Spring Sausage Making
In the farm-to-table experience there is often no greater activity than making sausage. The animal has been raised, slaughtered, processed, and butchered. Likely the best cuts have been reserved for Sunday's Supper, and only the odd bits remain. What better way to pay homage to the animal then to not waste a scrap. With a few key ingredients and a general understanding of the step by step process, sausage making is not only easy, but extremely gratifying. Follow these steps below as a guideline, and create your own.
Tools: scale, meat grinder, large bowl, sausage stuffer, probe thermometer (Grinder and stuffer attachments available for KitchenAid and Cuisinart stand mixers; small stand-alone grinders and stuffers can be purchased for less than $100.)
Seasoning: We prefer to use kosher salt for it's purity and texture, as well as fresh herbs and whole spices in our sausage making. We will freshly chop or grind the seasoning and add them to the cubed meat (removed of all sinew) a few hours, or up to a day, before grinding. This will ensure even distribution and enhance the overall flavor of the sausage. When following the recipe below, feel free to omit or substitute different seasonings to your taste, just ensure that the salt to meat ratio remains the same.
Chilling: It is very important in sausage making to keep the meat and fat as cold as possible to prevent the mixture from "breaking". This is when the fat and meat separate after mixing, resulting in a dry and crumbly texture when cooked. To avoid this, place the grinding equipment in the freezer for at least 30 minutes prior to grinding. Also, after adding the seasonings to your cubed meat, place in the refrigerator overnight, or in the freezer for up to one hour.
Grinding: Once your chilled grinder attachment is set up, per the manufacturer's instruction, feed the seasoned meat through the grinder. As a general rule, we send the meat through the grinder twice. Once with the large die and a second time with the smaller die, although this can vary widely from recipe to recipe. A well executed grind will extrude cleanly out of the die in a uniform texture, where the meat and fat are still distinguishable from each other. In order to keep the mixture below 40 degrees, keep everything cold and grind into a bowl over ice.
Mixing: An under-emphasized step in sausage making, also known as the "primary bind", where the seasoned and ground meat is mixed vigorously until the protein in the meat is released and becomes sticky. This is best done in a mixer with the paddle attachment, but can be done by hand with the same effect. By incorporating additional protein during the mixing stage, in this case non-fat milk powder, one can achieve a superior, smooth texture and avoid a dry, crumbly sausage.
Stuffing: Most sausage recipes will call for a natural casings. These are the lining of intestine from a sheep, hog or cow and come in a variety of sizes and lengths. When using natural casings you will need to soak them in tepid water for at least 30 minutes. Then, rinse them by holding one end open, up to a running faucet, allowing the water to pass through the casing and out the other end. Reserve in a bowl with water until ready to feed onto the stuffer tube.
This method can vary slightly depending on what type of sausage stuffer you are using. When stuffing the casings, pack the sausage mixture before feeding into stuffer to remove any air pockets. Once the mixture and casings are ready, slowly and uniformly feed the meat through the stuffer tube while holding the casings with one hand. By dictating how fast the casings are released you will be able to control how tightly filled the sausage will be. Aiming for the casings to be three-quarters full, you will have uniformly shaped links, with out causing "blow-outs" during linking.
Linking: Make sure the end is tied and measure out first link to desired length, then pinch. Fold over to measure out second link, pinch and twist. Repeat process twisting only alternate links in same direction. In picture above, only the second and fourth link were twisted in the forward direction. When links are complete, prick with a push-pin where any air pockets are visible.
See complete recipe below
A demonstration for the advanced "linker":
Yields: 24, 4 oz. sausages links
5 lb. Pork shoulder, cubed
1 lb. Pork fatback, cubed (available at JSK)
3 tbsp. Kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. Black pepper, ground
1/2 tsp. Coriander, ground
2 tsp. Garlic, minced
1 tsp. Nutmeg, ground
1/2 cup Nonfat milk powder (optional, helps bind meat)
20 ft. Hog casing, soaked in tepid water for at least 30 minutes and rinsed
1. Prior to making, place grinder attachment in freezer to chill.
2. Combine all ingredients except casings and mix thoroughly. Chill for at lest 1 hour.
3. Grind meat mixture through large die into chilled bowl. Grind the mixture again through small die.
4. Combine ground meat in bowl and mix with clean hands until mixture appears sticky.
5. Using stuffer attachment, fill hog casing with meat mixture, being careful not to over stuff. Measure desired length and pinch sausage at both ends and twist 2-3 times (see photos). Hang to dry 2-3 hours before snipping links.
6. Sear 2-3 sausages in hot skillet (with butter, garlic, and fresh thyme if desired) until probe thermometer reaches 145 degrees. Serve as desired.