Plain Jane Garlic Sausage

It recently dawned on me that I don’t have any sausage recipes on this site.  Which is crazy.  So I’m going to post a bunch.  For details on procedure and technique, I have two posts linked below.  Also… I happen to be teaching a sausage-making class for Metro Continuing Education on October 19, 2016.

 

A plate of sausage, toast, apple sauce, and braised red cabbage.This simple sausage goes by many names in my house, among them “everyday sausage”, “plain Jane”, and occasionally “garlic brat”, though it is not a bratwurst in the strictest sense.[1]

I wanted a relatively neutral sausage that would go well with most of the food I cook at home, which I would describe as North American farmstead with a serious central/eastern European slant.  So instead of making ten different types of sausage each year, I could make one or two and have all my bases covered.  This sausage is most often eaten on a bun, or with Austrian potato salad, or other simple plates like the one at left.

The predominant flavours in this recipe are pork, garlic, and black pepper, with some secondary, supporting flavours in the background.  Since I so often eat my sausages with something from the mustard family (prepared mustard and cabbage, especially) there is a touch of mustard powder in the recipe.  There is also a hint of cayenne pepper, enough to warm the palate and reinforce the black pepper, but not enough to make this a “spicy” sausage.

My ideal texture for this sausage is achieved by what I call the “lazy brat” method.  All the meat is ground through a 3/16″ plate, then a portion of the meat, anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2, is set aside, and the remaining meat is ground a second time.  Then all the meat is re-combined for the mixing process.

Here’s the detailed recipe.

 

Plain Jane Garlic Sausage
your everyday sausage

Ingredients

  • 2 kgs pork butt, boneless and skinless, but with entire fat cap (about 1.5″ thick)
  • 33 g kosher salt
  • 40 g fresh garlic, minced fine
  • 6 g black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 10 g mustard powder
  • 2.8 g cayenne
  • 200 mL ice-cold water
  • about 10′ hog casing

Procedure

  1. Chill the pork butt thoroughly by spreading it out on a sheet tray lined with parchment and storing in the freezer.  The meat should be slightly crunchy on the exterior, but not frozen solid, and still with some give.
  2. Grind the meat through a 3/16″ plate.  Set aside about 1/3 of the ground meat.
  3. Re-chill the remaining 2/3 ground meat as described in step 1.
  4. Grind the chilled 2/3 meat through a 3/16″ plate a second time.
  5. Re-combine all the ground meat.  Add the remaining ingredients (except the casings…) to the bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix with the paddle attachment for 90 seconds on a medium speed, then 30 seconds on a medium-high speed.
  6. Fry a small piece of the mixture in a pan.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  7. Stuff into hog casings.
  8. Twist into 6″ links.
  9. Poach until the meat is just cooked, reaching an internal temperature of 150°F.  Transfer the links to an ice bath to arrest cooking.
  10. Let links dry thoroughly.

Yield: about 20 x 6″ links

 

 

Footnotes

  1. It’s a common misconception that bratwurst are so-called because they are fresh sausages that are pan-fried.  “Brat” does happen to mean roast, or fry, as in Schweinsbraten (roast pork), but that is a coincidence.  A true bratwurst is made with a fine-textured emulsified mass called a “brat”, which is studded with small chunks of chopped or coarsely ground meat.

Breakfast Sausage

It recently dawned on me that I don’t have any sausage recipes on this site.  Which is crazy.  So I’m going to post a bunch.  For details on procedure and technique, I have two posts linked below.  Also… I happen to be teaching a sausage-making class for Metro Continuing Education on October 19, 2016.

 

Breakfast sausages frying on a griddle.I wanted to create an artisan version of the little sausages you get at dive-y breakfast institutions like the Commodore.  The kind of diners that that pour you bad coffee all morning.

North American breakfast sausage is usually made entirely of pork.  It is ground quite fine and mixed to emulsify so that it has a very delicate texture.  It is often flavoured with sage and other versatile herbs.  And, most characteristically, the links are narrow and short compared to, say a smoky or even a hot dog.

For my fancy breakfast sausage I use pork butt with all of the 1.5″ fat cap.  It is flavoured with both fresh and dried sage.  I find you have to add a prohibitively expensive amount of fresh herbs to get the flavour to come through in a sausage.  And to amp the fancy-factor up a notch I use orange zest and ginger.

I double-grind the meat for delicate texture.  That’s two passes through a 3/16″ plate.

And finally to get the narrow diameter characteristic of breakfast sausage I use lamb casings.  Being lamb, these are a bit expensive, but they’re essential here.  I twist the links into 4″ lengths.

A detailed recipe follows.

 

Breakfast Sausage
with sage, ginger, and orange

Ingredients

  • 2 kgs pork butt, boneless and skinless, but with entire fat cap (about 1.5″ thick)
  • 40 g kosher salt
  • 44 g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1.6 g dried sage
  • 18 g fresh sage, chopped
  • 47 g fresh garlic, minced fine
  • 5.4 g black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 22 g orange zest (I use a packaged orange zest made by The Perfect Purée)
  • 222 mL ice-cold water
  • about 2 m lamb casing

Procedure

  1. Chill the pork butt thoroughly by spreading it out on a sheet tray lined with parchment and storing in the freezer.  The meat should be slightly crunchy on the exterior, but not frozen solid, and still with some give.
  2. Grind the meat through a 3/16″ plate.
  3. Re-chill the ground meat as described in step 1.
  4. Grind the meat through a 3/16″ plate a second time.
  5. Add the remaining ingredients (except the casings…) to the bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix with the paddle attachment for 90 seconds on a medium speed, then 30 seconds on a medium-high speed.
  6. Fry a small piece of the mixture in a pan.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  7. Stuff into lamb casings.
  8. Twist into 4″ links.
  9. Poach until the meat is just cooked, reaching an internal temperature of 150°F.  Transfer the links to an ice bath to arrest cooking.
  10. Let links dry thoroughly.

Yield: about 35 x 4″ links

A plate with breakfast sausage, fried eggs, and toast.

Blunz’n – Austrian Blood Sausage

A healthy portion of Blunz'n at an Austrian heurigerWhen I first had Blunz’n at a tavern in Austria I had a very narrow idea of what blood sausage was.  Most of the blood sausage I had eaten before this moment I had made myself, following recipes in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie and the Au Pied de Cochon cookbook.  These versions are simply pork blood studded with cubes of pork fat and onion.  The Austrian Blunz’n before me was radically different: it was soft and moist, but closer in texture to a dumpling then boudin noir, and it was burgundy, not black.

Before I left Austria I got a Blunz’n recipe from one of my chaperones.  I read through the recipe and thought there must have been some kind of miscommunication, as the ingredients list include “cracklings” and “pig head”.

Since then I have done a bit of reading, and Blunz’n is actually one incarnation of a broad style of blood sausages, variously called pressack, boudin, and so on.  What is distinctive about this style is the inclusion of cooked meat and skin, usually from the head and trotters of the pig, that are ground or pulled and mixed into the sausage filling.  The meat adds flavour and texture, and the skin a healthy dose of gelatin that helps to bind the interior.  This is the “crackling” that was in my recipe that I found so confusing: not the crispy pig skin that North Americans are familiar with, but soft, poached pig skin.

While the meat and skin from the head are traditional, truthfully any fatty, slow-cooked meat can be used.  One of the best blood sausages I ever had was made from leftover corned beef and beef blood.

Some manner of starch is added to the meat and skin, the exact ingredients varying widely from region to region and from house to house.  Whole grains like barley and buckwheat are common.  I was told that in Hungary they use rice.  Where I was staying, in the grenzland between Lower Austria and Styria, they use stale bread.

Everything is combined and run through a grinder.  The nexus of protein and starch, a strange but comforting unity of meat and dumpling.

 

Blunz’n – Austrian Blood Sausage – The Skeleton of a Recipe

  • 1 part minced, sauteed onion
  • 1 part bread
  • 1 part pork stock or milk
  • 3 parts cooked, chilled meat and skin
  • 1 part pork blood
  • salt and spices to taste

General Procedure

  1. Soak the bread in the stock or milk.
  2. Combine the soaked bread, onion, meat and skin and grind through a 1/4″ plate.
  3. Stir in blood to achieve a mashed potato consistency.
  4. Stuff the mixture into a broad casing (2-3″ in diameter) and poach gently to an internal temperature about 72°C.
  5. Let chill overnight before cutting.

Homemade blunz'n, Austrian blood sausage

 

 

Leberkäse

Loaves of Leberkäse Leberkäse is an emulsified sausage mixture that is shaped into a block, baked, and sliced to order.  Picture hot dog filling, only instead of stuffed into casings it’s packed into a loaf pan.

Yes: a hot dog terrine.

For the record the name literally means “liver cheese,” but usually contains neither liver nor cheese.  There is, however, a preparation called Käseleberkäse, which is Leberkäse studded with cubes of cheese in the style of a Käsekrainer.

Where would you eat Leberkäse?  Austria and Bavaria, for starters.  More specifically sausage stands, beer gardens, grocery stores, and any other place that might hot-hold food for quick service.  The loaves are baked till they have a brown, crusty top, then kept under a heat lamp until ordered, at which time a half inch slab is sliced from the end.  Leberkäse is commonly served in a kaiser roll with mustard or mayonnaise.

I didn’t return from Austria with an authentic Leberkäse recipe, but the flavour and texture of the dish reminded me so much of North American hot dogs that I have developed my own formula from a standard hot dog recipe.  The main departure is that I substitute a small amount of the beef shortrib with pork shoulder, and add a healthy dose of sautéed onion to the mix.  And of course it’s baked as a loaf.

For meals at home I slice slabs from the baked, chilled loaf, then sear them on a griddle and eat them on a crusty kaisersemmel.  Think fried baloney sandwiches.

leberkaese_plate.JPG

 

Leberkäse

Ingredient Percent (%) for 5 kg (g)  
beef shortrib 66.7 3335
pork shoulder 33.3 1665
kosher salt 1.20 60
curing salt 0.578 29
water 20.0 1000
mustard powder 0.711 36
paprika 0.489 24
coriander 0.222 11
garlic, minced 1.422 71
black pepper 0.178 9
corn syrup 2.400 120
sautéed onion 10.0 500

Procedure

  1. Combine the beef, pork, kosher salt, curing salt, and water.  Mix briefly, then cover tightly and let stand in the fridge for 48 hours.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients.  Chill thoroughly and grind through a 1/4″ plate.  (See this post for details on grinding technique.  Properly chilling the meat is especially important for emulsified sausages such as Leberkase.)
  3. Chill thoroughly and grind through a 1/4″ plate for a second time.
  4. Chill thoroughly and blitz in a food processor in small batches until mixture is a uniform paste.
  5. Line loaf pans with parchment.  Bring a pot of water to the boil.
  6. Pack the meat paste into the loaf pans.  Cover with foil.  Cook in a water bath until an internal temperature of 150°F is reached.

Intermediate Sausage-Making

After this year’s Eat Alberta conference, I had a few people ask me about giving some kind of “advanced” sausage-making class.  I wouldn’t consider myself an expert sausagemaker, but at Nomad I got to make them almost every week, so I picked up lots of tricks.  I thought I’d compile some of those ideas in this post.

The following are notes on refining ingredients and techniques to better tailor your sausages to your liking.

 

Ingredients: The Meat and Fat

Every book on sausage-making says pretty much the same thing: use shoulder.  Maybe jowl, maybe belly, and maybe a bit of trim from around the carcass, but shoulder is the undisputed sausage-making cut.  The reasons are this:

  • it generally contains roughly the right ratio of meat to fat
  • it is a tough cut, high in connective tissue.  This means firstly that it is less suited to quick, dry heat methods of cooking (though that is debatable…) but also that when it is ground and cooked it is especially moist and flavourful
  • it is cheap

You won’t go wrong using shoulder in your sausages.  However, and this is a big “however”, besides being the best sausage mix, pork shoulder also makes the best pulled pork.  It makes the best potted pork.  And the best roast, the best ham, and pretty much the best anything, except bacon.  If I only buy one side of pork a year, and I want to be able to make pulled pork and terrines and roasts, I can’t afford to grind the whole shoulder for sausages.

With that in mind, I’ve started using leg meat in conjunction with fatback.  Leg meat is kind of in between loin and shoulder in many respects: it has more fat marbling through the muscles and more connective tissue than the loin.  According the Heston Blumenthal, using leg meat also “boost[s] juiciness because the muscle structure there is better at retaining moisture than other parts of the animal.”[1]

Grinding

I think this was adequately stressed in the  Introduction, but I’ll say it again: grinding properly chilled meat with sharp blades is the single most important thing you can do to make a good sausage.  Moving on.

Equipment.  Increasingly I’ve been using a BakeMax meat grinder.  I still think the Kitchen-Aid grinder attachment is a great investment for people starting out in sausage-making, but  with the amount of links I make every year, I’ve pretty much destroyed the motor on my mixer.  There are clear advantages to having the stand alone grinder, if you can justify the cost.

One note on the construction of the grinder housing that took me a few batches to figure out.  At the very bottom of the picture below you can see a small pin.

The grinder body, with the pin that holds the grinder plate in place

That pin fits into a hole on the grinder plate, holding the plate in place relative to the housing, while the worm and blade turn within.

The grinder body and plate

After extensive use that pin might start to slide back.  Then the plate will not be held in place, and will turn with the worm and blade.  This results is the worst grind I’ve ever seen.  It’s very apparent that something is wrong, but it took me ages to figure out how to fix it.

There is a hole on the other side from which the pin will start to poke out.  The pin can be hammered back into place.

The other side of the pin hole

Ingredients: Seasoning and Flavours

Why I almost always put a bit of curing salt in my sausages:

  • improves colour,
  • changes flavour,
  • I can hang my sausages properly (see below for a full explanation of why I think this is important), and
  • I can cold smoke my sausages if I so choose.

For a full explanation of curing salt, see this post.

As for spices: always start with whole spices, and always toast the whole spices briefly before grinding or crushing them.  To do this, set a heavy pan over medium-high heat.  Add the spices to the dry pan (ie. no oil…).  Shake the pan gently so that the spices get even exposure to the heat.  Most spices will start to crackle and pop.  Once you can plainly smell the aroma of the spice you are toasting, remove it from the pan.

Recipes v. Formulae

I never say to myself, “Today I will make 5 kilos of sausage.”  More likely, I cut up a pig, then say, “I’m going to make sausage from this hunk of meat, these hunks of fat, and all these bits of trim.”  Then I weight all those items and that’s how much sausage I make.  As such I’ve started writing out my sausage recipes in a new format.  Instead of a recipe that calls for x kilos of pork and y grams of salt, I use something called a baker’s formula.  The weight of meat and fat are allocated 100%, and each of the other ingredients are represented as percentages, by weight of the meat and fat.  Here’s and example:

Basic Garlic Sausage

  • 100% pork and fat
  • 1.640% kosher salt
  • 0.150% curing salt
  • 0.799% garlic, minced
  • 0.225% black pepper

If after meat-cutting I’m left with 4268 g of meat and fat that will become sausages, I’ll need (4268 g x 0.01640) = 70 g of kosher salt.

If you are using the same recipe often, you can easily make an Excel spreadsheet into which you add the quantity of meat and fat, and all the other relative values fill themselves in.

Mixing

In Introduction to Sausage-Making I defined sausages as ground meat, usually stuffed into casings.  I say “usually in casing”s to accomodate the various sausages patties, sausages en crepinette, and loose sausages.

Since I go out of my way to include patties in the sausages family, people invariably ask: are hamburgers, then, being ground meat, technically a sausage?  The answer is a resolute “no.”

True hamburgers are not mixed, and therefore have a very different mouthfeel than sausages.  While the texture of sausages is cohesive and springy, “the gently gathered ground beef in a good hamburger has a delicate quality quite unlike even a tender steak” (Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking).  For more discussion on the loose amalgamation that is a proper hamburger, see my post from this past summer: Burger Freak-Out.

(As a sidenote: to my mind Harvey’s “hamburgers” are actually sausages, because they have clearly been mixed, and have a firm, springy texture!)

Now that we are intermediate sausage-makers I must make our definition of sausages more precise.  Sausages are ground meat that has been mixed to develop a cohesive texture, then usually stuffed into casings.

Stuffing

Natural casings are actually only one of several coaxial layers that make up the pig’s small intestine.  It’s called the submucosa.  It is surrounded by networks of blood vessels and nerves and all kinds of other stuff.

Every so often I’ll be stuffing forcemeat into natural casings and I’ll notice that the surfaces are absolutely covered in tiny ganglia.  I use the term as a descriptor, not an anatomical sense.

A hog casing ganglion!

To me these are a imperfections.  Entirely aesthetic, but imperfections nonetheless.

You can pick them off, though that would be tedious.  As further evidence that God wants us to make sausages, you can easily turn casings inside out so that these unsightly ganglia are on the inside, next to the meat.

Simply turn one end of the length of casing inside out, then feed it onto a faucet.  Start running cold water, and the weight of the water will actually pull the casing through itself.  That isn’t a great explanation.  Hopefully the picture below offers some clarification.

Turning casings inside out in the kitchen sink

As a final note on casings….  For the past couple years I’ve been buying natural hog casings from Halford’s here in Edmonton.  I’ve been noticing huge variations in the quality of the casings within a hank.

Linking

I’m often asked if you need to somehow seal the ends of the sausages after linking to keep the meat from shooting out.  The answer is “no,” provided you have mixed your meat properly to obtain a good bind, and provided you cook the sausage gently (see below for more on cooking).

Hanging

After stuffing and linking my sausages I hang them at room temperature for a couple hours.  I can do this safely because they contain curing salt.  The reasons for hanging sausages are numerous and compelling!

  • Hanging compacts the meat and makes for a more cohesive texture.
  • Hanging reinforces the links you’ve made.
  • Hanging the sausages at warmish temperatures helps with flavour maturation.  This is a classic technique of European charcutiers.
  • Hanging dries out the surface of the sausages, which has three pleasant effects: one, the sausages freeze without forming ice on their surfaces; two, the sausages brown better in the pan; and three, the colour of the sausages becomes darker and much, much more appetizing.

That last point sounds crazy when I say it aloud, so I took a picture of a freshly stuffed sausage (pale and slippery) beside some hanging sausages (darker, redder…)  Which would you rather put in your mouth?

Comparing the colour of freshly-stuffed sausages with those that have been hung at room temperature for a couple hours

Cooking

Use gentle heat!  Do not score for the love of God!  Do not overcook!  A gentle pan is good, but I prefer poaching the sausages, shocking in ice water, then gently reheating in a pan or on a grill.  This cooks them much more evenly and much more gently.

As mentioned above, if you mix, stuff, link, hang, and cook properly, the meat will not shoot out the ends of the casing.  See below:

Cooking sausages so that the meat stays in the casings

References

1. Blumenthal, Heston.  In Search of Perfection.  ©2006 Heston Blumenthal.  Published by Bloomsbury USA, New York. Page 126.

A Survey of Commercial Sausage Additives

A pack of bologna, with ingredients listReading the ingredients list of an industrially-produced sausage can be daunting.  We’ve been trained to mistrust “scientific sounding” ingredients, and there are ongoing discussions about the health risks associated with many common additives.  I don’t wade into that debate too much in this post, partly because I know so little about it, but also because there are few reliable studies on the subject.  The fields of nutrition and health are so tied up with industry that it’s hard to know what to believe.  I’ll leave it for you to decide what ingredients are okay and which are not.  In this post I simply describe the role the additive plays in the sausage-making process.  Interestingly, most them are used to accelerate the mixing and curing phases and increase production.  They are therefore useless in a leisurely home setting.  That’s the best part about making sausages at home: you decide what goes in them.

I define “additive” as any ingredient added to the sausage besides meat and fat.  Most of the following info, and all the bits in quotation marks, are from Processed Meats.[1]


Water and Ice.  Unlike with commercial bacon and hams, which are injected with water to increase yields, water is an integral part of sausage-making and is usually the first ingredient listed after the meat.  Water and ice cool the meat, counteracting any frictional heat that develops during mixing and allowing the meat to be mixed longer and develop more texture.  Water also helps dissolve salt, “imparts fluidity to the emulsion”, and improves the mouthfeel of the final sausage by adding moisture.

Salt (ie. table salt, sodium chloride) is the most important additive.  Actually it is indispensable.  It prevents microbial growth, “aids in solubilizing myosin-type proteins”, “increases water-holding capacity”, and of course makes for better flavour.

Curing Salts (sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate, and others) perform several functions in sausage-making.  For instance:

  • They form nitric oxide, which interacts with myoglobin to develop the rosy pink colour we expect in cured meats.
  • The nitric oxide also prevents fat rancidity by binding to iron atoms, which otherwise would oxidize the fat.
  • Curings salts give the meat a distinct, piquant flavour.
  • They also prevent the growth of pathogenic microbes.

Curings salts are much maligned in the media.  When nitrite interacts with amino acids in the meat, nitrosamines form.  These are known carcinogens.  However, curing salts are absolutely essential for traditional air-dried sausage like salami, preventing the growth of deadly botulism bacteria.  I use sodium nitrite in many of the sausages I make at home, and all of the sausages I make at work.  For more on curing salts and their role in charcuterie, see this post.

Ascorbates and Erythorbates.  Ascorbates and isoascorbates (also known as erythorbates) are “closely related” and used interchangeably.  They are “active reducing agents [that] react with nitrite increasing the yield of nitric oxide”.  They “ensure development of desired color in cured meats” and “speed up the curing reaction and prevent formation of secondary N-nitrosamines”.

Sugar (common forms including sucrose, dextrose, and corn syrup) is added chiefly for flavour.  In the case of fermented sausages like salami, it is added to feed lactobacteria, which convert the sugar to lactic acid and give the final sausage its characteristic tanginess.

Phosphates.  There are two types of phosphates used in processed meats: acid and alkaline. Sodium acid pyrophosphate is a cure accelerator.  It “accelerates [the] development of cured color in rapid processing of bacon, frankfurters, or bologna by lowering the pH rapidly by about 0.2-0.3 units during initial stages of the operation”.  Alkaline phosphates (the most common examples being sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium hexametaphosphate, and tetrasodium pyrophosphate) “increase water-binding capacity [by] acting as polyelectrolytes to increase ionic strength”.  “This frees some of the negatively charged sites on the proteins so they can bind more water”.  Alkaline phosphates also “increase fat emulsifying capacity of the myofibrillar proteins” by “solubilizing and dissociating actomyosin into actin and myosin, which in their dissociated forms can emulsify more fat”.

Glucono-δ-Lactone (that middle character is a lower-case Greek delta, so this additive is often called GDL) is also a “cure accelerator [that] speeds up development of cured meat color”.  It “will reduce the pH of the batter by about 0.2-0.3 units, which accelerates the conversion of the meat pigments to their desirable forms.  It is valuable during rapid processing.”

Acid Sprays are used prior to smoking meat, which makes me think that it improves smoke adherence, though I’ve never come across this explanation in the literature.  An acid spray reduces the surface pH and “either coagulates proteins at the surface or permits coagulation at a lower temperature”, which “helps development of surface color”.

Binders and Extenders perform one or several of the following functions:

  • reduce formulation costs (ie. by bulking up the sausage with a product that is cheaper than meat)
  • improve cooking yield
  • improve slicing characteristics
  • improve flavour
  • increase protein content
  • improve emulsion stability
  • improve fat binding
  • increase water binding

Some examples of binders and extenders:

Soy Protein Extenders are combined with flavouring agents, binders (like egg albumen) and fat to make “meat analogs”, which is a disgusting phrase.  They also increase the water and fat binding characteristics of the batter.

Milk Protein Extenders are used because “milk proteins are more heat stable than meat proteins.  Thus, they help to stabilize meat emulsions that are chopped at high temperatures”.  They are more common in fine-textured sausages like bologna or weisswurst.

Flours and Starch are both binders and extenders.  They “absorb large amounts of water and … become sticky, causing the ground up meat particles to adhere to each other”.  While extenders are generally maligned by foodies, flavourful starches like toasted bread crumbs can be a fantastic source of flavour in sausages.  Heston Blumenthal considers toasted wheat rusk an indispensable component of classic English bangers.  I consider toasted bread crumbs an indispensable component of meatballs.

Colloids and Gums such as carageenans and alginates are sometimes used to bind low fat products.  But why would you buy a low fat sausage in the first place?

Flavour Enhancders including MSG, IMP, and GMP are sometimes used to bolster the flavour of the meat.  MSG was demonized in the early ’90s as the cause of mysterious symptoms that manifested themselves after the consumption of Chinese food.  For an eye-opening discussion of the MSG scare, see Jeffrey Steingarten’s essay “Why Doesn’t Everyone in China Have a Headache?”, part of a collection entitled It Must’ve Been Something I Ate.

 

Two Case Studies

To give you some real-life examples, I walked through the deli section of a Superstore and wrote down the ingredients list of a couple items.

Johnsonville Original Breakfast Sausages.  The ingredients list: pork, water, corn syrup, dextrose, lemon juice powder (maltodextrin, lemon juice solids), monosodium glutamate, flavours, calcium stearate, silicon dioxide.

So.  Here we have a fresh sausage, ie. raw meat stuffed into casings.  The use of curing salt is optional in this case, and we can see that there is no sodium nitrite.  Usually acids are used as cure accelerators, but since there’s no curing salt in these sausages, the lemon juice powder must be for flavour.  There are several sweeteners: corn syrup, dextrose, and potentially maltodextrin.  This sausage contains MSG to boost the meaty flavour.

Calcium stearate is often used as a lubricant. I’ve found some admittedly sketchy sources online that suggest sausage casings can be coated with calcium stearate to let the sausages slide over each other without sticking and tearing.

I’m only familiar with silicon dioxide as an anti-caking agent, and with a number of powdered ingredients (dextrose, lemon juice powder, MSG) I assume that’s what it’s being used for here.  Just speculation, though.

No Name Sliced Bologna.  The ingredients are as follows: pork, mechanically separated chicken, water, modified milk ingredients, salt, wheat flour, sugar, corn syrup solids, sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate, onion powder, garlic powder, sodium nitrite, spices, smoke.

Bologna is a North American bastardization of mortadella.  It is a very fine-textured sausage, meaning that the meat and fat have been ground and processed, emulsified into a uniform paste.  Since the meat and fat are being chopped, ground, processed, and mixed, there is a lot of potential for friction that will heat the batter and break the emulsion.  After pork and chicken, the main ingredient here is water, which would be added to the meat extremely cold, possibly even frozen, to keep the temperature of the batter down.  Milk proteins in the form of “modified milk ingredients” are used because they are more heat-stable than meat proteins.  The wheat flour also acts as an emulsion stabilizer.

Bologna always contains curing salt (sodium nitrite in this case) to develop the characteristic pink colour.  As this is a mass-produced product, we therefore have a couple curing accelerators: sodium phosphate and sodium erythorbate.  All other ingredients are for flavour, though I have to say that “mechanically separated chicken” has always sounded gross to me.  It should be noted that most of the flavour enhancers are heavily processed: corn syrup solids, onion powder, garlic powder.

 

Reference

Pearson, A.M., and Gillett, Tedford A.  Processed Meats.  © 1999 Aspen Publishers Inc., New York.  This was a very interesting read.  In fact, I hope to have similar posts on commercial bacon and ham, which will elucidate why they are so, so much worse than their homemade counterparts.

Beginner’s Sausage-Making

A broad introduction to sausage-making at home: ingredients, equipment, theory, and procedures.


What are sausages?

Sausages are ground meat, usually stuffed into a casing, though there are certain sausages that aren’t in casings.  Examples include sausage “patties” and sausages en crepinette, which are patties wrapped in caul fat.

 

Why do we grind meat?

1.  To tenderize

Meat is made of fibers that are surrounded by connective tissue, which are then bundled together in more connective tissue.  Highly exercised muscles tend to be higher in connective tissue.  Examples include:

  • on a pig: shoulder, hock, neck
  • on a cow: chuck, brisket, shortrib, shank
  • on a lamb: shoulder, shank

There are many ways to tenderize meat that is high in connective tissue.  Long cooking at relatively low temperatures, in moist environments converts a connective tissue called collagen into gelatin.  When we braise or stew meat we are tenderizing the flesh by converting collagen to gelatin.

There are also ways to tenderize meat without cooking it.  We mechanically tenderize meat when we needle or mallet our steaks, when we chop them for tartare or slice them for carpaccio, and when we grind them.  All of these processes physically break the connective tissue and tenderize the meat.

2. Economy

When fabricating choice cuts such as chops and roasts, lots of meat and fat are trimmed away.  The trim pieces are too small, inconsistent, and fatty to be cooked individually or stewed.  By grinding and mixing that trim we produce a delicious, cohesive dish, saving what would otherwise be wasted.

3.  Pleasure!

Ultimately we grind meat because of the unique gastronomic pleasures of the sausage: the “snap” of the casing, and the luxurious, savoury interior.

 

Basic Ingredients: Meat, Fat, Salt, and Casings 

Fat

Fat is the source of most of meat’s flavour (read more here).  Heated fat also gives food a rich, moist mouthfeel.

In former times, sausages were much higher in fat than today, up to half fat and half meat.  For the modern palate, the ideal ratio is 1:3 fat:meat, or about 25% fat by weight.  It just so happens that pork shoulder naturally contains this ratio.

When using other, leaner cuts of meat, we add pure fat to achieve the proper ratio.  This added fat is almost always pork fatback (back fat), which has a neutral taste and a creamy consistency.  Other fats, such as suet, are also sometimes used.  Cream and eggs are classic additions to boudin blanc, as well as some bratwurst.

Salt

Salt’s primary function is to enhance the flavour of the meat.  It also extracts protein from the meat, which will help the sausage bind in the mixing phase (described below), and result in the characteristic, cohesive, springy texture we expect from a sausage.

The ideal ratio of salt to meat and fat is 1:60 by weight.

Casings

Traditionally all casings are some section of the intestinal tract of an animal.  Almost every animal has been used for casings (beef, pork, sheep, lamb, et c.) and almost every section of the intestinal tract has been used (esophagus, stomach, large intestine, small intestive, anus).

By far the most common casings are “hog casings” which are the inner lining of the small intestine of a pig, exhaustively cleaned.  Other common natural casings include hog middles (slightly larger), hog bungs, lamb casings, beef rounds, and beef bungs.  All these casings having different diameters when stuffed.  The average stuffed diameter is typically given on the bag in millimeters.

Casings are usually packed in dry salt, or brined, or frozen in order to be preserved.

Casings that are packed in dry salt must be soaked in clean water for at least thirty minutes before being stuffed.

There are also artificial casings available made from collagen and cellulose.

 

Basic Processes and Equipment

Prep

As with any kitchen endeavor, first comes prep:

    • remove any silverskin and glands from the meat
    • dice the meat and fat so that it will easily fit into the grinder
    • soak the casings
      • at least thirty minutes, preferrably an hour
      • flush, reserving some of the liquid to lubricate the stuffer nozzle
      • if you find you have soaked too much casing, the extra lengths can be re-salted

 

Grinding

Grinders consist of (from left to right in the picture below) a house or body, a worm, a blade, a plate or die, and a collar.  The worm pulls the meat through the body, then forces the meat partway into the plate, where the blade cuts it.  The collar simply keeps the worm, blade, and plate within the housing.  The plate determines the texture of the grind.  The plates featured below have hole diameters of 1/4″ and 3/16″.

I have been doing my grinding with the Kitchen Aid grinder attachment for a few years now.  I got it for about $70 at Sears.  The grinder works okay, but when the meat is properly chilled (ie. partially frozen, see below) the motor of the mixer struggles a bit.  If you plan on making sausages frequently, or more than 5 lbs at a time, I would look into a proper, stand-alone grinder, which can be purchased from any butcher supply shop, for anywhere from $100 to $Zillion.

The body, worm, blade, plates, and collar of the Kitchen Aid grinder attachmentThe most important part of the grinding process is to keep the meat and fat very, very cold.  This is important from a food safety standpoint, but also for the quality of the final sausage.  When the meat and fat are sufficiently cold, the blade and plate cut through the fat very cleanly.  The meat and fat are extruded very cleanly from the grinder plate.  When the meat and fat are not cold enough, or the blade not sharp enough, we rupture the cells in which the fat is stored, and when the sausage is later cooked, the fat renders and runs out of the sausage.

To make sausages with a fine texture, you can use a technique called progressive grinding.  The meat is run through the grinder multiple times, each successive grind using a finer plate.

Grinding the fat and meat through different-sized plates can result in interesting, rustic textures.

 

Mixing

It’s really important to mix the ground meat.  By adding a small amount of very cold liquid (ice water, vinegar, wine, et c.) and mixing, we develop a protein called myosin which helps the sausage bind together.  The process of mixing forcemeat in the presence of liquid to develop myosin is a bit like kneading flour and water to develop gluten.  A bit, anyways.  I typically mix my forcemeat for a couple minutes, using the paddle attachment of my stand mixer.  The meat will bind together to form a ball that cleans the sides of the bowl (again, kind of like bread dough).  The meat will also take on a “fuzzy” appearence, with fine strands of meat and fat sticking out from the main mass.

After mixing you should cook off a bit of the sausage and taste for seasoning.  Always, always do this, even if you’re sure you’ve followed your recipe correctly.

Interior of sausage

 


Stuffing

While in former times I’m sure meat might have been simply spooned into casings, or forced through a funnel, for best results you’ll need a proper stuffer.  Sausage stuffers have a large cylinder that holds the mixed forcemeat, and a crank that drives a piston down onto the meat and forces it out a nozzle at the bottom of the cylinder.  The casing is bunched onto the nozzle, and as the meat comes out of the nozzle it takes the casing with it.

I bought my 5 lb stuffer (ie. it holds about 5 lbs of meat) from CTR Refrigeration for about $100.  It’s been good to me.  One time one of the plastic gears broke, but that was because a friend continued to turn the crank once the piston had reached the bottom of the cylinder.  Replacement gears were $20.

A 5 lb sausage stuffer

We want plump sausages.  The goal of stuffing is to pack the meat into the casing as tightly a possible without breaking the casing.  We also want the stuffing to be uniform and compact.  The key to this is even crank speed and pinching the casing against the nozzle to build a bit of back-pressure.

 

Linking

The standard length for a sausage is six inches.  Obviously this can be adjusted.  You can make cocktail wieners by using lamb casings and twisting into 2-3″ links.

There’s a trick to linking sausages.  Twist off your first link by turning the sausages away from you.  Measure the second link, then skip it, without twisting.  Measure the third link, and turn it away from you so that you are twisting off both ends of the third link at the same time.  Continue in this way, skipping every other link, until the entire length is linked.

There are two reasons to use this method.  First, it’s fast, because you’re only twisting every other link.  Second, it ensures that each link is twisted off in the opposite direction from the ones on either side of it, which will prevent the links from untwisting when you move or hang the sausages.  It’s hard to wrap your head around, but it works.

 

Hanging

Hanging does two things.  First it dries out the surfaces of the sausages.  Once the casing is a bit dry, the sausages have a darker, more vibrant colour.  If you pan-fry them, they will brown better because there is less moisture.  They will also freeze better, forming less ice crystals.

Second, it compacts the meat further and results in a denser, more uniform texture.

I hang my linked sausages on a broomstick for an hour or two, until the colour changes.

Hanging sausages on a broomstick

Types of Sausages

Fresh Sausages

  • fresh sausages are simply ground meat, stuffed into casings, as described above
  • they must be cooked or hot-smoked before eating
  • like all fresh meat, they keep in the fridge for only a few days
  • fresh sausages may contain sodium nitrite to enhance the colour of the meat (for the complete skinny on curing salts, read this)

Cold-Smoked Sausages

  • eg. hot dogs, some kielbasa,
  • these sausages are smoked for a few hours or days at very low temperatures, so they must contain sodium nitrite
  • they are typically poached afterward smoking
  • since they have been cooked, they only need to be reheated to eat

Fermented Sausages

  • eg. salami, summer sausage
  • fermented sausages have sugar and active bacterial culture added to the meat and fat
  • the bacteria eat the sugar and produce lactic acid, giving the sausage a tangy flavour
  • a product called “Fermento” can add the flavour of traditional fermented sausages without actually fermenting them
  • fermented sausages are almost always dried (see below)

Dry-Cured Sausages

  • eg. salami, saucisson sec
  • dry-cured sausages are cellared until they have lost about one third of their weight
  • they must contain sodium nitrate
  • the meat used in dry-cured sausages must be treated for trichinosis, usually by freezing
      • consult reference for proper freezing times and temperatures
  • dry-cured sausages do not need to be cooked

 

 Further Resources

 Books

    • fantastic primer and reference: Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman.
    • intermediate-level techniques, drying set-ups, obscure recipes: Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli.
    • lots of interesting recipes: Bruce Aidells’ Complete Sausage Book, by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly.

Websites

Equipment, Casings, Curing Salts

    • Halford’s Hide
      • 8629 – 126 Avenue
      • 780-474-4989
    • Butchers and Packers Supplies
      • 12225 Fort Road
      • 780-455-4128
    • www.sausagemaker.com

Ingredients

    • your local butchers and farmers’ markets

Käsekrainer, and other Austrian Sausages

Würstlstände are sausage stands.  They punctuate the sidewalks of every city in Austria.  People from all walks of life crowd around these kiosks for, say, a quick lunch, or a post-bar snack: a sausage, fried or steamed, served with some manner of bread, mustard, and beer or pop.

While certain types of sausage appear on almost every würstlstand menu, it can be frustrating trying to pin down their characteristics, as a huge variety of sausages can go by the same name.  Bratwurst, for instance, is sometimes based on pork, sometimes on veal, sometimes stuffed into slender lamb casings, sometimes into wider hogs…

Here are some very general descriptions of the most common würste:

  • Burenwurst – Apparently a corruption of “boerwurst,” a hearty South African sausage distinguished by its coarse texture.
  • Debreziner – Debrec is a city in Hungary.  The only characteristic that seems to unite all debreziners is the liberal use of paprika.
  • Waldviertler – The Waldviertel (literally “forest quarter,”) is a region in Lower Austria, famous for rustic cuisine.  This sausage is lightly smoked and made of pork.
  • Frankfurter – A very long, slender, boiled sausage, with an extremely fine interior similar to most North American hot dogs.  In Frankfurt these sausages are called Wieners.  Go figure.
  • Sacherwurst – In my experience, these are indistinguishable from frankfurters.
  • Bratwurst – The familiar “brat,” a frying sausage.
  • Bernerwurst – More common in cafeterias and restaurants than sausages stands, this is a sausage stuffed with cheese and wrapped with bacon.
  • Weisswurst – One of the few sausages that always takes a very specific form.  Literally “white sausage,” though it is usually more grey than white.  Made from veal and pork fat which are very finely ground and emulsified.  A delicate sausage, it is boiled and taken out of its skin before being served.  It is very much a Bavarian sausage.  Within Austria it is only commonly found in Salzburg, which is right by the Bavarian border. Traditionally eaten before noon, with a brezel (pretzel), sweet mustard, and white beer.

In North America the term “hot dog” refers to both the dish (ie. a wiener in a bun), and the style of wiener itself (ie. an emulsified link flavoured with garlic and smoke).  In Austria a “hot dog” is a sausage shoved into a long, crusty roll.  You can therefore have, for instance, a bratwurst hot dog, or a burenwurst hot dog.  If you don’t specify “hot dog,” your sausage will probably be served with a round crusty bun on the side, as below.  Note the ceramic plate.

Käsekrainer

While outsiders recognize wiener schnitzel as the national dish of Austria, I think most Austrians acknowledge a special sausage called käsekrainer (“KAY-zeh KREYE-ner”) as their greatest culinary achievement.

“Käse” means cheese.  I have no idea what “krainer” means, and neither do any Austrians.     (Editor’s Note: see comment section below for the origin of the word “krainer.”)  Käsekrainer is a sausage with a finely ground interior that is riddled with cubes of cheese that melt when the sausage is cooked.  It is the crown jewel of Austrian streetfood.

Within twenty four hours of returning to Canada I had procured the ingredients for a käsekrainer test batch.

Käsekrainer: A First Attempt

Ingredients

  • 1000 g pork shoulder
  • 200 g Sylvan Star Gruyère, rind removed, diced into 3/16″ cubes
  • 16 g kosher salt
  • 1/2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1 pinch sodium nitrite>
  • 2 cloves garlic (the Austrians call them “toes,” which I thought was cute…), minced
  • 1 bay leaf, ground
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground, toasted coriander
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 5′ hog casings, soaked and rinsed

Procedure

I chose to experiment with Gruyère because of its famous melting properties (it is the go-to cheese for fondue and raclette).  To my surprise, Sylvan Star has their own version of the alpine cheese:

Cut the pork into 1″ cubes.  Spread on a tray lined with wax paper and keep in the freezer until “crunchy” but not frozen solid.  Grind the meat through a 1/4″ plate.  Add the salt and spices to the ground meat. Spread the ground meat onto a tray lined with wax paper and return to the freezer for about 15 minutes.  Regrind the mixture using a 3/16″ plate.

Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, slowly mix the forcemeat while adding the corn syrup.  When the force binds and becomes tacky, fold in the cubed cheese.

Fry a small piece of the mixture and taste.  Adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Stuff the mixture into the hog casings and twist into 6″ links.  Hang on a wooden dowel to dry for an hour.

On Cooking Käsekrainer

On the streets of Vienna there are actually two types of käsekrainer.  They result not from different methods of manufacture, but from different methods of cooking.

The first, when passed through the würstlstand window, looks like any other sausage; it is only upon biting into the link that you discover the cheese.  The second has a crunchy crust of cheese fried onto the exterior of the sausage.  I don’t think I need to spend much time explaining why the latter is superior (the nutty-tangy taste of browned cheese, the accentuation of the textural contrast between sausage skin and interior…)

Having only cooked a couple of käsekrainer links myself, I am still working on my crust development.

Inevitably (and especially in homemade links) some cheese will leak out the ends during cooking.  My working theory on crust development is that the sausage must be rolled through this cheese while it is still gooey, so that the cheese adheres to the skin.  Otherwise the cheese will brown and stick to the pan, instead of the sausage.  As a rule of thumb, move the käsekrainer frequently while cooking.

The sausage must be eaten very hot, or the cheese will re-congeal.

Fried Kaesekrainer

This recipe and cooking process result in an acceptable approximation of an Austrian käsekrainer.  I think that most of the versions I had there were lightly smoked.  While the smoked paprika in my recipe goes some distance to capturing that flavour, I think the next test batch will have to be cold-smoked before frying.

Blood Sausage

Blood sausage is, as I have written before, pretty much what you would expect: pig’s blood and fat, seasoned and stuffed into casings. The sausages are almost always flavoured with onions, and often contain a starch like oats or cornmeal or rice.

I have only come across blood sausage twice in Edmonton. My first taste was at Charcutaria Micaelense on 118 Avenue, but they have since stopped making their own and instead carry an inferior commercial substitute. More recently I have tried the blood sausage at Old Country Meats.

There are a few reasons we don’t see it very often here. First: our timorous approach to eating. Second (and closely related to the first…): the hassle of obtaining pig’s blood. I started asking at farmers’ markets, only to find that the farmers themselves couldn’t acquire their animals’ blood from the abattoirs. Apparently health inspectors are worried about the wholesomeness of the blood after transport. Blood certainly needs to be used while very fresh; if left in the fridge for, say, a week, it will coagulate and develop the same sour odour as wet-aged meat. To my mind, this is a food quality issue, and not at all a food safety issue. Blood deteriorates rapidly, but that doesn’t mean it’s dangerous to sell or consume.

It’s unfortunate that we don’t cook with blood more often, as pigs are always bled after being stunned, and harvesting the blood is simply a matter of putting a bucket beneath the hanging animal, instead of letting it drip into the bleeding pit.

Kevin was my fellow charcutier on the first day I tried making blood sausage. He shot and edited some footage of the basic procedure, which goes like this:

  • sweat onions
  • cook backfat, either by poaching or sweating
  • combine onions, fat, blood, and any other flavours
  • heat mixture to thicken blood (optional, but apparently helps suspend onions and fat evenly throughout the volume of the casing)
  • funnel into casings
  • poach
  • chill
  • slice and fry

On Blood Sausage Recipes: A General Condemnation

When searching blood sausage recipes online, it’s obvious that few of them have actually been tested. They are all pretty much the same and completely lacking in details.

Over the last couple years I’ve tried about four different recipes, including the ones from Larousse and Ruhlman’s Charcuterie.  Those sausages tasted fantastic, but after poaching the blood-curd was very loose. They had a smooth texture, but the sausages tended to fall apart when slicing for pan-frying. The blood did not properly bind the ingredients like the apples and onions in the Ruhlman recipe.  My first guess would usually have been that the blood was undercooked and didn’t fully coagulate, but my probe was above the recommended finishing temperature, and the juices ran pale brown instead of red.

My theory for the oatmeal sausage is that cooking the oatmeal before mixing it with the blood introduced too much moisture to the mixture and prevented a good, firm curd from forming. Next time around I’ll cook the oatmeal in the blood, no water added.

As for the Ruhlman apple blood sausage recipe, I’m stumped. This is the first time I’ve had a problem working out of his book, Charcuterie. I wonder if the blood we used is somehow different than his. Ours had been frozen, for instance, though I have not heard of that affecting coagulation.

Far and away the best recipe I’ve made is from the Au Pied de Cochon cookbook.  My only departure from Picard’s recipe was using oat flour instead of chestnut flour. The major difference between this recipe and the last is the inclusion of a panada, which is bread soaked in milk. The final sausages held together beautifully, and were tender and smooth to boot. This is now my default blood sausage recipe. Thank you, Martin.

Blood Sausage
adapted from Au Pied de Cochon

Ingredients

  • 375 mL pig’s blood
  • 1 medium onion
  • 113 g fat, ¼” dice
  • 113 mL cream
  • leaves from 1 sprig thyme
  • 1/3 tsp quatre epice
  • 11 g oatmeal, finely ground
  • 19 g white bread, crustless, ¼” dice
  • 12 g salt

Pig Skin Sausages

When butchers break down a side of pork, they are after the several lean cuts of meat, the bones that can be used in stock or sold as dog treats, and the large pile of trim that can be ground into sausage meat. The only parts that typically go to waste are the head, the glands (particularly prevalent in the jowls, but also in the hind legs), and the skin.

Progressive (or retrogressive?) eaters don’t have a problem with pig head, and the glands represent a very small amount of waste, maybe 100g on a side of pork. That leaves the skin. While it can be put into a broth or cassoulet, there happens to be a much more dignified use.

I recently came across a recipe for cotechino, a common boiling-sausage from Emilia-Romagna that is traditionally made with a significant amount of pork skin (“cotica” is Italian for “skin”). The following process is based on the cotechino recipe in Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand.

1: Cut the sheets of skin into manageable squares. The pale squares below are fresh belly skin from my last batch of pancetta. The darker squares are belly skin that was cut from bacon immediately after smoking.

The sheets of skin, some fresh, some smoked, cut into manageable squares
2: Simmer the skin until tender, about one hour, skimming away any greyish foam that develops.

Boiling the skin
3: Cut away the fat on the back of the pieces of skin. Discard the fat. Chill the skin thoroughly.

Defatting the skin with a paring knife

4: Grind the skin through a small die.

Grinding the cooked, chilled skin
5. Dice the meat and fat, then mix with the salt and spices (in this case: dried hot peppers, cinnamon, coriander, clove, and black pepper) and the ground skin. Chill the mixture thoroughly.

The spices for the skin sausage, or cotechino: dried hot peppers, cinnaom, coriander, clove, and black pepper
The mixture of pork shoulder, fat, and cooked, ground, skin
6: Grind the mixture through a coarse plate.

Grinding the meat, fat, and cooked, ground skin
7: Quenelle test: fry a bit of the forcemeat to check the seasoning. (Optional step: eat quenelle with fried egg, mushrooms, and obscenely large piece of toast.)

Our quenelle test: a small sausage patty and a fried egg both resting on an enormous piece of toast
8: Stuff the forcemeat into hog middles. You can see some air pockets in the casing below, especially on the bottom curve. Pop those bubbles with a pin.

Stuffing the skin sausage, or cotechino
10: Hang sausages on a dowel to dry out the surfaces.

Hanging the sausage on a broom handle to dry the surfaces