|Issue #95 • September/October, 2005|
While most folks in my neck of the woods are busy barbecuing during the last leg of summer, my thoughts are wistfully drifting to autumn and the brand new hunting season it’s about to bring. It’s round about this time of year when lingering whiffs of smoke whet my appetite for a feed of delicious homemade sausages, and I can’t think of a better time to free-up the freezer in anticipation of another lucky season. Turning game meats or domestic buys that are about to expire their prime frozen shelf life into an array of spicy, mouthwatering sausages is an excellent way of putting old trophies to good use.
Sausage making is a rewarding Old World craft that has been made easy by modern day contraptions like electric meat grinders, kitchen scales, portable smokehouses, and the wonderful convenience of readily available casings, premixed cures, and seasoning kits.
There are two main categories of sausages—fresh and cured. Fresh types must be cooked prior to eating and are usually commercially sold in casings but when made at home are often formed into patties and conveniently fried like traditional hamburgers. Fresh sausages will keep in the refrigerator for up to about a week, after which time they must be frozen for safe keeping.
Cured sausages are drier types made out of meat that has been cured by methods used for centuries as practical ways of preserving meat before days of refrigeration. Such methods include the use of salt, fermentation, drying, and smoking which renders sausages that will keep indefinitely when hung at pantry temperature.
One of the most confusing aspects of sausage making is the topic of cures. In earlier times, meat was cured with plain table salt and some old diehards like myself still use heirloom recipes with success. However, novice home sausage makers today have the option of using premixed cures and binder mixes that contain sodium nitrite, a chemical agent that safeguards against the growth of organisms that can cause sausages to go bad. Commercial cures can be bought at meat shops, larger grocery stores, and from sausage making suppliers. Using such mixes will take the mystery out of curing and ensure success, especially for beginners.
The basic ingredient for tasty sausages is good meat. Now that doesn’t mean that you have to grind up choice cuts like sirloin or top round, which I find are usually long gone by the time my sausage making season rolls around, but you must use meat that is in good condition. If your cuts are starting to show signs of frost bite, be sure to trim it off and discard. Properly wrapped meat will last for up to two years in the deep freeze, but I like to use mine up before it has a chance to get nipped.
Since I find the less desirable cuts are always the last to go, these are what gets made into my sausages. Trimmings from ribs, meat off shanks, flanks, stew, and ground are ideal choices for sausages, and you can use moose, deer, beef, pork, or mix and match any game or domestic meats you wish.
In the olden days, traditional or natural casings (obtained from pork, sheep, or calf intestines) had to be hand cleaned after the animal was slaughtered, and this, I can vouch, is no easy task. Today, gut casings can be bought salted or brined and need only to be soaked to remove salt before using. They are most commonly obtained from pork and sold by the “hank,” which is a bundle that will do about a hundred pounds of sausages, but you should be able to buy a half or quarter pack. Leftovers can be salted back down and saved over and over for future use, so don’t fret if you have to buy more than you think you are going to need for one recipe.
I prefer pig casings for my sausages, but there are other choices like collagen casings, which are made out of a secondary layer of cattle hide, and man-made casings made out of cellulose, muslin, or other synthetic, non-edible materials. Casings come in various sizes to accommodate pepperoni-to-bologna sized sausages and can be bought at butcher shops or from specialty suppliers.
Because game meats are very lean and good sausages must contain some fat content, it is necessary to add pork or beef fat when using game or lean meats in sausage recipes. I find fat trimmed from pork butt is a good pick, and ratios can vary according to liking and type of sausage, anywhere from one third to fifty percent fat. Trial and error is the only way to perfect sausages to suit your own taste.
There are two ways of adding spices. One is to spice the cubes of meat before grinding, which allows the spices to be ground evenly into meat. The other is to add spices to meat after it has been ground and work it through with hands. I follow the second method. Either way, the spices must be evenly distributed.
First and foremost, keep a clean, cool workplace. Assemble everything needed and have scalding water ready for rinsing tools. Meat must be thoroughly thawed before making into sausages so take it out of the freezer beforehand. Once thawed, keep in refrigerator until ready to use. Weigh on kitchen scale. Cut meat into cubes that will fit into the funnel of your grinder. Grind and refrigerate or hold over ice. I usually work in 25-pound batches, but when making a proven sausage you fancy, you can double up if you wish.
Spicy fresh sausages: This is a basic recipe for fresh sausages that must be cooked before eating. They will keep refrigerated for up to about a week and then must be frozen for safekeeping.
20 pounds lean meat (moose, deer, beef, or mix and match…using what’s available in your freezer)
5 pounds pork fat (if you want moister, juicer sausages, increase fat and decrease lean accordingly)
½ cup salt
8 Tbsp. fresh-ground black pepper
6 tsp. cayenne pepper (more, less, or none to suit taste; I like mine hot)
3 Tbsp. rubbed sage
2 Tbsp. ground thyme
3 tsp. marjoram
7 Tbsp. garlic granules or garlic powder
optional spices: nutmeg, ginger, mace or anything that tickles your fancy. A tip on spicing: after adding suggested amount, fry a marble-sized ball of meat and taste. Adjust seasoning, if needed.
about 12 to 15 yards of natural sausage casings (or omit casing and form into patties with hands)
Cut lean meat and fat into workable cubes and grind coarsely using recommended plate for your grinder. Mix seasoning together in bowl and sprinkle evenly over meat. Using hands, lightly but thoroughly work spices through meat. Regrind through a finer sausage plate. Form sausage meat into patties or stuff into casings. If using natural, salted down casings, rinse under cold running water to remove all traces of salt. Follow package directions for other types of casings.
Slide casing onto stuffing nozzle, tie knot at end of casing, and push sausage meat through the hopper according to your manual, twisting into 6-inch links or desired length. Put the sausages into the refrigerator and allow to meld for at least eight hours before cooking. These sausages must be frozen after about a week in the fridge, but they’re so good they’ll be gone before you know it.
Cased sausages can be fried, baked, barbecued, or broiled. Patties can be served burger fashion or crumbled and used in spaghetti or lasagna sauce, chili-con-carne, pizza topping, or any recipe calling for spicy ground meat.
Smoked trophy sausages:
20 pounds lean meat (again, use what you have available)
5 pounds pork or beef fat (I prefer pork fat as it doesn’t overpower)
1 cup of salt
½ cup sugar
7 Tbsp. fresh-ground black pepper
8 Tbsp. garlic granules or powder
4 Tbsp. crushed chili peppers or cayenne (more or less to suit taste)
14 Tbsp. sweet paprika
2 Tbsp. ground mustard seed
3 Tbsp. coriander seed
3 tsp. ground cardamom
about 12 to 15 yards of natural casings
Cut the meat and fat into workable cubes and grind coarsely. Mix the remaining ingredients, except casings, and sprinkle over the meat. Mix by hand until well distributed. Re-grind through a medium-sized sausage plate. Stuff into prepared casings, as above. Allow to cure under refrigeration for 24 hours. Put in the smokehouse and smoke according to your manual. Immediately after removing from the smoker, shower the sausages with cold water to cool them down. These sausages will keep indefinitely when hung at cool pantry temperature, but it is advisable to keep them under refrigeration for long-term storage.
1 Tbsp. oil
3 or 4 coils of spicy smoked sausages, cut into ¼-inch slices
3 chopped onions
1 chopped green pepper
2 or 3 finely chopped hot chili peppers
2 gloves minced garlic
1 Tbsp. sweet red paprika
3 chopped tomatoes
1 cup water
Heat the oil in a skillet. Lightly brown the sausage. Add the onions, peppers, and garlic and sauté until the vegetables are soft. Add the paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir until the paprika is absorbed. Add the tomatoes and about one cup of water. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Serve with crusty bread or fluffy rice. This goes great with a glass of red wine—Egri Bikaver from Hungary is my pick.