Sausage is also an amazingly sustainable way to eat meat. People tend to have the notion that meat animals are basically walking meat-cases full of steaks ready to be carved out and served, and I can imagine that most every butcher in the world wishes that were true. In reality, the process of going from full muscles to beautiful steaks involves lots of cutting, sawing, and trimming. This trim – the small bits of meat too minuscule to be sold or served up end up ground into sausage as a way to utilize every part of the animal, and in the process make something delicious. It’s a win/win. The butcher needs to maximize his utilization of an animal who’s life he valued (and that he paid for every molecule of) and in so doing he creates something that the customer loves to eat.
Let’s talk equipment, to make sausage you basically need two things:
-Meat grinder. Kitchenaid makes a grinder attachment for their mixers, which, for many people, is the cheapest way to get grinding at home. My experience with this setup ended in the disaster of a blown motor, which not only temporarily ended my sausage experimentation, it also brought the flow of baked goods around my house to a screeching halt. You’re much better off with a dedicated grinder: This LEM model is a great budget model, while this one will work excellent for the serious hobbyist.
-Stuffer. Again, a single purpose machine will do you much better than attempting to stuff using an attachment on your grinder. The Sausage Maker makes a good one, while this F.Dick will probably last long enough for your grandkids to inherit it.
Once you’ve got your equipment, you need a couple special ingredients:
-Meat. Seems pretty self-explanatory, but not just any meat will do. Most sausages require at the very least an 80/20 ratio of meat to fat. This high fat content gives sausage its juicy interior and adds a ton of flavor (you already love pork lard, right?). For pork, the best cut of meat to use is the picnic. This part of the lower front shoulder has a ton of flavor and can usually be picked up pretty cheap. It’s also naturally right around that magic 80/20 mixture – pigs are just convenient like that.
-Casing. Nine times out of ten you want natural hog casing for sausage making. It falls right in between smaller diameter lamb casing (useful for breakfast link sized sausages) and larger diameter beef middles (good for bologna or mortadella). Check out Butcher and Packer for casings, or there’s always Amazon.
1. Trim any skin, membranes, or dried blood from your meat and cut into cubes small enough to fit easily into your grinder.
2. Spread the cubes out on a tray and place uncovered in your freezer for about 45 minutes, or as long as it takes to watch an episode of River Cottage (it’s a sausage day tradition around here, just go with it). While you’re at it, throw the hopper, dies and knives of your grinder in there too – the colder everything stays the better. At no point during this process do you want your meat to come above 40 degrees – once it gets to far into that range the meat and fat will separate and you’ll have what we in the industry call a “complete disaster.”
3. Once the meat has a crunchy exterior, without being totally frozen, you’re good to grind. Toss the cubes with your dry ingredients, assemble the grinder with the parts from the freezer and grind through once on a die of your desired coarseness. People will tell you that’s it’s important to grind into a bowl nested inside of another bowl full of ice, but they’re probably the same sort of people who file their taxes on January 1st or write everything in pencil. If the meat heating up is concern, pre-chill your metal bowl in the fridge or just work a little quicker. You can do it, I know you can.
4. Assuming everything stayed nice and cold – remember you’re shooting to keep it under 40 degrees at all times – go ahead and mix in your wet ingredients. Spend about 30-45 seconds mixing with a stiff plastic spatula (your hand will heat it up too quickly, and who wants to get the Kitchenaid out for a few pounds of sausage). If needed, pop the meat back in the fridge for 10 minutes or so.
5. Temp the meat. As long as your under 40, go ahead and run your second grind through. If it seems little warm give it a little time in the fridge. This grind will be a little tougher than the first since the meat is pretty sticky. Use the stomper that came with your grinder to clear up any clogs. Don’t use your hands, that’s a bad idea.
6. Cover the bowl and place it in fridge while you fry up a little patty of the sausage meat (uncased sausage meat is called a farce. Impress your friends with that one at your next party). Check out the texture and the flavors that are going on, and adjust accordingly. Prepare to do some stuffing.
1. Rinse the salt off of your casings and soak them in cold water for at least an hour prior to this whole sausage-making extravaganza. They’ll keep in the water for a day or two, but if you soak more than you need just pack them back in a ton of salt and use them again some other time. I usually err on the side of soaking too much, because no one wants to find themselves without a casing at that critical moment.
2. Give the inside of your stuffer a rub down with a little neutral oil and fill it with your farce. Use your hand to pack the mixture in there tightly to ensure there aren’t any air bubbles.
3. Feed the casing onto the stuffer nozzle. Lubricate with a little water if nessesary to keep it from sticking. If done correctly this will look HILARIOUS.
4. Gently crank the handle to feed the farce out through the nozzle and into the casing. Use your thumb and forefinger to pinch the casing on the nozzle and control the flow of casing. If the sausage is coming out too loose, pinch a little harder, if it’s coming out too full, release your death grip. Remember, you can always make a sausage tighter when it comes time to link, but it’s very difficult to link a sausage that starts out too tight.
5. Roll the sausage into a spiral as you stuff. This will keep it nice and organized on your work surface and allow you to get a good look at the finished product. If you see any glaringly huge air pockets prick them with a small knife or cake tester.
6. To link, knot the end of the casing and then pinch at your desired length. Once you’ve pinched to form that initial link, twist it forward a few times. Move on from that twist and repeat the process, only this time after you pinch twist it backwards – this keeps all your hard work from unravelling. Repeat this forwards/backwards pattern until you’re done.
7. Cut to separate the sausages at the site of the twist, then cook up some of those guys and savor your hard work.
And just because I wouldn’t leave you without a recipe to make using your new found sausage skills, here’s one of my favorites from my own collection:
Pork Sweet Italian
23g Black Pepper
12g Toasted Fennel
1/4 Cup Fresh Garlic
1/2 Cup White Wine (chilled)