Supermarkets have simply ruined sausages for many people. Filler, fluids, modifiers, all packed into tubular bags of intestines with the worst bits of waste meat collected off the floor once the butchery has been swept… Graphic, mental images of the contents of a pack of cheap, supermarket sausage can take people to some really fanciful places.
Which is rather a shame because good, flavorful sausage is one of the reasons why we chose to come to earth and experience the meaty goodies of this time-space reality – or so, homemade sausage makers will tell you, while making links of Kielbasa and Chorizo. And it is such a therapeutic and joyful sharing of pleasure when you serve your own handmade sausages to family and friends.
Homemade sausages may sound like complicated, advanced butchery, but in fact, they are pretty easy to make. Once you have dipped your hands into the ground meat, ideas about aromas and flavorings begin to occur on their own, and soon, you’re having too much fun, customizing your own versions of bratwursts and wienerwursts with some meat, seasonings, casings and a grinder.
Here are 9 pointers on how to take a mound of meat and fat and make perfect little sausage men out of them that are simply bursting with the rich flavors of their own juicy plumpness.
#1: GOOD SAUSAGES BEGIN WITH GOOD TEXTURE
• All sausages are made up of 4 basic ingredients: meat, fat, salt and liquid. The ratio in which they are combined decides whether the sausage will be smooth, soft, coarse or firm in texture. A hotdog, for instance, is a `smooth’ sausage, and therefore will have more fat in it. A firm Polish sausage will contain more water and the stuffing will have to be mixed for longer so that emulsification can take place. A breakfast sausage will be coarse, and will need lots of meat and fat. And so on.
Getting the `ratio’ right for each texture requires a bit of math and practice. But once you have mastered that, you’ve learnt the only real lesson you need in sausage-making. The rest of the process is simply a matter of individual preference.
#2: CUT THE MEAT REALLY SMALL
• Stuffing meat and fat down the opening of the grinder is a bad idea because it breaks the cells. Make sure they are chopped up small enough to pass through the mouth of the grinder easily.
#3: THE MEAT AND FAT MUST BE WELL CHILLED
• 40°F is an ideal temperature for sausage-making. Cold preserves cell structure, and you need the cell structure of the meat as intact as possible to `hang’ the fat and water components afterwards and keep it all nice and juicy.
When doing this at home, lay out the cut meat and fat on open trays and allow them to chill overnight in the fridge. Remember the 40°F benchmark.
#4: COOL – NOT FREEZE! – THE GRINDER
• The grinding equipment has to be very cold when you introduce the meat into it, but remember that freezing is not an option. If you freeze the grinder, the meat will just get stuck inside it. Put the grinder in some water and ice and bung it into the refrigerator for an hour or so to achieve optimum coolness that is way short of downright freezing. Also, make sure the blades are super sharp.
#5: HAVE FUN WITH THE SEASONINGS
• Play with flavors and mix-and-match to your heart’s content when it comes to seasonings. Add some white wine, diced bacon, garlic and thyme to make a Toulouse. Crush fennel seeds and mix with red wine and garlic for an Italian Salsicci. Swap pork for lamb and add a generous scoop of harissa to make Merguez… the possibilities are limitless.
#6: USE YOUR HANDS, AND NOT A MACHINE, TO DO THE MIXING
• Using a machine mixer may sound like an efficient idea, but when you’re not working with a large batch, the best way to mix the meat is by hand. Machine mixers warm up too quickly, unlike our hands that maintain a slight warm that is necessary to emulsify the meat. Dip your hand in cool ice water if you feel the friction is heating up your hands too much, and then take your time combining the fat, salt, seasonings and water with the meat.
#7: WAIT FOR A GOOEY, STICKY CONSISTENCY
• Keep mixing until all the ingredients have devolved into a gooey consistency that sticks to the bottom and sides of the bowl. Test for the right consistency by dropping a patty into a clean bowl and then holding it upside down. If the patty does not fall off, you’ve it right.
#8: DO A TEST PATTY TO CHECK SEASONINGS
• Make up a patty and cook on low flame for 7-10 minutes in a pan to check the seasoning. If it is too little, you can correct the problem at this stage. If you’re not happy with what you’re tasting, you still have time to cut your losses and convert the batch into something else – like chili or pasta sauce!
#9: COOK SAUSAGE WITH LOTS OF LOVE AND CARE
• You’ve spent all this time preparing your very own batch homemade sausages. Now however you cook them, do it with lots of love. Poach, smoke, grill, pan-fry – always making sure you’re taking it nice and slow. Be gentle with the sausage men so they don’t burst their skin, and don’t lose the precious juices by pricking with a fork!