The wife was out of town last weekend. The torrential rain kept me inside both days, so I decided to make a bunch of sausage. There’s a bit of a yuck factor involved, and she doesn’t like to be around during the process. I made Chicken-Apple Sausage, Bratwurst, and a hybrid Sweet & Hot Italian Sausage.
When we were registering for wedding gifts, the wife insisted we get a KitchenAid stand mixer. I told her that if we were going to get a stand mixer, we needed some manly attachments. Some friends of mine bought us the food grinder attachment and the sausage stuffing kit. The grinder is top-notch, but the sausage stuffing kit is a cruel joke. I left this scathing review over at Amazon. After a lot of practice, I’ve figured out how to minimize the sausage stuffing kit’s deficiencies to the point that it’s worth using as long as you’re only making ten or so pounds of sausage. If you’re going to make more, then you should probably spring for a better machine.
To make sausage, you first have to grind your meat. Most sausage is made from pork, so you want to buy the fattest shoulder cut you can find or the finished product will come out dry. You can always add some extra back fat, but that can add too much salt to your sausage no matter how long you soak it. I like to add a little pork jowl bacon meat to the sausage as a way to drive up the fat content and add a smoky undertone. You cut the meat into two-inch cubes, freeze it for half and hour, and run it through the grinder. It’s important to freeze it until it’s a little stiff, otherwise the loose meat will become difficult to work with.
Sorry for the blurry pictures. The wife took the digital camera out of town and I had to take cell phone pictures with suboptimal light and greasy hands.
Next, you mix in the seasonings. Some recipes require you to re-grind the mixture with a finer disk. You have to refreeze the meat between grindings. Finally, it’s time to stuff the sausage. I use natural hog casing, meaning it’s pig intestines that been thoroughly cleaned and packed in salt. You have to rinse the salt out of the casings. I do this by filling the sink halfway with water and attaching the casing to the faucet like a water balloon. When you turn on the water, the casing slithers around like a opaque snake and all of the salt is purged.
Now comes the tricky part. To make the KitchenAid stuffer kit work, you have to lubricate the funnel inside and out with canola oil. The more oil, the better. Push the cold sausage meat through the hopper until some meat starts to come out the end and then load the funnel with the casing. The fatty meat will help the casing to glide over the end of the funnel. When you get to the end, tie it off in a knot. Finally, start dropping pinches of half-frozen meat through the hopper. The auger will not pull the meat through by itself, which is a fatal flaw of this set-up. You want to fill up the hopper and use the mallet with your left hand to steadily force the meat into the auger. The sausage will sputter into the casing unevenly, so you have to use your right hand to hold the casing against the funnel and squeeze the meat into a uniform thickness as it glides through your hand.
I think I got fat on the camera lens here. This is very messy business.
It’s a tedious process. It reminds me of when I used to sit in heavy traffic on a steep hill in my stick-shift car; specifically when I had to work the clutch with my left foot and the brake and gas simultaneously with my right. It was that maneuver that highlighted the drawbacks to a manual transmission.
The looser and wetter the stuffing, the harder it will be to stuff. That’s why it’s better to freeze the meat. For me, the Chicken & Apple Sausage was frustrating almost to the point of surrender. No matter what I did, it just didn’t seem to work out. The Bratwurst and the Italian Sausage on the other hand were easy to stuff.
Since this set-up requires you to use both hands to stuff the sausage, there’s no point in trying to twist the sausage into links until you’re done. Just coil it on a tray and leave a few inches of casing free at the end. Then, starting at the knotted end, you skip about six inches and use both hands to pinch and twist a new six-inch link. Then you skip six inches and repeat until you knot the end piece. By doing it this way, you don’t have to worry about unraveling the previous link with your twisting motion.
Once all of the sausages are twisted into links, you air dry them in a refrigerator overnight. I used the fridge in my garage so it doesn’t make the house smell like a butcher shop. The next day, you cut the sausages into links and either freeze or cook them. I poach my sausages no matter what kind they are, but never two different kinds in the same water. I just load the sausage links in a pan, fill it with just enough water to cover them completely, and cook in the oven at 200° for a couple of hours. Then I finished them on the grill to caramelize the casings. You can cook them other ways, but this method pretty much guarantees that they stay moist and the casings have a nice snap.