Making both ends, er, meat...
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I like sausages. More importantly, I like good sausages, by which I mean one with a decent fat content, for texture and flavour, and not overwhelmed by cramming in half a herb garden, with around 85% meat. These days, most sausage makers seem convinced that more meat, especially lean, is better. Not so - 90-95% meat, mostly lean, will give you a dry, dense and generally nasty sausage - and that, with assorted herbage and eccentric seasonings, is mostly what you get these days, at least in my local supermarkets.
Let me emphasise this - a sausage needs fat, it’s vital to its very existence. Sausages were never intended to be a healthy option, they are peasant food, pure and simple, a way of using up the intestines and fatty bits of the family pig. You should be able to cook a couple of plump sausages, long and slow, at the bottom of a pot of, say, cannelini beans, so that as fast as they give up their fat, the beans take it on board, achieving a wonderful silkiness of texture. You simply cannot make a traditional dish like a cassoulet with an almost fatless, modern, sausage.
My local butcher produced excellent pork sausages in the eighties, but over the years he’s adulterated the recipe rather than put up prices (the last ones I bought, months ago, had a pronounced granular texture, and seemed mostly ground-up cartilage, like ear and snout), and, the unforgivable sin - he’s now switched to artificial casings, and deeply crappy ones, too, that look like paper tubes.
So I decided to make my own. It’s not hard, but the equipment isn’t cheap, at least on benefit. The cheapest option is a hand mincer with a sausage-filling attachment, as here but there’s a downside - you need three hands! So, being rather lacking in that department, I looked for an electric version, and came up with this for £49.98. As it goes elsewhere for £20 more I grabbed it. It does mean my social life (ha!), is down the pan for a week, but what the hell.
These guys have a very good range of sausage making ancillaries and flavour mixes.
Pig intestine casings are best, and not wildly expensive, so that’s the route I’m taking (the alternatives being sheep casings, which are more suited to chipolatas, and artificial casings, which I won’t use).
What I want to make first is just a basic, old-fashioned pork banger - pork, breadcrumbs, a touch of mace and nutmeg, salt and lots of black pepper (OK - traditionally, it should be white pepper but, hey, it’s my sausage!), and maybe just a hint of sage. That’s it - no chemicals at all.
Some chemicals are considered essential - preservatives, emulsifiers and suchlike but, at least to start with, I’ll give them a miss, and see how I get on. The preservative, at least, I can do without - they can easily be frozen. It extends their life to about 7 days, in the fridge - I can’t imagine keeping fresh food hanging around that long.
My local guy also made a superb Old English sausage, but stopped making it because, he said, he couldn’t get the spice mix. Complete nonsense - it’s widely available and, once I’ve mastered the basic technique, I’ll certainly be making some.
My first task is to scale down ingredients to suit my needs. Most spice mixes will make maybe 5kgs of sausages - way too much for me, so I need to scale things down to give me batches of just 1kg - after all, unless I give them away (and I probably will give some away), there’s just me to eat them.
Then there’s the fact that many recipes call for things like pork shoulder and back fat, which will make for a very expensive banger**, and back fat is very hard to find, anyway. I’m looking at using skinned and boned pork belly as a base, with the addition of leaner cuts to adjust the fat content downwards, as belly can be around 40% fat.
** Having said that, I don't think that worrying about cost is the way to go! I am, after all, aiming for a premium product, otherwise, what's the point? Anyway, pork shoulder is about £3 a kg, so it's hardly ruinous. Not very fatty, though, so I think, as back fat is hard to find (and it's essential only for black pudding), that a mix of shoulder and leg - which has quite a lot of fat and is about the same price as shoulder - will get the job done.
I hope to photograph the process and post an article, and recipe, here in the next month or so - I still have to buy more equipment yet, mainly an assortment of containers, and a vacuum-sealing machine is pretty much essential. Cost is £19.99, from the place I got my mincer; they have lots of kitchen stuff at decent prices - home-brew kit, too, and pretty much everything you could need for home food production, from chicken-keeping to knitting your own yogurt. Everything for those tempted by The Good Life, in fact, except an inflatable Felicity Kendal!
I also have an ambition to make a veggie sausage that’s worth eating - I was a veggie for many years, and veggie sausages are worse than dog food - I think I can do better.
Update: Well, I’ve got my mincer/sausage machine, and it looks pretty robust. It’s a No. 5 size, for those of you who care about these thing, which is fine for me. Downside - the buggardly thing is amazingly noisy; not good in a small flat.
So I need to buy a camping mat - the foam pad that goes under a sleeping bag - they’re great for all sorts of insulating jobs. A double-layer rectangular piece will be glued to a small chopping board, to form a base which will isolate the machine from the worktop, and the rest of it will be used to make a housing for it, to muffle the noise. Hopefully! If not, too sodding bad…
Large plastic food bags will serve for the storage of meats, as they’re sterile, and when mincing, the top of a large bag can be tied to the mincer outlet to collect the minced meat. That means only one bowl will be needed, for collecting the sausage as it emerges from the machine. This is important, as space is at a premium.
I’m undecided about casings (on average, a metre of casing will do for a kilo of sausages). I want to use natural casings, but they come in rather large quantities - 25 yards is the least I can buy - but they don’t keep long, a couple or three months, tops. The question in my mind is, will they freeze? There’s no info available, so the best way to find out it try it for myself. I really can’t see why not.
The alternative is collagen casings - still a natural product, even if they are man-made. In terms of eating, there’s little difference, and they keep for two years, which is useful. The main difference is in the appearance - natural casings give a slightly curved sausage, collagen-cased sausage are straight.
I think, though, I’ll go with natural casings and see how it works out. After all, 25 yards is only £4.40, so it won’t break the bank. They come packed in a brine solution so, when I get them, I’ll cut them into 2.5 metre lengths, put each one in a small freezer bag with enough brine solution to cover (I’ll have to make my own, there won’t be enough otherwise, but I’ve got a hydrometer so I can get the strength right), and freeze them. They’re a form of meat so I really can’t see an difficulty with that.
All being well, I should be able to make my first batch or sausages next week, nothing fancy, just standard pork. As before, watch this space… The next update will likely be a new page.