Category Archives: Sausages

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 100 g 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.

How to Use Pig Skin in Sausages

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 skin5. 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

Air-Dried Sausages

Hanging sausages to dry in a cellarI just finished my first batch of dry-cured sausage. It is essentially fresh ground pork, stuffed into casings with nitrate and seasonings, then left to dry. The temperature and humidity have to be just right for the sausage to dry properly. I experimented with climate-control when making pancetta this past spring. In that case the meat had already been cured in my fridge, and the drying was just to change the texture. The pancetta was also cooked before eating. This is a whole other ball game, as these sausages aren’t cured in the fridge beforehand, and aren’t cooked before eating.

Dry-curing is an interesting process. With most charcuterie preparations, there are easily-described visual indicators to guide you along. For instance, when grinding meat, you look for a clean extrusion from the die, with each stream of ground meat remaining distinct from its neighbours. If the streams smear together in globules, either your meat and fat are too warm, or perhaps the grinder blade has collected connective tissue and needs to be cleaned. When dry-curing, you have to rely on subtle changes in the feel of the meat. The textures and densities are hard to describe to the beginner.

Given the mysterious and temperamental nature of the process, I’m sure most charcutiers take thorough notes on temperature, humidity, and the feel of the meat at each stage of curing, though they don’t seem to share these notes very often.

On the contrary, charcutiers are legendary for their secrecy. Some examples:

  • “Good charcuterie recipes are as closely guarded as family secrets. As a young cook in Moissac, France, I had to spy and even participate in the killing of my neighbor’s pig just to get his pâté recipe.” Eric Ripert, in a review of Ruhlman’s Charcuterie
  • “He seemed less than happy about aiding us, probably because he was having second thoughts about letting go of his family’s priceless boudin noir. After both Fred and I again pledged that we would not publish a recipe giving exact quantities, he relented, remaining slippery on only one or two matters.” Jeffrey Steingarten, It Takes a Village to Kill a Pig
  • This ridiculous article, succinctly titled, “Chefs become experts at charcuterie thanks to secret website”

Here are some basic notes on my first attempt, notes that I hope to elaborate as I do more curing.

Preventing Case Hardening

According to my humidity meter, the curing room was at 65% humidity, which is very good (though 70% would be ideal). I slowly developed a mistrust of this hygrometer, as over the first two days of curing the casings dried out completely. During this period, the casings should be a little tacky if you run your thumb over them. My casings were dry and smooth, offering no moisture-indicating friction when rubbed. To prevent the outermost parts of the sausage from hardening and trapping moisture within, I started misting the sausages with water a couple times a day. I did this from about day three until day seven.

Judging Doneness

I’m kicking myself for not weighing the links before I hung them up, because a good indicator of doneness is when the sausages have lost 30% of their weight. I was left squeezing the sausages every day, trying to decide when they were done. After three weeks they still had a slight give in the centre. A few more days and they were stiff throughout.

Preserving Shape?

When the sausages were first hung they were shaped like any other fresh sausage, cylindrical and tightly packed, the casings pulled taut. As the sausages lost moisture, they did not shrink uniformly into slender cylinders, but shrank in only one dimension, forming an elliptical cross-section instead of a round one (see photo below). Made for a very “rustic” product. The shrinkage patterns don’t seem to be related to how I hung the sausages. I wonder if there is a way to control this.

The finished air-dried sausage