By the time Labor Day rolls around, most of us are looking for something different to cook on the outdoor grill. Sausages, particularly fresh homemade varieties, provide an excellent departure from steaks, burgers and franks.
The term fresh refers to sausages that must be cooked before eating, versus cured or dry varieties, such as salami and mortadella, which may be eaten as purchased. When making sausage, you have the advantage of choosing lean meat to control fat content, as well as omitting fillers and chemical additives.
Flavor combinations for homemade sausages are limitless--vegetables, fruit and herbs can be ground along with the meat. Other seasonings, fruit juices and spirits provide additional enhancement.
Sausage making is not difficult, but a few safety measures must be observed. Do not taste the raw meat mixture; fry a small patty instead. After preparation, be careful to wash hands, equipment, utensils and surfaces that have come in contact with the raw sausage with hot soapy water and rinse well.
Although making sausages can be a solo act, the process is also a fun group activity. Equipment may be as simple as an old-fashioned meat grinder and oversized funnel, or the most modern electric grinder with a sausage stuffing attachment. (It should be noted, however, that grinding the meat and stuffing by hand takes a good deal of physical effort.)
Edible natural casings from the intestines of sheep, hogs and cattle are sold dry-salted and/or brined. It may be necessary to have the butcher special order these for you or consult the Yellow Pages telephone directory under butchers' equipment and supplies. Keep the casings refrigerated or frozen until ready to use.
Casings must be washed before using. Snip off about a four-foot length and rinse under cool running water. Place in a bowl of cool water and allow to soak about 30 minutes.
After soaking, rinse the casing again under cool running water. Slip one end over the faucet nozzle, then holding it firmly, gently turn on the cold water. As the casing fills, the water pressure may be increased.
This rinsing cleans the inside and reveals any breaks in the casing. Should there be a leak, snip out a small section that includes the flaw, even though this results in shorter lengths of casing.
Place the casing back in a bowl of cool water. Adding a tablespoon of vinegar for each cup of water will increase the softening of the casing and make it more transparent. Leave the casing in the water/vinegar solution until ready for stuffing, then rinse again and drain, running it between your thumb and index finger to squeeze out all the water.
Cut the chilled meat into one-inch cubes, trimming off and reserving the fat. Refrigerate both an additional 30 minutes before grinding.
If using a hand grinder, grind the meat twice with the fine disk. Add the seasonings between the two grindings.
With an electric grinder, mix the seasonings with the meat before grinding. Press the ingredients through the grinding mechanism with the wooden plunger (Step 1).
When using a food processor, process the meat just to a fine dice. Mix in the seasonings after all the meat has been processed.
The key is to prevent air from being trapped in the casings during the stuffing process. Although it's possible to stuff sausages by yourself, a second pair of hands makes the job a lot easier.
Gently slide one end of the prepared length of casing over the sausage funnel or stuffing attachment. Continue pushing until the opposite end is almost even with the funnel or attachment opening.
Electric stuffing attachment-- turn on the motor and feed the meat mixture through until it is flush with the opening. Turn off the motor, pull about two inches of casing off the attachment and tie it into a knot. Start the motor again and continue stuffing, twisting the casing to create the desired size of links (Step 2).
Hand stuffing machine-- depress the plunger until the meat mixture is flush with the opening. Pull about two inches of casing off the tube and tie into a knot. Continue forcing the meat mixture into the casing (Step 3), twisting to create the desired size of links.
Funnel-- push the meat mixture through with your fingers until it reaches the lip of the spout, then pull about two inches of casing off the funnel and tie into a knot. Continue pushing the mixture through the funnel, twisting to create the desired size of links.
The casing should be filled firmly, but not to the point where it will burst. Maintain an even diameter by molding the link with your hand. If air bubbles occur, pierce with a fine needle.
As each link is filled and twisted, either tie with kitchen string immediately or wait until all the links are stuffed (Step 5). Should a hole or tear appear in the casing, simple tie off the sausage at that point.