I was very lucky to have received the perfect set of tools for making sausage. The first tool is the KitchenAid food grinder and sausage stuffer attachment combination. I happened to get the Breakfast Kit since it was less expensive to get all these accessories together rather than get them separately. The second tool is a Food Saver, which is a vacuum packing system. I’ll tell you how this is important in a bit.
So why sausage, you ask? Well for starters, I got a bit of experience making sausage at school. We ground the meat, seasoned it, mixed it, and stuffed it into casings. It seemed very interesting to me that this could all be done on your own rather than purchased from a store. It could potentially even be safer to make sausage at home too since the ingredients and environment in which it’s being made is entirely controlled. I have total control about what cuts and quality of meat I’m using, the amount of fat that’s added, and also the salt content. If I’m careful about keeping everything clean and cold, it’s likely also safer from a sanitation perspective. Plus, I could make sausage of the non-porcine variety, which I was excited about. It’d certainly be more affordable than buying specialty sausage from the grocery store.
When it comes to sausages, more than likely the casings that you see are made of pig intestines. Yup, that’s right. They’re great for stuffing sausages. They’re thin, elastic, fairly strong, and crisp up nicely on a grill. The only problem is if you don’t eat pork products this could be problematic. One could choose to just eat it anyway, or attempt to peel off which is a huge pain (I can tell you from first hand experience). Since I was on track to making my own sausages by obtaining the right tools, the next step was to get my hands on sausage casings. There are synthetic and cellulose casings out there as well, but they don’t seem all that appealing to me. So the next best option was to use lamb or beef casings. Beef casings are enormous though – that’s what you’d stuff a bologna in – maybe 5″-6″ in diameter. Lamb casings are on the smaller side, less than 1″ which was perfect for what I needed.
There are many online resources for casings. Most of them will sell it packed in salt, which will keep for years in this form. I didn’t much like the idea of having to mail order casings for $50 or up and pay for shipping, especially since I don’t plan on making 50-60 pounds of sausage. Sure, it keeps for a while but I’d rather not invest that much up front. Being the phone-phobic person that I am, I started an internet search of where I might find them. It sounded like some people drive to practically every gourmet grocery in search of casings, yet I didn’t manage to get any information on where I could get them for sure. I detest driving to 6 different stores and coming home empty-handed more than I do making cold calls, so I ended up calling the Whole Foods on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco, since it’s the closest one to my school. Boy was I in luck! Not only do they carry both lamb and pork casings, they sell them for $19.99/lb! If that sounds very expensive, consider this: sausage casings are a very, very thin membrane so they are incredibly light. I was able to go in the next day and purchase one “hank”, or a continuous length, for around $1.50 – and that was enough to stuff five pounds of sausage. What a deal!
Now that I had my casings ready, I considered the sausage options. Along with the new sausage making toys, I also received Charceuterie by Michael Rhulman and Brian Polcyn. They have at least 20 different recipes to choose from. Since I had lamb casings on hand, I figured a lamb sausage would be the way to go. Merguez is a classic North African lamb sausage so I thought I’d start there. Other than lamb, it’s got red hot pepper flakes, a bit of sugar, garlic, roasted red peppers, black pepper, oregano, red wine, and Spanish paprika (I added smoked paprika). I got a leg of lamb from my local Costco for $4.99/lb and got myself a five pound specimen. To increase the fat content a bit, I remembered that the local Asian market had lamb bellies in the freezer so I got about a pound of that as well. Make sure to trim the sinew and “yucky” bits off as they can get tangled in the grinder blade. Don’t throw out the fat though – that’s what makes sausage juicy.
As in the case of Mexican chorizo, it’s not absolutely necessary to put sausage into a casing in order to call it sausage. For the chicken chorizo, I just got a package of organic chicken thighs and added the chorizo seasoning, which includes ancho chile powder, hot paprika, cayenne powder, garlic, black pepper, oregano, cumin, tequila, and red wine vinegar.
Make sure to slice the meat small enough that it’ll fit in the grinder. I learned from this experience that it’s better to cut into long strips – the worm gear that pushes the meat into the blade does better with long pieces of meat since it’ll pull it along. Don’t cut into cubes! My arm was tired the next two days from doing it that way from all the pushing and plunging required to get it in there. Add the various seasonings, and then chill until the meat is nice and cold. It’s a good idea to put the grinder tools in the refrigerator too. The heat generated from the grinder can melt or soften the fat which can lead to poor texture and distinction between the meat and juicy fatty bits. For food safety reasons, if it’s a larger quantity of meat and it will take some time to put it all through the grinder – please, please work in small batches and keep the rest in the refrigerator, both the ground up sausage and the meat waiting to be ground up.
After grinding the meat, the sausage recipe will often call for mixing the sausage until it looks sticky. What this does is it develops the myosin protein in the meat so that it sticks together when it gets cooked. After mixing, it’s a good idea to cook up a small piece to check the seasoning. It’s very hard to do once it’s stuffed into a casing. I do apologize for failing to take photos of stuffing the sausage into the casings. Honestly I think it’s a 2 person job to stuff sausages – one person to manage the casing and one person to push the meat through. It’s messy, too – not very good for the camera.
But anyway, here are some of my newly-stuffed sausages, hooray! There was just over five pounds of it by the time I was done. I twisted the links at around 6.5″ because that’s the size of the vacuum bag. Speaking of vacuum packaging, the reason why I think it’s important to have this around for making sausages is because it really goes a long way in making sure that your efforts can last a relatively long time. It’ll last much longer in the refrigerator or in the freezer when vacuum packed. Since meat is a relatively expensive food item, I think it’s important to store it properly. Meaning, bag it, pack it then label, date and refrigerate (or freeze)!
So what can you do with this sausage, other than simply grilling it as is and putting it between some bread?
Well, there are quite a few options. You could choose to make a moussaka using the lamb sausage instead of ground lamb.
Or you could make a kale and sausage soup! Saute the sausage with onions and garlic, then add tomato, water or stock or broth, and a can of beans. Finally add lots of chopped kale and simmer until tender.