Sausage from scratch

Julie Fitz-Gerald
October 26, 2010
By Julie Fitz-Gerald
Making sausage in house can quickly become an obsessive passion. You can find yourself spending countless weekends searching for the right mix of spices, the ideal texture and the perfect fat content. The ultimate goal is to create your very own mouth-watering homemade sausage. Websites dedicated to the craft bear messages from scores of consumers, fed up with the high sodium and preservative-packed sausages offered in grocery stores. Instead, the true sausage lover is turning their own hand to charcuterie, preparing sausages that will tantalize taste buds and stay true to only the most authentic ingredients.

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You will need two key items to delve into the world of sausage making: a meat grinder and a stuffer. There are many varieties of grinders and stuffers on the market and deciding is based simply on the amount of sausage you will be making. For small batches (around three pounds or less), a stand mixer by a company such as KitchenAid with the sausage stuffer and food grinder attachments will work just fine. Depending on the model you choose, the KitchenAid retails for anywhere between $400 and $600, with attachments costing between $20 and $85.

Larger batches of sausage will require more heavy-duty equipment from meat processing equipment manufacturers, with costs varying greatly. You can find manual grinders for around $100, while heavy duty electric grinders can be upwards of $5,000. There are also grinders at every price point in between.

Stuffers have different price points as well, depending on capacity and horsepower. Smaller capacity stuffers retail for around $120, while a top-of-the-line, 50-pound stuffer with a 2.5-horsepower motor retails for $12,978. The equipment you choose all depends on the quantity of sausage you will be making.

Once you have a grinder and stuffer, the fun can begin. Canadian Pizza went to Terry Deane, co-owner of Ah-Beetz pizzeria in Abbotsford, B.C., whose restaurant garners rave reviews for its New York-style, sourdough pizza. One of Deane’s best-selling pizzas (and his personal favourite) is the Salsiccia pizza. It’s essentially a Margherita pizza with Deane’s own homemade Italian fennel sausage and red onion.

“It’s one of our most popular pizzas and it’s the pizza I eat 99 per cent of the time. When we first opened, Hawaiian pizza was about 40 per cent of our business, but now we hardly ever make one,” Deane says of the impact his homemade sausage has had.

The taste that Deane creates is a simple, fennel flavour that reminds him of Italian sausage and pepper sandwiches at the street fairs in New York.

“That’s the flavour I’m looking for and it’s hard to find here,” he says.

Deane says the key to great sausage is to start with high-quality pork butt, which is the pork shoulder. He purchases local, hormone-free, natural pork.

Once you have the meat, you’re ready to start making sausage. Deane advises that starting off with well-chilled meat makes the grinding portion of the process much easier.

“What I do is cut it up into one inch cubes, just small enough so that it will fit easily through the hole in the top of the meat grinder. You want it to fall through easily; you don’t want to have to force it. Then I put it in the freezer so it’s cold – not frozen, but really cold, for maybe 30 or 40 minutes,” he notes.

Next, Deane says to grind your meat into a bowl that’s set in ice. “It’s not necessary, but it’s the best way to do it. You want to keep the meat as cold as possible; that’s the most important thing.”

The ground pork then goes into the refrigerator while he prepares the spices. Here is where you can be creative. Deane achieves his authentic fennel flavour by toasting fennel seed in the frying pan. He then adds kosher salt, black pepper, minced garlic, chilli flakes and sweet paprika. Once the fennel seed is toasted and all the spices are mixed into the meat, Deane adds white wine and cold water to the mixture. “That helps distribute the spices and it also helps the meat stuff more easily. I usually put one cup of liquid for five pounds of meat.”

The mixture is now ready for stuffing. Deane uses a natural hog casing, which comes packed in salt. He says it’s important to soak the casing in water for a couple of hours and then rinse out the inside of the casing to avoid an overload of sodium. “I usually use a squeeze bottle with water and start in the end and squeeze the water through to get rid of the salt.”

With clean casing in hand, it’s now time to use your stuffer. Tie a knot in one end of the casing and feed the rest of the casing onto the tube of the stuffer. You can choose to make links, or you can stuff one continuous long casing and leave it in a coil. When you’re stuffing, Deane warns: “Stuff it slowly and watch for air pockets. I have a little sausage trick: as I get an air pocket, I just pop it and it gets rid of the air so it’ll stuff completely.”

The links or coil of sausage can now be roasted in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes at 200 C. The final product is a mild Italian sausage that can be sliced and enjoyed on pizza or by itself. This is how Deane prepares sausage for family barbecues and gatherings. However, on his popular pizzas he skips the casing and puts dollops of the raw ground pork mixture directly on the pizza, then bakes the entire pie in the oven. He explains, “I basically just grab a handful of sausage and put it on in little smashed pieces all over the pizza.”

Either way, the end product has tongues wagging. Deane says there are huge benefits to making your own sausage.

“Fat content is very important when you make sausage and a lot of times I feel like sausage makers use pork trim and things as opposed to pork butt. They usually don’t have the right fat content and it’s not the same quality. Also, when sausage is too lean it’s kind of unpleasant, so you want to use 30 per cent fat content. Some places try to make it too lean.”

Other benefits Deane points out are being able to control the coarseness of the grind to get the perfect texture, and customizing spices to achieve the flavour you’ve been searching for.

Like any kind of preparation involving raw meat, there are certain things to be wary of. Always ensure your equipment is clean and sanitized with a bleach solution, and never cross-contaminate when you are handling raw meat. Deane advises that keeping the pork mixture and the liquid mixture very cold is important because it ensures the fat within the mixture does not break down.

Deane offers one final tip to all those making sausage at home. “Buy a digital scale! It’s very important for a consistent product and is very important when measuring salt,” he says.

Now that you have a how-to manual, a recipe for authentic fennel flavour and more than a few great tips, what’s stopping you? Try your hand at homemade sausage and see if a hidden passion emerges.

Terry Deane’s recipe for Mild Italian Sausage:

sausage_1Ingredients
5 lb pork butt (shoulder) fat cap still on...or 4 lb pork butt and 1lb pork back fat
42 grams kosher salt (weighing the salt is very important)
2 tbsp toasted fennel seed
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp Spanish paprika (sweet)
1 tbsp red pepper (chilli) flakes
2 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup ice cold water


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