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:
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Reading 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 … Continue reading.
A detailed 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. For instance there are sausage “patties” and sausages en crepinette, which are patties wrapped in caul fat. For now let’s be content to say that sausages are ground meat stuffed into casings.
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
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Würstlstände are Austrian 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
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While outsiders might consider Wiener Schnitzel or Apple Strudel the national dish of Austria, most Austrians acknowledge a special sausage called Käsekrainer (“KAY-zeh KREYE-ner”) as their greatest culinary achievement.
In a nutshell Käsekrainer is a sausage filled with little cubes of cheese. Like many classic Austrian preparations, it is not entirely an Austrian invention. Käsekrainer has the same relation to Austria that pizza and hot dogs have to the United States: they are unquestionably of foreign origin, but they have been adapted and adopted by the new country.
If you’ll allow me… let’s break down the word Kasekrainer…
“Käse” means cheese.
Krain is the German name for the Slovenian region of Kranjska, historically called Carniola by English-speakers. This is one … Continue reading.
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 … Continue reading.
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 … Continue reading.
I 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, … Continue reading.