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Make it Yourself: Sausage Making

You may have read Devie the hound dog's version of making sausage.  Here's my version of the basics. I received the book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman last Christmas.  Since then I experimented with making my own bacon, smoking various meats and cooking confit of all sorts.  Until recently, I had not attempted to make any sort of sausage.

Sausage is the heart of charcuterie, whether it is fresh breakfast sausage or a fine aged peperone.  This Christmas, I received the food grinder and sausage stuffer attachments for our Kitchen-Aid and am in the sausage making business.  I purchased enough hog casing from Butcher Packer for about 250 pounds of sausage and have all of the adjuncts (dextrose, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate and kosher salt) needed to make all the popular styles.

Thus far I have made fresh garlic sausage, breakfast sausage, Sauccison Sec (French dry-cured country sausage) and Spanish chorizo (also dry-cured).  I package each in a vacuum sealed bag to store in the refrigerator or freezer until I eat it.

Whether the sausage is fresh or dried, I have distilled Ruhlman's excellent sausage making advice down to a few rules:

1. Always use at least 30% fat in your sausage.  If you are using a good fatty cut of pork like pork shoulder, this should be no problem.  Sometimes you will want to add extra fat with additional cuts like fresh side or back-fat.

2. Keep everything as cold as possible.  Seriously, almost frozen is where you want to be.  I didn't do this the first time around, and the result was a mushy unworkable mess.  My procedure now is to freeze the entire grinder attachment with blades attached before making the sausage.  I then spread my meat and fat on a cookie sheet i nthe freezer until it is getting stiff and crunchy (but not frozen).  The bowl you grind into and any other tools should also be frozen.  When stuffing your sausage, keep the sausage mix in a bowl set in ice (or snow, if it is plentiful in your area as it was this winter).  Your sausage quality depends on these steps to maintain a low temperature.

3. Keep everything clean.  I haven't had a contaminated batch of sausage yet, but my experience with beer brewing has taught me that cleanliness reduces the likelihood of a batch going bad.

4. Use the specified amount of salt or nitrites.  First of all, this makes the product taste authentic.  Secondly, the proper amount of sodium nitrite is critical for food safety especially in dry-cured products.  This is the ingredient that will keep your product from spoiling, or worse yet developing botulism.  Do not skimp or leave sodium nitrite out with the thought you are looking after your health.

5. Avoid air bubbles in the casing during the stuffing process.  If they develop, prick them with a sterile needle to remove them.  It will take practice and experience to get your stuffing technique down.

Rachel took this short video when I made chorizo:

Follow these rules, use a good recipe, and enjoy homemade forcemeats.  Happy stuffing!