My good friend Mike and I are now into our third year of making sausage. We’ve worked out a lot of the kinks in the production and have streamlined the process down from an all-day commitment to a 4 hour window. Practice is always a good thing!
Mike and I are early risers; at least I hope he is because he usually shows up at my house at 7am to begin preparation. Now that I think about it…….his family NEVER gets up at 7am when they are at our cottage. Oh well….. Mike thanks for getting up early for me!
While the coffee starts to perk, Mike begins to prepare the sausage casings. Natural sausage casings are hog intestines. OK, it’s now time TO GET OVER THIS!!!!!!! Don’t buy the artificial ones. Remember…. we’re here because we want to “step back” and reconnect with our food source.
When you go to your butcher to purchase the meat, ask him to recommend the right casings for your sausage. For the most part, hog casings are divided into 2 sections: 32mm – 35mm & 35mm – 38mm. We tend to lean towards the second size because we like a bigger sausage…. ARE WE GOING TO GET THROUGH THIS AS ADULTS!!!!!!!!
Anyways…..We bought a small container of casings this time in order to provide you with a good visual. Normally, we buy 100 yards of casing at a time.
When you open up your container, you will see that the casings are pretty shriveled because they are packed in salt. You can’t reuse casings after they have been prepared so it’s important to figure out how much you will need. This container had 15 pieces and we used 10 for a batch of 85 sausages. Experience has taught us that 15 lengths of casing (around 30 inches) from my shoulder to my fingertips makes for 3 picnic shoulders worth of meat. This would apply more if you purchased your casing in 100 yard increments.
Once you have determined how much casing you will need, it is time to prepare them to be stuffed with meat. First, the salt must be rinsed off of them in warm water. Once this is done, they MUST be individually rinsed throughout. Mike is the man for this part of the job and he does it quite well. As you can see in the photo, Mike if filling the casing with warm water directly from the tap. The casing will begin to fill with water and begin to “balloon” at some segment of the casing. This is the result of a twist in the casing. Jiggle the “ballooned” casing that you are holding up & down and the gravitational pressure of the water ‘balloon” will open the twist and rinse the rest of your casing. Wash the casing one more time.
NOTE*****this is one of the most challenging steps for sausage making. Get this down pat and you’ve cleared a difficult hurdle!
After you have rinsed each of your casings, leave them in a bowl filled with cool water. This will allow them more time to soften. I have seen some people squeeze lemon juice into this water, but we do not.
While the casings are soaking, Mike and I head over to see Mike or Jose at European Meats http://www.europeanmeats.com/. Mike & Jose were very helpful when we first began making sausage. They never tired of our questions and were always patient. Thanks guys! I hope we can send you a lot of business via this post. If you plan on using European Meats, make sure you ask for Mike or Jose and tell them that you were recommended by City Boy Hens!
When making sausage, it is essential that you take the meat from the shoulder. This is located on the front leg of the pig from the elbow up to the back. The fat/meat ratio is perfect for sausage. DON’T JUST BUY GROUND PORK!
We buy “picnic” shoulders rather than complete shoulders because it is more economical. This is because the prized meat in a full shoulder is generally removed and reserved for making capicolo. Since we are grinding all of our meat, it would be foolish to pay the higher price to grind this cut as well. Thanks for that tip Jose!
Mike and Jose also process our meat for about 10 cents/pound. This includes removing the bone and skin (approx. 2.5 lbs. /shoulder) and grinding the meat. This is a HUGE time saver for us and worth every penny! With their industrial machines, the entire job is done in a few minutes.
*Note –Make sure you have the leg bone included with your purchase. It is a great flavor enhancer to your tomato sauce! My wife always makes a batch of pasta sauce on Sundays and we can always tell when a pork bone was added to the sauce.
Back home, it’s time to begin spicing our meat. We make our sausage in 10 lb batches and weigh our meat using a 1950s vintage scale from my grandfather’s store. I like doing this part of the process because it gives me time to reflect on this man!
Once you have weighed out the amount, keep the rest of your meat in a cold place. Warm or cool meat will have a difficult time getting through your sausage machine. Now it’s time to add the spices. This is our recipe for Hot and Sweet sausage. The hot has a definite “kick” so decrease the chili peppers and cayenne if your palate is sensitive to these spices. You can also omit the wine, if you don’t want that flavor, but make sure to double the cold water.
Hot Sausage Sweet Sausage
10 lbs. pork 10 lbs. pork
1 cup cold red wine 1 cup cold white wine
1 cup cold water 1 cup cold water
10 tsp. salt 10 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. garlic powder 2 tbsp. garlic powder
2 tbsp. pepper 5 tsp. pepper
3 tsp. cayenne 4 tsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. crushed chili peppers
10 tbsp. paprika
Combine the dry and wet ingredients into separate bowls and begin to add them to your bowl of pork. Your hands are going to get cold as you thoroughly blend the ingredients with the pork. This is a small bit of pain for the later gain. Remember….the meat must stay cold in order to properly run through your sausage machine! I generally mix, while Mike continues to add the ingredients.
Once the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, it’s time to thread your sausage casing on to the funnel. Before doing so, put a little bit of olive oil onto the funnel. This will act as an initial lubricant to help get your first casing threaded onto the funnel. Trial and error is going to work best at this stage. You will need to try to center the casing onto the funnel and gently continue to pull the entire length of casing onto the funnel. Once you get the hang of this, the process will become easy.
Once the casing is entirely threaded on to the funnel, pull it back towards you and tie it in a knot. Then push it back until the knot is centered on the opening of the funnel.
Now it’s time to start putting the meat into the machine. * Note: Remember we had our meat coarsely ground at the butcher so that we could skip the lengthy grinding step at home. Now we are using our meat grinder as a “stuffer” and therefore, attaching the stuffing plate (not grinding plate) onto our machine. Always remember to use the meat stomper when feeding meat into the machine. Never push the meat into the grinder head with your hands!
This part of the process is best shared by 2 people. I generally push the meat into the machine while Mike supports the casings as they fill with meat. It’s now up to Mike to determine how dense he wants our sausage to be. Holding the casing back too much will cause the casing to rupture and too little resistance will make for a poor looking finished product. Once again, this will be trial and error, but you will get the feel for it after a few attempts.
With about 3 inches of casing left on the funnel, the machine is shut off. Mike then pulls the rest of the casing off of the funnel and ties it in a knot. Leave yourself enough room on the end. You don’t want to struggle to tie this knot because you filled the casing up almost to the end. The excess casing is then snipped off past the knot for presentation purposes.
If the casing ruptures somewhere in the process, it is no big deal. Just shut the machine off and squeeze the meat out from before and after the break. Take that meat and put it back into the hopper, cut the casing with a pair of scissors and then tie off the finished casing and what’s left on the funnel. That length of sausages will just have less links.
While I thread the next casing onto the funnel, Mike begins to make links out of the sausage. He is The Master at sausage linking! First, Mike estimates the length of sausage and crimps the end of the length with his thumb and index finger. He then secures than area with one hand and turns the sausage around 3 times to bind the link. Remember, you must turn in the opposite direction for the following link or your previous link will unravel. Continue to do this until you have linked the length of sausage. Once this is done, the sausages are taken down to the “cantina” (cold cellar) until the entire batch is made.
Once the sausage meat is completely used, it’s time to clean the machine and begin packaging. Don’t discard the meat that is left in the auger. Keep it for tomorrow’s sauce.
Mike and I have worked out a good system for packaging the sausage. We package according to the preference between hot & sweet and the quantity that each family will eat for a meal. For my family, it is 5 hot and 3 sweet and Mike goes 2 & 2. We are bigger eaters than Mike’s family and we want leftovers for sausage on a bun in the next day’s lunch. So…to make things fair, Mike only buys the meat every third trip to the butcher!
Mike’s vacuum sealer works great for packaging the sausage. Once again, 2 people make lite of this task. Mike preps the bags, while I snip the required links from the lengths of sausage. Those babies are then gently put into a vacuum sealed “dinner bag” and deposited into the freezer.
Like anything in life that is good, there is always an element of labor. I guess it would be easier to just go to the store, but the flavor and satisfaction of making your own sausage should be ample motivation for you to take the leap into sausage making. If this isn’t enough motivation, consider the fact that each of these large sausages costs around 50 cents to make. That coupled with friendship and a communal meal at the end of the day with both families is more than enough reward for us. The only trouble is……always trying to make enough to last!