In recent years, I have become fascinated with the idea of homemade sausage. I appreciate how varied and different sausages are from around the world. Sausage for all of it’s complexity in flavor and texture is essentially one of the most basic foods that we have been eating for thousands of years. Sausage was the process in which all of the edible parts of the animal were utilized.
I realized that most mass produced sausage although acceptable, is inferior to sausage that is made in small shops and by artisans. The difficulty with purchasing handcrafted sausage from a specialty shop is that the price can be expensive and dependent upon the focus of the shop, the offering of handmade sausages limited to a specific region or ethnicity. That is not to say that it is not worth the expense and experimentation, but it does raise the question of whether or not there is an alternative?
Interestingly enough, I come from a family of butchers. Granted, it was my grandfather’s generation in which the profession ended, but there are the stories and memories. I was raised eating sausages; Italian sausages grilled with peppers, Kielbasa baked for dinner, Liverwurst sandwiches with sliced onions, hard air dried Salamis hand sliced, Scrapple for breakfast given that I was raised in northern Delaware and even Kishka with scrambled eggs during the holidays when my Polish relatives would bring it to us from northern New Jersey.
In retrospect, it was inevitable that my love for sausages, combined with my experiences in food processing plants where I learned how meat is processed into sausages, hot dogs, ground beef and deli meats would culminate in the need to make homemade sausage. It was not until my wife purchased the sausage stuffer attachment for the Kitchen Aid did this unrealized curiosity have the opportunity to be fulfilled.
In the last few months I have learned a few things about making sausages.
- Regardless of how much research from books, the internet and on-line videos, nothing replaces hands on experience of actually performing each step of the process.
- The process of making sausage is not necessarily labor intensive, but you do need to set aside a couple of uninterrupted hours to complete the activity.
- There is a big difference between making 4 pounds of sausage and 24 pounds of sausage at one time. The right amount to make once you have reasonably mastered the process is an amount somewhere between these two weights.
- You are constantly looking for grocery store sales of pork. In my opinion, in 2012, pork priced at US $2.00 / Pound or less is a great deal. Vacuumed packed pork loins can be stored in the freezer until you are ready to make sausage.
- Conventional wisdom says for Pork to use a Boston Butt, but personal preference is more important. The sausage grinder attachment blade for the Kitchen Aid must be regularly cleaned of connective tissue when using a Pork Butt. Therefore, I stick with Pork Loin and add Pork Fat Trimming (sourced from the butcher or a Hispanic grocery store).
- Trust the recipe you are using and take notes after eating the sausage. You can always make adjustments to a recipe after you have cooked and tasted the first batch. One thought is to pan fry a small patty of the sausage mixture prior to stuffing to determine if any adjustments are needed in the seasoning and salt.
- Do not be afraid to experiment with a different recipe / flavor. Most recipes can be cut down to 2 pounds. Aside from the cost of the pork and seasoning, what is the cost of failure?
- There is something inherently beautiful about sausage stuffed into natural casings. The use of natural casings (cleaned intestines) is very satisfying and is infinitely more authentic.
- Accept the limitations of the kitchen and realize that air cured and smoke cured sausages are probably out of the scope of your initial capabilities.
- Grinding your own meat provides greater control of coarseness and fat content. Pork fat provides flavor and assists in keeping the sausage moist. With that being said, what is the correct ratio of lean to fat for a sausage? Commercially produced sausage by law is allowed 30% – 50% fat in the United States dependent upon the type of sausage being produced. I have found that about 25%-30% fat provides the best balance for flavoring and keeping the meat moist. Since most Pork Tenderloins are trimmed of excess fat, I find that a ratio of 3 Pounds of Pork Loin to 1 Pound of Pork Fat Trimmings when grinding the meat provides the best balance.
- Although it is possible to stuff the casings by yourself, the process is simplified and much easier with a partner. I have found that an enthusiastic friend will be more then willing to assist if you provide them with a portion of the sausage that has been made.
- Most importantly, making sausages is about having fun, perpetuating an profession that goes back thousands of years and provides a high degree of satisfaction when you take that first bite of homemade sausage.
The varieties and types of sausage is limitless, Whether it is the replication of an Italian sausage recipe, your Grandmother’s Bratwurst, the craving of Bangers from a visit to Britain, or used in bulk to make homemade sausage patties, sausage gravy or breakfast sausage, the process of making your own sausage at home in the kitchen provide endless opportunities to enjoy. I love the aroma that fills the kitchen or back yard when sausage is being cooked. Fennel, garlic, black pepper and the endless variety of exotic spices and herbs provide wonderful aromatics when grilled, baked, pan fried or simmered in a sauce. Making your own sausage and then taking a bite of that sausage is truly a satisfying experience.