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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Making Sausage - Part 2

If you need to get up to speed, review yesterday's posting to see how to prepare the sausage casing and the meat itself.

Today, we Stuff and Link.

Technically, we all ready have sausage.  Ground, spiced meat.  I've stopped many-a-time right at this stage, and just vacuum sealed up a bunch of the sausage for use in spagetti sauce or as burgers made from Italian sausage or bratwurst.

But we're gonna stuff, and that means we need some way to get the meat into the casings.  At the very basic level, you could use any tube that fit into the casing, and just force the ground meat in.

In my case, I make a lot of sausage each year, so I've purchased a dedicated sausage stuffer.  It's a stainless steel can that holds 5 lbs of meat.  There is a hand crank which forces a plunger down into the can.  The meat exits the can through a hole which has a stuffer tube attached to it.

You can also get attachments for a Kitchen Aid mixer.  That's how I started out, but it seemed like too much work to me.  It really takes two people to do it with any efficiency.

To get started, you must get the 15 feet of casing onto the stuffing tube.  Make sure you are using a tube that matches the diameter of your casings.  Start with some shortening or lard and smear it on the tube - this is very important in getting this done quickly and without ripping the casing.

You then just start feeding it on.

Feed it from the bowl of water it's sitting in, and "sheath up" the stuffing tube.  When you're finished, the casing will be all bunched up at the start of the tube.  This is how it should look -

Although this last picture looks like the tip has been tied off, it has not - and this is important.  You need to first fill the stuffing jar body with meat and crank it to extrude some sausage into the tube and the casing.  THEN tie off the tip with a simply overhand knot.  Otherwise, the casing will fill with air (instead of meat) and you'll need to pierce the casing.

Give the hand crank a couple of twirls, and you're soon making sausage!

You want to guide the casing off the tube, not pull it.  This is aided by keeping the casing VERY moist.  You'll notice the cup of water in the upper right-hand corner of the picture.  I am constantly dribbling water onto the casing that is still on the tube to keep it lubricated, as well as on the counter top to allow the stuffed sausage to easily glide around.

You do not want to fill the casing to their ultimate capacity.  If I had to put a number on it, I'd say it would be 95%.  You need to leave some slack so that you can twist the sausages into links when you're finished.

Crank, crank, chank, and you end up with sausage!

As the sausage comes out, put it into a coil to keep it manageable.  When you get to the end of casing, tie a knot in the back end, slip on another casing and continue with the rest of your meat.  If the stainless jar starts getting to the end, refill it before you hit the bottom - you want to compact the meat so that it doesn't have any air bubbles in it.

To make links, you need to grasp the tube-o-meat at the length you want the sausage, pinch the point you want the sausage to end, and give it 3 twirls.  Most of the time this is about 6 or 7 inches long.  The squares of my counter top are 6 inch squares.  I like my sausage a bit longer, so I use the opposite corners as my marks (about 7 inches).  Be sure you spin the sausage in the same direction each time (either away from you or towards you), or every other sausage will become un-twisted!

The casings are VERY strong.  As long as you're not being a psycho about it, you can spin the links without worrying about the casing breaking or tearing.

For each successive sausage, you need to skip a link, so to speak.  You measure, pinch, measure, pinch, hold both pinches, spin.  Repeat until you have linked your entire casing.

Now what?  Most of the time, you're not going to eat all of your sausage right after you've made it.  Since it's a fresh sausage, you must preserve it - generally by freezing it.

I cut mine into 4-link portions, and vacuum seal it.  When vacuum sealing fresh sausage, it will squish it flat!  To combat that, I take the sausage and place it on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper, and throw it into the freezer.  I leave it there for about 2 hours.  This firms it up enough so it won't lose its shape when the vacuum hits it.

Cooking fresh sausage (store-bought or homemade), IMO, takes two steps - especially if you want it to look good.  Here's how I cook bratwurst -

You'll need 8 bratwurst, 1 onion, 1 bell pepper, and a 6-pack of some American lager beer - Bud, Coors, PBR or the like (NOT Miller - sux!).  The beer you use needs to be a low-hop beer.  Don't get a craft brew Pale Ale or India Pale Ale that is very bitter - drink those!  When cooking with them, the hop oils get way too bitter, and takes away from the flavor of the sausage.

Pour the 6-pack into a pot and turn on the heat.  Add the sliced onions and peppers.  Once it is boiling hard, throw in the fresh sausage.  When it comes to a boil again, turn off the heat and cover the pot.  Walk away for 1 hour AT LEAST.  The longer, the better.  This will par-cook the sausage while infusing it with great flavor.

Now, pan fry or grill the brats.  You'll notice the casing will generally stay intact - you won't have any "blow outs" or excessive flair-ups.  You'll be a hero and considered a grill master (or mistress).  You can thank me later.

For our Raider tailgaters, we do the par-cooking the night before.  After the pot has cooled, the whole mess is placed in a gallon ziplock - sausage, peppers and juice - and thrown in the fridge.  At the tailgater the next day, it only takes 10 minutes or so to add the char or grill marks to the sausage.

Accept The Challenge

Build your skill base.  Save money.  Know what you're eating.  You can make sausage out of virtually any available meat - just be sure you have sufficient levels of fat (at least 30%) to ensure a sufficiently moist product.

As noted, you don't have to use casings.  When I first started making sausage a million years ago, I would just form my breakfast sausages into little link-like forms or as patties, then freeze them.

Copyright 2009 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

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