That experiment should not outshine the larger experiment of last night, however. We made two different types of sausage (recipes below) that I think are going to turn out great. I got the idea to try this after cleaning out my late grandfather's old workshop. It had been years since anyone had been in there. Deep down at the bottom of a chest I found the family's old sausage making equipment. Some of my cousins had been asking where this was, but I don't plan on telling them. So hopefully they don't read this. There were four or five meat grinders and two different types of stuffers. My parents say that they were always told that some of the equipment come over from Germany with my ancestors. I have no way of knowing whether that's true, but I'm going to go with it for now.
When I was really too little to participate, my mom's side of the family used to all come together once a year to make sausage. What I did last night didn't compare to their process. I started with a pork shoulder and a chuck roast. They started with a living, breathing hog, which I'm sure someone had named at some point. I was told to stay in the house while they dispatched our little friend. That almost made it more frightening, however. When I finally did come out, the first thing I saw was this hog split from neck to nave, hanging from a tree. While I think that sight probably blocked a lot of the rest of the process out of my fragile little mind, what I do remember was all the older family members each having a task on the assembly line. By the end of the afternoon many hands had made light work, and my family had a freezer full of sausage for the rest of the year. As everyone got older, though, this tradition faded. And by the time I was old enough to care anything about it, and long enough for me to shudder of the image of that pig in the tree, no one in the family really seems to remember too much about it anymore.
So to try to overcome my childhood fears I decided to revive the family tradition of sausage making. I took the smaller of the old sausage stuffers home. I opted to buy a Kitchen-Aide meat grinder rather than the old hand-crank family heirlooms. I borrowed some ideas for the recipes from Michael Ruhlman's "Charcuterie," mixed with some I found online. The first recipe was a German pork and beef garlic sausage. I tried to make it like I remembered the family recipe tasting (which I'm afraid might be lost to history). We'll see how close I got. The second recipe was an all-pork Mexican chorizo. Here's how it all went down:
I decided to invite a few guy friends over to help me in the process. My wife opted to go see a movie with a friend and let us have a true sausage party. The first step was trimming the meat. The butcher at Central Market told me that I should leave most of the pork fat on, but try to trim as much of the beef fat as possible. His reasoning was that I "want to let the pork fat rule, which it's gonna do anyways." After trimming all eight pounds and cutting it into grinder hole-sized strips, I put it in the freezer. Apparently, you want to keep the meat as cold as possible to keep the fat from smearing and messing up that nice marbley look to your sausage.
After we ground all of the meat (which was done diligently by my friend Jeremy... and it took quite a while) we mixed in the spices by hand. At this point it's a good idea to fry up a small sample of your spiced meet to make sure everything tastes right. We thought it tasted damn good at this point. Of course, I hadn't had dinner and was probably about three beers in at that point. After you've got your spices right you want to put the meat back in the fridge to let the flavors meld a bit before you stuff it.
Next, you clean out the casings (which have been soaking in water for an hour or so). This was a bit of an odd task, but we eventually got the hang of it. You have find the opening and attach it to your faucet like your filling up a water balloon. And that's exactly what it looked like at first. Later we figured out that you didn't have to continually run water through all four feet; you only needed to get a little water in there and squeeze it out the end. After the casing have been rinsed you have to find that opening again and thread them onto the tip of the stuffer. My friend Richard was much better at this job than any of us.
After your meat has chilled for a while you're ready to stuff your sausage. Ideally, you want to throw the meat into the stuffer to get all of the air pockets out of it. I didn't not have that much faith in my aim at that point in the evening. I opted to place it inside and try to push all of the air out with my fist. Let me tell you, this made a very delicious sound. The next step was to just push down on the plunger and squeeze everything into the casing. We didn't quite have our tempo down on the first link and it ended up looking a little like a pregnant dolphin. But by the second link, we had things humming. We ended up with five big links of the German sausage, and seven smaller links of the chorizo.
Either because our antique sausage stuffer was grossly inefficient (so much for German engineering), or because I was inept at operating it, we had a little bit left over from each batch that we couldn't squeeze into the casings. This was fine by us, however, because we fried it up and it was delicious. We even grabbed some eggs that my neighbor's chicken had been laying in my backyard and made some breakfast tacos. It was awesome. Then we saw the mac-n-cheese box....
Old-Fashioned German Link Sausage
- 3 pounds lean ground beef
- 3 pounds ground pork (80% lean/20% fat)
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
- 1/2 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon garlic granules
- 1 tablespoon ground yellow mustard seed
- 1/2 cup nonfat dry milk (binder to hold meat and ingredients together)
- 1/2 cup beer
See directions above
- 2 pounds ground pork (80% lean/20% fat)
- 3 Tsp salt
- 4 Tbsp pure ground red chile
- 2 Tbsp Sweet smoked paprika
- 4-6 minced cloves fresh garlic
- 2 Tbsp Mexican oregano
- 2 Tsp whole cumin seeds (crushed)
- 1 Tsp black pepper
- 2 Tsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp dry sherry
- 1/2 cup beer
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Pinch of cayenne pepper