Monday, January 3, 2011

Sausage Making Trial and Error, Part One

I can't even say "Sausage 101" because I feel like I'm just beginning my intro to making sausages. Actually that's not a true statement, because 2 years ago I made some sausage with venison, but in collagen casings and/or patties. That's in the same ballpark, but not nearly the same thing as using real hog or sheep casings.

The collagen casings (made from collagen in cattle hides) were very easy to use, but I just didn't like the texture when the links were cooked. The venison recipe I used was tasty and I'm using it again. Using the natural hog or sheep casings is a lot more difficult, and would be much better and easier with another pair of hands when stuffing the casings.

Before I continue: hog and sheep casings are sold in packages of 100 yards in length, and in several sizes (circumference). I chose one package of the smallest hog casings, and one of the smaller diameter sheep casings. I only started with the hog casings because I wasn't sure which would be best to use. 

At any rate, the first thing to do is take some casings from the hank and soak them overnight (unless you are doing 100 or so pounds of sausage at a time and might need the whole hank). The instructions say you can soak them for merely an hour in 90ºF water just before stuffing, but that they may not fully soften. I didn't want to take that chance, so I soaked a few yards of casings overnight.

I wish I'd had someone with a video camera while I was trying to untangle and work on some of the salty casings. I'm sure it was a hoot. In the salted state, they look a bit like a zillion salt-crusted shoelaces heaped together... but not the round kind of laces. There was a plastic ring in the hank... I suppose at one time it held all the lengths of casings together, but finding any end was not easy. I ended up cutting off a few lengths!

I wish I had photos to show this part but my cat is a terrible photographer! Once I got a few yards off the hank and ready to soak, the instructions also say to flush them... another task easier said than done.

When I finally could hold an end to the faucet, water went in pretty fast and the casings widened to over an inch... BUT, the motion of the water stream tended to twist the lengths of casing so that I had a series of long water bubbles that swirled in the sink getting more and more tangled. I'm hoping I can rig some sort of board with pegs about 3 feet apart and unwind the casings on it. Not sure how I'll flush them like that, because it won't fit in the sink... and if I take the length back off the pegs it will just tangle again.

For ALL the blogs, posts and books on making sausage I've read in the last 3 years, I don't remember anyone ever addressing the problems I had with the initial handling and rinsing the casings. Was it just me? Or were they too chicken to mention it? In retrospect, I think if I could lay out the casings on a long table while in their salty state, it might be easier to find ONE length, which maybe could be wound around a plastic cup or something that would fit in the sink.

So, a few strands of 1-2 yards of the hog casings soaked overnight. When I rinsed the mess in the morning, I had a repeat of all the lengths tangling, this time because they were slippery. I finally got 2 lengths separated into a small dish of water, and they flushed pretty easily.

I left the rest of the slippery casings in the bigger bowl, and what I don't use today can be re-salted and kept with the original salted casings in the refrigerator for a year or more. They MUST NOT be frozen, nor allowed to dry out. I think I will vacuum-seal what I don't use immediately and then I won't have to worry about drying out.

Venison cubes ready to grind

Next: set up the meat grinder attachment to my KitchenAid mixer. Making sausage is a lot easier if everything is cold, and I cut the venison into chunks while it was still about half frozen. I already had ground some pork, and some pork fat earlier, and frozen it in one pound packages. I flattened the packages when I froze them so they thaw quickly.

Grinding Venison

Here's the set-up for the meat grinder. I ground 2 pounds (not shown) of venison after taking this photo, and put it back in the refrigerator for now.

Meanwhile, I had defrosted one pound of ground lamb overnight, and I seasoned it to make my first batch of sausage in casings (nothing needed to be added but seasonings). I added rubbed sage, black pepper, salt, cayenne pepper, and a pinch of cloves to the ground lamb, pretty mild seasonings because I wanted a breakfast sausage. Next time I will add at least a quarter-pound (or maybe more) fatty pork as the sausage was tough when I cooked a patty.

Threading casings onto stuffing nozzle

I used the larger of my 2 plastic stuffing funnels on the grinder and threaded some casing material on it. It really went on quite easily, to my surprise.

Lamb Sausage

Then I stuffed what I had seasoned into the casings. I didn't get a picture because I didn't have enough hands and I was afraid to let the mess just hang from the nozzle and possibly break while I took a photo. These casings were Hog Casings for Small Brats and Italian Sausage, 29/32mm. They were the smallest size of hog casings, and when stuffed they were much fatter than I wanted for these sausages (fatter than in the photo above). That size casing will be perfect for kielbasa and Italian sausage though.

I found I could lay the whole short length out on the counter and roll it to thinner size before twisting into links. Another pair of hands could have helped by pulling a tad on the stuffed casings as they came off the funnel so they wouldn't have been so fat.

Lamb Sausage Links

When you twist into links, pinch a spot with your fingers and then twist... make every other link twist in the opposite direction and they will stay twisted until you can tie them off. You don't really have to tie them if you are just freezing them (rather than smoking, or hanging for curing), but I decided to tie anyway.

Stuffing just one pound of meat into casings leaves a lot in the stuffing funnel, so I made it into a patty (which I cooked for lunch). Now that I realize how much excess is left in the tube, I need to defrost another chunk of venison to add to what I ground today, defrost some additional pork and fat to add, and try to stuff at least 4-6 pounds of sausage at one time. 

Here's the sheep casings in the package, and a few yards I separated out to soak for tomorrow for venison sausage. I notice there is liquid plus salt in this package, whereas the hog casings were merely damp, and totally salt crusted. Could be simply that the sheep casings say pre-flushed and the hog casings do not.

I DO feel much more confident after today, though!

Update: I did the venison batch but it's too lengthy to add here, so it will be a separate post.

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