How To: Grind Your Own Sausage

01sausage032009.jpg2009_03_20-SausThumbs.jpgAs Emma said earlier today, making your own sausage isn't as daunting as one might think. It allows you to control not only the flavor, but the fat and nutrient contents as well! Sausage makes even the most meager left overs or ingredients, into a meal fit for a king and we just happened to have a camera along when we ground our own last night. See the step by step process, learn some valuable tricks of the trade and see own recipe for pork-apple-raisin breakfast sausage after the jump... Before we get started, there are a few tips and tricks you need to have in your "sausage arsenal" to make the end result turn out the way you want. There are thousands of recipes for different types of sausage, but when it comes right down to it, it can totally be something that is "winged." A little bit of this and a little bit of that are just fine as long as you keep the proportions of certain key ingredients (mainly fat, meat and liquid).

We can't say enough about our sausage making sidekick, Bruce Aidells' Complete Sausage Book. It's full of recipes on how to make sausage but also recipes on how to use it. Plus it's packed with words of wisdom that have been more than helpful in our culinary travels.

Basic Tips on Making Sausage

• Fresh sausage is perishable. It will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days, but frozen will last 2-3 months. A little prep work goes a long way to keeping things fresh and on hand in ways that it can be used/thawed easily.

• Special equipment isn't needed. We rely on our meat grinder attachment for our Kitchen Aid, although a sharp knife or a food processor will do just fine (the texture however won't be quite as uniform as with a grinder). We prefer our sausage casing-less, but if you chose to case yours a simple funnel or sausage horn will make the process easier.

• If using a grinder, keep the blades and plates dry, but apply vegetable oil to all other moving parts before starting.

• Keep meat refrigerated right up until the time to use, cold is your friend in this process. Chilling your bowls is a great thing if you have the space to do so! In addition, after cubing your meat, chill for 30 minutes to keep it cold during the grinding process which generates a great deal of heat.

• Because the meat will be ground anyway, take advantage of cheaper cuts of meat that might normally be tough otherwise. Shoulder cuts however will yield excellent flavor no matter what the 4 legged-animal. Thigh meat works fantastic for poultry. Make sure to remove any connective tissue or gristle from your cuts before starting.

• Commercial sausage can be upwards of 50% fat. You are welcome to add that much, however better taste and texture will come from a lower addition of 15%-30% fat. If you drain the fat once the meat is cooked, it will contain significantly less than that however, so there's no need to add less fat than what standard recipes call for. What kind do you use?

Pork is usually the best choice for fat as it melts wonderfully (pork back fat with the skin removed is superb, although belly or bacon fat is typically too soft but can be used with a leaner cut of meat), Lamb has too strong of flavor and Beef can work, although it's texture can be too grainy in combination with some ingredients. Sausage that is ground finer will require more fat due to their texture and sausage that is left more coarse will allow you to use less. (Think bratwurst vs. bologna)

• Fresh herbs can be used instead of dried herbs (which should be under a 3 month shelf life), although you will need to use twice as much. Grinding spices right before combining will give you the most desirable taste.

• We keep our sausage frozen and uncured. If you would like to cure, please make sure to add curing spices during the mixing process.

Pork Sausage Recipe

3lb Pork Butt (Sirloin Roast)
1lb Seasoning Bacon (because we used a leaner pork above)
2 Granny Smith Apples
1 Bulb Fennel (bulb to tip)
20 Fresh Basil Leaves
1/3 C. Golden Raisins
4 Whole, Peeled Garlic Cloves
1 Tbs Kosher Salt
2 Tsp Red Pepper Flakes
2 Tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
2 Tsp White Sugar

(Things you'll also want to have on hand: two large bowls, sharp knife, rubber gloves if you wish, saran wrap, cookie sheet, scale)

How To Grind Your Own Sausage Step By Step

  1. To begin put bowls to be used in freezer or fridge while the meat and vegetables are cut up into small pieces. 3/4" or under in size is advised. You don't want the grinder to work too hard otherwise it will warm up your meat.
  2. Chill cut up meat for 30 minutes.
  3. Attach grinder attachment to mixer. You may do this by hand, although you will need to work in smaller batches and chill often to keep the meat cold. A food processor may also be used, just make sure to pulse blades and rotate meat to create a more even constancy. Make sure to oil moving parts with vegetable oil with the exclusion of blades or plates.
  4. After meat is chilled, turn on mixer to 50% power (the higher power doesn't grind/grip the meat as well and increases heat. Place clean, chilled bowl under grinder opening.
  5. Begin inserting meat, spices and vegetables. You may wear gloves during this process, although we are firm believers that good thorough hand washing is sufficient. You do need to work quickly to keep the meat from warming on the counter or in your hands during the process.
  6. Run all ingredients through grinder and place in freezer (with clean hands) to re-chill.
  7. If desired switch blades to next size smaller and re-run meat through smaller setting. We always run two settings, although only 1 is really required, 3 or more and your sausage's texture starts becoming fine enough to necessitate casings and additional handling.
  8. Re-chill meat. (The fridge is fine, although if you work quickly, there is no harm in using the freezer - take care to not freeze through at this time).
  9. While meat is chilling, lay two lengths (side by side horizontally) of saran wrap across your table or counter. Overlap them slightly as they will wrap around your sausage to create a temporary casing until frozen. If you wish to make smaller breakfast type links without casing, weigh each piece in a scale to create uniform pieces and wrap individually in pre-cut saran wrap squares. Casings eliminate this wrapping process and can make things easier. In this lesson however, we will be making sausage logs/tubes suitable for patties or ground sausage in other dishes later on.
  10. Remove sausage and divide into sections. We have divided ours into two large sections, although if you won't require this much sausage at one time, smaller logs/tubes can be made. Just remember to weigh each amount and write it on the outside of the final tube/log so it's easy to tell which one you will need for a recipe later on.
  11. Place sausage in the middle of the side by side saran wrap pieces. Form into a tube shape, something that might resemble a tube of sausage if purchased from the store. Wash hands (or remove gloves). Fold one side of the saran wrap over the sausage and using a cookie sheet, press roll back against itself eliminating air bubbles against the plastic wrap. Roll up in remaining saran wrap and twist up ends and fold back onto the tube. This size allows for easy thawing or smoking on the smoker later on in the summer.
  12. Refrigerate or freeze immediately.

Cooking Fresh Sausage

Enjoy fresh sausage in your favorite dishes. If you wish to cut patty shapes (for breakfast), freeze sausage logs half way and then use a sharp knife or electric knife to cut patties off the end. Place between layers of waxed or parchment paper and finish freezing. This will allow you to use them at your convenience without any planning ahead.

Sausage is also great when made into larger patty shapes or "hamburger patties" to cook on the grill. This recipe is great for that, others with a higher fat content might require a par boil before hitting the grill to cut back on the flare ups and burning. Think of them as a brat burger!

Although it's a great deal of writing, the process goes quickly and smoothly. It's basically chopping, grinding and wrapping and that's it. You can use up left over fruits and vegetables that are hanging around your fridge from your last trip to the farmers market or meats that you aren't quite sure how to prepare. Homemade sausage is full of flavor and easy to handle for your meal preparations. Why not give it a try this weekend?

Related: Sausages! Make Sausage at Home

(Photos by Sarahrae)

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