Even though I try to limit my intake, I absolutely love sausage. My husband says it must be my German heritage coming through. I am not sure about that but there are not many sausages that I don’t enjoy eating. Because of that, I always think I should be spending more time making sausages at home. Making your own sausage can be fun but there is quite a bit to think about. That is the subject of this Cooking Tip. This will be more of an overview of sausage making. If you intend to become serious about making sausage, I would recommend investing in some books by experts.
You may first ask Why would I want to make my own sausages? Other than the satisfaction of trying and successfully learning a new skill, you know what exactly is in those sausages you are eating. Also, you can control the fat content to what you like. Finally, you can be creative and come up with your own flavors that you cannot buy in the store. Read on for what equipment and ingredients you will need as well as an outline of the actual process.
- Meat grinder
- This is not absolutely necessary but you will obtain a much better texture by using one. You can get a stand-alone meat grinder or an attachment for your stand mixer.
- You can use a food processor but be careful that it doesn’t heat up the meat too much. Also, because of the final texture of the product, this method is better suited for patties rather than the links that are produced by stuffing the meat into casings.
- You will want one to hold the meat and a larger one that will be filled with ice that you can place the smaller one into. It is important to keep everything very cold.
- Sausage stuffer
- Unless you want to just make a patty shape, you will need a sausage stuffer. Once again, there are stand-alone stuffers but there is also an attachment for your stand mixer.
- Pricking tool
- Used to remove air bubbles. You may also use a small sterilized skewer or needle.
- Food scale, preferably one that weighs in grams.
- Food thermometer – to ensure the sausage is cooked to a safe temperature.
- Although pork is the most common, sausages can also be made with chicken, beef, lamb, goat, game meat and seafood. You can also make vegetarian sausages.
- You want an ideal balance of lean meat, fat and liquid. Too little fat and you get a dry sausage. Too much fat and it will be greasy. This can vary based on personal preference but a good place to start is 75% lean and 25% fat. The final sausage should also contain about 10% water.
- If using pork many experts use pork butt but others use pork shoulder.
- Added fat
- You do not always need to add fat but, at times, your recipe will specify this to ensure the correct ratio.
- What is often recommended is “back-fat”, a solid fat that comes from along the back of the animal. However, belly fat will also work.
- Some recipes will specify some sort of filler that acts as a binder.
- It might be bread, rice or something known as “rusk” — a non-yeasted hard bread.
- This is not a time you want to “wing it” with the salt as it is essential for a number of reasons. First is its role in bringing out flavor. It also helps to discourage microbial growth. Finally, it aids in the final texture and ability to bind.
- Experts vary a bit on how much salt to use. They recommend anywhere between 1½% to 3% with most advising 2%.
- Another piece of salting advice is to salt the meat up to 8 hours before grinding. In testing, this resulted in juicier meat.
- Other seasonings
- Although salt is essential, the other spices are up to you.
- Curing agents
- If you wish to make dried or semi-dried sausages, you should read up on curing agents like Prague Powder or Morton’s Tender Quick mix. These contain potassium nitrate.
- Sausage casings
- These are not required if you wish to make patty-shaped sausages but you will need them for the rope-like shape.
- First, I highly recommend you wear gloves, especially for the mixing and stuffing part.
- This is also a time to be very organized and have all your equipment and ingredients gathered together and ready to go.
- One of the most important pieces of advice is the importance of always keeping everything cold.
- Cut the meat into cubes. To make this easier, you may want to put the meat into the freezer for a short time before cutting it and again afterwards to ensure it is easy to grind. Chilling also helps to counter the heat that will be created by the grinding process. After cubing, spread out on a baking sheet and freeze for 30-60 minutes, until the surface of the meat feels crunchy but it is not frozen solid.
- Place in grinder and grind with the recommended grind plate. Catch the meat in a bowl placed over another bowl that has been filled with ice.
- Season the meat and knead together for about 5 minutes. There are those who prefer to season the cubed meat before grinding. If you do this, put the seasoned meat into the refrigerator for 2-4 hours before grinding for the best flavor.
- The mixture warms as you knead it, which helps with emulsification. When properly mixed, it will look homogenous, will feel like a paste and will start to stick to the bowl. Some recommend putting a small amount in the palm of your hand, turning your hand over. If the meat sticks to your hand, it has been properly mixed. This is the point when you would fold in any ingredients such as bacon, nuts or dried fruit.
- To test whether the seasoning is to your liking, fry a small amount and taste, adjusting the seasonings as you desire. This process of frying a small amount can also help you evaluate its texture. If it is crumbly and releasing fat as it cooks, it needs more mixing. When done, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate again.
- Stuff the casings, if using. Follow the instructions on your machine for this step. Realize that it will take some practice before you get good at it. Once you are skilled at this, you probably will be able to twist the sausages into links as they are coming off the stuffer. However, there is nothing wrong with just stuffing a longer link and tying off the end. Then, twist the length you want in one direction and the next one in the opposite direction until all the links are formed.
- After stuffing the sausage into the casings, look for any air bubbles and prick them with a small sterilized skewer, needle or pricking tool.
- Finally, either cook them to enjoy for your dinner or freeze them for future use.
As I mentioned in the beginning, this is just a short primer to help you decide if you want to venture into the world of making your own sausage. If you do, I would seek out some books on sausage making for more detailed instructions. I like the book Sausage Making by Ryan Farr for the great description and photographs of the actual process. I am not a fan of many of the recipes but there are many other sources for those.
There are so many different types of sausage to try to make, or buy if you prefer. Stay tuned for the next Cooking Tip for a primer on all the sausages there are out there to enjoy.