One effect of our recent foray into Julia Child videos was an inspiration to try home sausage making. Her episode on the subject clearly laid out the basic points, and make it clear we could do this. I also turned to Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie, which does an excellent job of providing both clear instruction, useful background information, and specific explanations of key techniques like keeping all equipment and meat as cold as possible (for reasons of quality, to keep the fat from separating) and the proper and improper ways to cook a well-made sausage.
You can find lots on sausage making online, and I don’t need to reinvent the wheel with a full set of instructions or definitions. What I do want to do is share a few things we tried and learned in our specific setting.
Meat/fat ratio: You have to have some good fat to make good sausage. Ruhlman suggests 5lb of fatty meat, or 4lb lean meat to 1lb fat. We were using our venison, and went with 3lb lean venison to 1lb raw (uncured) Organic pork belly from JJR Farms, from the Columbia Farmers Market. That combination worked perfectly. We violated our rule about not buying meat off-farm, but the quality of the sausage is worth it in this case (goat and deer fat just won’t cut it for sausage making. One more reason to start raising hogs here…).
Spicing: After perusing all the different recipes in Ruhlman, I decided to adapt his spice mix for proper Peperone, as I wanted a spicy sausage and Joanna wanted fennel. So I used hot peppers, allspice, fennel, and paprika in Ruhlman’s ratios (adjusted for 1lb less meat).
Chilling: We kept everything very cold, per Ruhlman’s strenuous insistence, and it worked great. I stuck all the equipment and bowls in the fridge for a long time, and had the meat half-frozen. If the meat you’re using is frozen, overnight in the fridge thaws it perfectly to the consistency of a hard potato; cuttable but not slippery. The quality was very good and the fat stayed bound with the meat.
Grinding: With all the meat cut into 1″ dice, grinding went very quickly with our electric grinder.
Stuffing: We were fortunate enough to be given a set of casings by a chef friend whom we’d told about this initial experiment, and they worked great. We don’t have a stuffing attachment for our grinder (that will be remedied), so I stuffed the casings by hand, using these basic kitchen tools:
These are a funnel with a narrow attachment, and the plunger from our meat grinder. I was able to slide about 2-3′ of casing at a time onto the nozzle of the funnel, then held the funnel with one hand while stuffing ground meat into it and pushing it down with the other. I couldn’t feel my hands by the end, with the cold meat and metal. This method doesn’t give you enough pressure to fully pack the casings on the first try, so when I’d filled most of it, I slid the casing off, tied one end, and gently worked the meat fully into the casing by squeezing slowly at the open end and working up. You have to be gentle, as you’re creating pressure in the casing to force the meat in, and I broke a couple. But it works well, and then I would slide the open end back on the funnel and stuff some more, then repeat. Overall, it probably took me about an hour to stuff 4lb of meat into the casings. I also did one big, round sausage wrapped in cheesecloth, a Julia Child idea for those who don’t have or want to use casings.
Preservation: We froze all the sausage, as I didn’t want to mess with smoking and aging on the first try. We ended up with a gallon bag full of 6-8″, fat links, plus the big log in cheesecloth. Pulling these from the freezer and cooking as needed has worked great.
Cooking: Another area where Ruhlman’s advice really comes in handy. He gives very specific instructions for properly cooking sausage, arguing that it should be treated like a high-end cut of meat and cooked slowly and gently, not fried over high heat as the standard American way is. After doing it his way, I would have to agree. We’ve slow-cooked several over low heat, turning occasionally, and gotten a very tender, juicy, evenly cooked sausage that is nothing like the blistered, blackened hot dogs I remember cooking long ago. We’ve also tossed chunks into soups, and added it to fresh calzones and pizzas, all with fantastic results.
Taste: This stuff is amazing. I’m going to need to try many different recipes, but for a first try it’s delicious, and those we’ve shared it with have agreed. It’s really not hard to do at home, and is well worth a try.