Why you should make your own sausage

I enjoy a good sausage; one with personality. It was about 20 years ago I started on a creative cooking adventure.   I added Paella, Gumbo, Jambalaya and even dishes that where about the sausage it self. I would read these recipes for inspiration & then head off to the mega mart for the ingredients. It’s here that the spice rack evolved (that and Alton Brown).  It was where I learned to dump last years paprika and replenish the can  with fresh.
So off I would go.  Where is the Andouille?   Where is the Chorizo?  If you can’t find it, use  smoked Garlic-ed sausage. That sure sounded vague. Speaking of Chorizo, there is a Spanish-Portuguese version and the Mexican version. They are not the same. I was getting frustrated.  I wanted to make these dishes and have them taste authentic.  No matter how good they turned out, I always felt a bit cheated. Cheated by America’s sausage makers. Here is where I started loving the idea of making my own sausage.  Homemade, ethnic sausage.  Not the stuff from the mega mart.  Not the same packaged links with different names that all taste the same.
What you put into it, is what you get
I have voiced my number one argument to make your own, the spices vs the chemical list, and second which could also be number one, the fat content. In the United states, any meat mixture containing over 30% fat can not be labeled sausage.  Keep this in mind when picking up a of hot dogs that conveniently does not say sausage on the label.

Make the sausage yourself and you control what goes into it.

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Wonderful Sausage, a dying art

Sausage, where would civilization be without sausage?  A poorer place indeed. I would say 99.9% of those reading this blog have never had to do with limited or no refrigeration.  I can’t find the picture of Skip and I standing next to the Ice Truck, but do have one that shows Mom getting milk from the Milk Truck.

The first refrigerator I can remember had a freezer about the size of a gallon milk container on its side. If you ever put anything into it, it stayed until the next global warming because it soon became iced in.

So, back to sausage. Man didn’t have a way to store fresh meat for very long so people found that cooked meat and salted meat would last much longer. They also convinced themselves aged meat became a delicacy. So man learned how to make sausage, chop the meat up, add salt and other seasonings. Then smoke it if you wanted to store the meat for the season.

Today, we generally do not make our own sausage, it comes from the mega mart, air sealed in plastic and containing an ingredient list that I can’t pronounce. The list containing everything but flavor.

The art of sausage making has all but disappeared for most of us. If you’re a hunter, then you will either have your game made into sausage for you or learn to do it yourself.  Even then you are missing out on the real treat, flavor.

The local game processor more than likely buys and then adds seasoning and preserving packets containing all the ingredients mentioned earlier.

I always used the stuffing tube on my Kitchen Aid meat grinder but with 25 pounds of ground meat looking at me, I decided to buy a 5 lb sausage stuffer from Cabelas, 12 miles away, so I didn’t have to wait for Amazon to have it delivered.

While shopping, I noticed a 10 to 12 foot section of wall with hundreds of little boxes with titles like, Cajun Andouille, Bratwurst etc, all with an ingredient list of chemicals that I can’t pronounce and a seasoning list that consists of ‘seasoning added’.

This is the reason why I called sausage making a dying art. Not the grinding and stuffing, but the chemical packets instead of spices.

Read a recipe instead of opening a package of chemicals.

I have mentioned that I use a cookbook of sausages.  I believe it’s a great starting place and there are hours of just enjoyable reading as well. “Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing” Book by Rytek Kutas.

This isn’t the only sausage cookbook.  There are many excellent ones available. But if you’re going to make your own sausage, then start with a cookbook, not a box of ingredients.  Also make sure you read the recipes a couple of times before embarking. Mistakes have been made and with a little investigation, can be avoided.

We make Andouille and use a Food Network recipe from Emeril Lagasse. We love it, but the first batch was horribly over seasoned, we re read the recipe.  The mistake is in the list of ingredients. They said.

  • ingredient
  • ingredient
  • ingredient
  • ingredient
  • ½ cup Emerils Cajun Seasoning
  • ingredient
  • ingredient
  • ingredient
  • ingredient

They should have said.

    • ingredient
    • ingredient
    • ingredient
    • ingredient
    • ingredient
    • ingredient
    • ingredient
    • ingredient

or

  • ½ cup Emerils Cajun Seasoning

Second, third, and fourth batches turned out fantastic.

Casings to use: We have always used natural 32-36 mm hog casing. While purchasing the 5lb stuffer I talked myself into using the artificial casings. Big mistake. Others may swear by them, but to me they are just junk. They may work well with high end equipment making a continuous link or equipment that automatically squeezes and cauterizes the casing into links. But if you’re going to twist your own links, then stay away from this stuff, as it splits, tears and just doesn’t want to be handled after the stuffing.

And to make matters worse, the package said they would hold 50 pounds of meat, and mine were gone at the 20 pound mark and when compared to real hog casing, they are very expensive.

On twisting, if you’re going to smoke your sausage you can not twist into links and then hang, they will unwind. You must either smoke the links on racks or cook them on racks. Some sausage is water cooked, twisted links will unwind when floating in a hot water bath. I know.

If you want to hang your sausage, after all we always see sausage hanging, then I suggest you get a hand crimper and use sausage staples. After the smoking and removal from the smoker, you may cut off the metal clips.

I became so frustrated trying to spin sausage in and then out (sounds strange, but you spin link 1 up and away from you, link to 2 back and down towards you, repeat sequence for 3 and 4, etc.) it creates nice links only to have all that work undone during smoking or precooking. I  searched YouTube to see how that store bought stuff looks so perfect. Prefect making sausage machines was the answer, machines that cost as much as a car does.

At least now I don’t have to feel apologetic when someone sees my home-made sausage.

I will also have a Smoker Primer posted in the near future. I have 3 different smokers and although they all will smoke the protein, they each work quite differently.

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Season to taste, who’s taste are we talking about?

Just who’s taste are we seasoning to? What do they really mean by ‘Season to taste’?

I read an article sometime back about this subject. They stated that if you gave 10 cooks the same simple recipe, you might get two that were the same tasting dish.

How can this be? First lets start with the very basics, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Well, what kind of salt. Kosher, Sea, Himalayan Pink, That Himalayan black (the stuff that tastes and smells like sulfur). What? I am being a nit picker. Okay, how about Morton’s table salt. Fine, you happy now? Well how about Morton’s with and without iodine? Point is, every salt mentioned tastes different.

Next we will go to that 1/2 teaspoon. Did you really measure it, or was it a double pinch. Measured it. Okay did you level the top?

Now that we have covered salt, what brand spices do you use? Are they fresh or are they the same bottles that came with the spice rack wedding present 15 years ago? And if in a bottle, probably not fresh anyway.

We grow herbs in our garden. Even dried they only retain the optimum flavor for maybe six months. What we grow is way to much for our normal use, but we have found at first harvest we dump all the old stuff ( usually in the tomato pots). Better than the garbage disposal , or even worse, the dump.

After our tins are full of fresh goodness, we put together one or two mixes (really just everything else grown that season and mixed together). Great for sauce bases or a good starting point. At this point I can promise you that a can of Hunts tomato sauce with 1/2 teaspoon each of herb 1, 2 and 3 will taste differently if made in different homes. Same tomato sauce, same herbs, right?

If you have been following what I have said, then I don’t need to answer that.

When buying herbs, we like to go to the bulk department and buy what we want. Oh, the bulk spices in supermarket A are probably from a different vendor than Supermarket B. Or go to a specialty store like Penzie’s we haven’t ever been disappointed and they carry variations of the same theme. Do you have any idea how many different curries there are?

So, back to ‘Season to taste’, that’s just what it means. Add a little more of this, that one is just fine. I would like a bit more salt, but the doctor says no. Please do NOT rely on the recipes list of condiments as gospel. Get started with what they suggest, a little more of what you like and a little less of what you don’t. Always taste the dish before serving.

Always remember that you can add little bit more, but it’s very difficult to take a little bit out. Also spicy does not mean hot.

If you love to play with spices and very flavor-able dishes, then buy a tagine and give Indian food a try. One of the best lessons you can learn about taste and spice is to learn about curry. One size does not fit all.

I will let you go with one more thought, who wrote the recipe and who was their audience? Betty Crocker? Some great starting points, but seasoned for the masses, their version of a shrimp curry dish is not at all like a shrimp curry dish from an Indian ethnic cookbook.

But when done, remember to season to taste.

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