Whoever first made sausages was a genius. They took pieces of meat that they perhaps weren't going to use right away, or at all, and combined them with spices and/or herbs, finally stuffing them into another part of the animal that might not otherwise get used. The result? Delicious.
After thinking about making sausages for almost a year, I finally did it. And it wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.
I've been wanting to make sausages since I bought a quarter of a pig from my CSA (several months ago) and especially since my wife bought me copy of Michael Ruhlman's "Charcuterie." The clincher was when, in celebration of getting married, my mother-in-law gave me a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer and some other family friends got me some of the attachments that go with it, most notably the meat grinder and sausage stuffer.
I had been slightly intimidated by the notion of making my own sausages, but in the end, all it really involves is combining some spices and herbs with freshly ground pork and then stuffing it into casings. What could go wrong? Even if I screwed up the stuffing process, I'd still have great tasting sausage that I can make into patties or cook with at will, mixing it into sauces, etc.
To prepare, I re-read the sausage chapter in "Charcuterie," browsed a couple of European sausage websites, and finally emailed Bob Del Grosso, who was Ruhlman's instructor at the CIA and taught him much of what he knows and writes so well about. Del Grosso is no longer at the CIA, but now works on a farm and is making his own charcuterie. I urge you to read his blog, which is a true inspiration for good living. The reason I emailed Bob Del Grosso was not that I mistrusted Ruhlman's advice, but that my wife really loves maple sausages and "Charcuterie" offered no such recipe .
Bob gladly gave me some advice, which was pretty similar to the information culled from Charcuterie, as well as a maple sausage recipe to work from. So, my sausage journey began. Making sausages is done in stages, so I tackled each stage separately, focusing on what needed to be done, and hoping not to screw up. The stages are: grinding the meat, mixing the meat, and finally stuffing the sausages.
I decided to use two cuts from my pig: a shank and a roast (that's the roast at right). Some cooks would balk at the use of these particular cuts, and they might insist that you make sausages only from scraps, but a great sausage is made from great ingredients, and these were great ingredients. Besides, these were just about the only two pieces we had not yet eaten. Regardless, my wife is not really interested in eating big slabs of roasted meat. She lived 17 years of her life as a vegetarian and now eats meat, but usually only when it is properly sourced, and usually ground or smoked in some way so as not to resemble a big slab of meat. So, if my wife wants sausages, I will gladly oblige.
The two cuts of pork weighed in at 6 lbs, so I adjusted my recipes accordingly. I decided to make two types of sausage: a maple sausage and a variation of fresh garlic sausage.
The maple sausage was simple: for each pound of meat, I added 0.3 ounces of kosher salt, 0.5 ounces of maple syrup, and about a tablespoon of ground sage, returning the meat to the freezer to chill. After frying up a small portion, we added a bit more maple syrup and sage.
The other sausage was a little more complicated. I started with the fresh garlic sausage recipe from "Charcuterie," but after frying up a small patty of it, we decided that it needed more flavour. I added a mixture of sauteed minced onion and button mushrooms (chilled before adding to the meat), and also some paprika, turmeric, black pepper, and brown sugar. I did not measure these ingredients, but used my senses, and some common sense (read Ruhlman's entry in "The Elements of Cooking" on common sense). We fried a small patty and decided that it tasted great. The meats went back into the freezer until the next stage: stuffing.
I got some lamb casings from an organic butcher at Jean-Talon market, which is a quasi-farmers market within walking distance of our apartment. I chose lamb casings because I wanted thinner sausages that could be used for breakfasts and brunches. The butcher charged me $4 for two casings (I ended up using only one of them). Stuffing the sausages was a two-person job, so my wife pitched in at this point.
I fed the meat into the machine while my wife made sure that the sausages were being stuffed properly. It took some practice, but we got the hang of it. We ended up with about 25 5-inch maple sausages and half as many of the other sausages that were twice as long. All of the sausages went into the freezer except one nice looking coil that we had for dinner, fried, and served with mashed potatoes and rutabagas, and broccoli.
I am happy I made sausages and will definitely make it a part of my life. It may be difficult to eat store-bought sausage from now on.
Next challenge: sauerkraut.