to find the natural casing. I find I've either had to buy an amount that would have Maple Leaf Inc. rubbing their chin or pay top dollar top have a good butcher prepare a sane amount for you. Lately I've found that here in town "Lavergne Western Beef Inc" (3871 Navan Rd) sells 60ft casing packages for $6 and "Chilly Chiles" (of the Byward Market fame) is now right in that neighborhood.
Once all the ingredients are obtained one can plan on a lovely evening or afternoon making the sausage. Typically my wife and I will partake in a little wine, turn on some music and have some lovely chats together while we prepare everything.
Step 1 - Preparing the Meat
Most sausage recipes call for pork butt however there is no limit to what can be used (I include a chicken recipe below). When pork butt is called for I typically use pork loin (roast or center) or picnic shoulder. Usually I buy it a day in advance and leave it in the fridge to ensure it is icy cold for all the subsequent processing to be done. One must be careful when grinding meat as the process will expose all of the meat to the environment. Hence it must be kept icy cold and all equipment spotlessly clean. At any pause in the process the meat is put back into the fridge and kept cold.
Cutting the meat into strips
The first thing I do is to separate the meat from the bone and cut it up into reasonable strips which can be fed into the grinder. I have a set of Henckel knives for this. At the same time this is done I'm also removing nearly all the fat from the cuts so that it is 100% lean.
Step 2 - Grinding the Meat
Grinding the meat
As I said above I used to do this with a tiny Moulinex grinder and this took considerable time and was generally slow and tedious. If you want to try sausage making first without investing then get a butcher to do it. I have since bought a 1HP grinder which now trivializes the job (I spend more time cleaning the machine than grinding meat). One merely puts the appropriate size grinding plate (fine, medium, coarse) in the machine and off you go. You simply drop the strips of meat into the top and catch the output in the mixing bowl. I do grind up a small amount of fat to add back into the mix in the controlled amount I want. This typically cooks off but is done to keep the sausage from becoming too dry.
Step 3 - Adding the Spices (and other goodies)
Some typical ingredients
Here is the heart of the process and where the sky is the limit. There is no end to the variety of recipes available. One could spend a lifetime experimenting. The two recurrent spices however are salt (preservation) and pepper (spice). Beyond that almost anything goes. Once the meat has been ground and is in the mixing bowl one simply adds the spices called for in the recipe and mixes them into the meat. Most time the recipe will call for some water which helps spread and integrate the spices into the meat. Typically on 5-10lbs one mixes the spices in for 5 - 10 minutes. With most recipes it will have a consistency similar to a large hamburger patty.
Champagne - Adding spices
As I said above not all ingredients are spices. Other things such as eggs (binder), onions, garlic, tomatoes, orange, cheese, mushrooms (flavour & texture) are used. Sometimes bread is called for. It tends to help retain moisture. Other recipes call for wines, liquors, liqueurs, or champagnes. As you can see these are way beyond your typical store bought offerings. Once the meat is mixed it is returned to the fridge to keep cool for the next step.
Louisiana - Spiced and adding onions. Chicken - Adding peppers & mixing
Step 4 - Pressing into the Casing (or Twist and Shout)
Casing - package for 60ft, washing the casing
The first step here is to prepare the casing. The casing (natural hog gut casing) is like a tube with the consistency of thin leather chamois. Typically it is refrigerated and packed with loads of salt. One must separate off what one needs to do the job and to wash it. Washing it gets rid of the salt and tends to soften it up and make it somewhat slippery with all the water. The casing is then fed onto the spout of the press and a bit at the end is closed in preparation to catch the meat that will come out. Spend the money to get good casing. Bad casing will tear, have leaky holes in it and will tend to be exasperating. Don't waste your time trying to save money here.
Press loaded, pressing out Louisiana & chicken
At this stage one takes the mixed meat out of the mixing bowl and loads the press cylinder. The press is nothing more really than a plungered cylinder with a spout. One simply turns the crank and an ACME worm starts to drive the plunger and thus meat down into the cylinder and out the spout. As soon as the meat starts to emerge the closed casing on the end of the spout catches it. As the press pushes the meat out of the spout the casing as a result slides off the spout and encases the meat. After about 4" - 5" of this you spin or twist the emerging meat and viola you have a sausage link. Care is taken not to have trapped air bubbles in the links. It is also good to have a helper at this point. One to turn the press crank and another to do the twisting of each link as it emerges. The trick is to twist each link as it comes out without untwisting the last one you just made. In the picture above is the Champagne recipe (mentioned below) emerging from the press while the mixing bowl waiting to the side has the ready-to-go Chicken recipe (also mentioned below).
Step 5 - Storage
2 person breakfast portion - four links to a sandwich bag
Once all the links have been made they must be prepared for storage. What we typically do is cut them into strings of 3 - 4 links and place them in zip-lock sandwich bags. These get placed on a cookie sheet and placed in the freezer until they are frozen. This helps the links keep their form and keeps them from getting squished by being piled on top of each other. Once frozen they can be stacked or piled and the cookie sheet removed.
Step 6 - Cooking
OK you don't freeze everything. Typically a sausage press will not press everything out and at very least this is cooked up. Often more! The taste of fresh sausage is amazing. Expect to see some eyes rolling back in their heads. When cooked immediately after making them the typical way is to simply fry them up.
If a sausage has been frozen we typically half fill a pan with water and let if thaw first for about a 1/2 hour. Then the sausages are cooked in the water until they change colour and generally look like the are thoroughly cooked. After that the water is poured off and the sausages are gently browned in a bit of oil. All that's next is to serve and enjoy!
While I may be 5th generation generation at this I have departed with tradition and created a large excel sheet with recipes I like. All I have to do is enter the poundage of each I want to make and it generates a combined master shopping list organized into 3 sections of meat, produce and spices. Makes shopping easy.
Below are an example of three recipes (illustrated above) which we really enjoy and which should also convey the wide variety of possibilities. The casing usage is based on my spout opening being about 1" in dia. while the sandwich bag usage is based on 3 - 4 links per bag. Also, for what it's worth, I include a few conversions which can be handy (and hard to find in a hurry) when scaling up or converting recipes or simply buying meat.
3 tsp = 1 Tbsp / 48 tsp = 1 cup / 16 Tbsp = 1 cup / 1 cup = 8 oz
1 kg = 2.2046 lbs / 1 tsp = 4.929 ml / 1 cup = 236.59 ml
These would appear to be a fire storm but they're not. They are lively however and conjure up their name well. The large Spanish onions that get mixed in do a wonderful job of making it moist and juicy. Who needs bread crumbs? My hat is off to the man in the bayou who came up with these!
This is a wonderful alternative to pork (sausages can be made from any meat). We use a mix of white and dark meat. Very lean but again juicy. What a wonderful way to start your day. Mmmmmmm.
This recipe is a bit of a bugger to make. All the champagne makes the mixture "slushy" rather than like a hamburger patty. This can make the linking process a bit difficult. If you get past that then freeze these for 2-3 months you think you'll have died and gone to heaven. While most sausage is best very fresh I find the extra time given these seems to take a bit of the bite out of the champagne and it instead it mixes in, mellows and imparts a multitude of wonderful subtle flavours so typical of fine French cuisine. Ooo la la!