• Wednesday, April 11, 2012

    Sausage and Legislation.

    What are two things that you don’t want to see being made? Sausage and legislation.

    Thanks to CSPAN, CNN, MSNBC, and the 24-hour news cycle, we get to see legislation being made (or not made) all the time. So, we might as well learn about sausage, too.

    One day last week, we spent all morning working in the meat lab making sausage, and I snapped a few pictures and decided it would make a fun and informative blog post.

    First, why even bother making sausage?

    We went to Germany a few years ago and
    tasted several German sausages. Yum!
    You mean, besides tastiness? Sausage making has been used for hundreds of years to preserve meat. When salt and spices are added, it takes it longer for meat to spoil. Some sausages are very dry and acidic (think summer sausage and pepperoni). Bacteria can’t survive such conditions. Some sausages have been smoked to preserve them. The heat and the compounds from the smoke both serve this purpose.

    Today, sausage allows meat producers to add value to low-value cuts and to efficiently use every piece of the carcass. Old-time butchers used to say that when you harvested a pig, you used “everything but the squeal”. When you cut up a beef or pork carcass into steaks, chops, and roasts (and bacon, don’t forget bacon), there is always meat left over. The extra meat is ground through a grinder that cuts it into small pieces, making even the toughest meat fork-tender. I talked a little about this in the “not pink slime” and the “cooking burgers” posts. There is fat trim and lean trim.

    Here are pictures of our fat trim and lean trim.

    You could just grind it and mix it and cook it up, but how boring. Let’s make something more exciting!

    The fat trim was about 50% fat and 50% lean and was made mostly from belly pieces that we decided not to make into bacon. The lean trim was about 93% lean and 7% fat. It was made from ham pieces and pork chops that we had removed samples from. We mixed them together in a specific ratio to make sausage that was about 80% lean and 20% fat. You don’t want to make your sausage too fatty (for obvious reasons), but you also don’t want it to be too lean (it would be tough and dry).

    Side notes:

     ***In the US, pork sausage can be 50% lean and 50% fat and still be labeled pork sausage. Generally, commercial sausage is not that fatty because consumers want a leaner product.

    *** All of our sausage was made from pork skeletal meat. There are sausages made from liver or hearts or even salivary glands, but remember that if it’s in the sausage, it has to be on the label.

    We put our ground pork in a big mixer and added the salt and spices. We buy most of our spices pre-mixed, but sometimes we mix our spices from a recipe.

    This is where it gets cool.

    Muscle is made up of protein. To do what proteins need to do in the body, they exist in long, folded-up chains. When you add salt to meat, the salt reacts with the protein and starts to dismantle it on a molecular level. As the proteins unfold, they start to stick to each other. They stick to everything, even water. We added water to the sausage in the mixer, and the protein soaked it up like a sponge.

    This is the andouille on my glove. Looks yummy. See how it sticks to my glove.

    Some of the sausage recipes include cheese. We can’t just use regular cheese. We have to use a special, high-melting temperature cheese. If the cheese melted, you wouldn’t be able to see it in the finished sausage
    We added in the cheese as the sausage was mixing.

    This is some Jalapeno cheese sausage. You can see the cheese and the jalapenos in the finished product. Yum! I didn’t take this picture. It was on the website of my late friend, Chris Raines, called Academic Abattoir.

    Notice that Chris’ sausage was pink? Some of the sausage recipes call for the addition of cure (Sodium Nitrate). This gives the sausage it’s pretty pink color and cured flavor. Yum.

    After mixing it for about 2 or 3 minutes, we grind the sausage again.
    We always hold the meat in sanitized containers like this one. We call these ‘lugs.’ I don’t really know why. I guess because you have to lug the meat around in them.

    Then we moved the sausage to the stuffer which is kinda like a vacuum in reverse. You fill it up with sausage and a piston pushes the sausage up through a tube, called a horn. The size of horn dictates how much sausage comes out at once.

    This is a picture of some sausage in the stuffer.
    We stuffed some of our sausage into chubs. This was the recipes we weren’t going to smoke, like breakfast sausage, some Italian sausage, and maple-flavored sausage.
    This is another one of Chris' pictures.
    These are sausage chubs.

    We stuffed some of the sausage into natural casings. What are natural casings? Remember when I said that we use everything, but the squeal? The best sausage casings are made from pig intestines. They are washed and washed and washed and cleaned and treated and washed some more.

    Before we stuffed them, we soaked them in water to hydrate them and flush them out one more time.

    Here is what the casings look like in a package.

    If you buy sausages in the store that have been stuffed into natural casings, it will say so on the package.

    The casing goes over the horn, and the stuffer pushes the meat into the casing. It makes a long tube of meat. You can see the cheese in our sausage in this one.

    I have a video of our meat lab manager stuffing the sausage into the natural casing.

    After the sausage is stuffed in the casing, you have a long tube of sausage that looks like this.

    If we left the sausage like this, it would be very hard to handle in getting it smoked and cut into serving-size pieces. So, we linked it.

    To link the sausage, we pinched the sausage casing and twisted it. You have to alternate the direction that you twist the casing or you will untwist previous links. In big commercial sausage plants, they have machines that link the sausage as it comes out of the stuffer.

    I have a video of linking, too.

    This is what the linked sausage looked like. This was some of our jalapeno, cheese recipe.

    We allowed it to rest in the cooler overnight. That gave the protein a little extra time to soak up the flavors of the spices.

    The links all stay attached to each other until we cook it. When it’s cooked, the sausage links are hung over a metal stick and hung in the smoke house. In the smokehouse, they are cooked with heat and smoke is applied to give the sausage that nice smoky flavor. Yum.

    This is a picture of a couple of students at a processed meats workshop from about 5 years ago. They are not my students, but I think that they are now both gainfully employed. You can see the linked sausage ready to go in the smokehouse.

    This is a picture of our finished product. It was quite tasty!

    This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sausage making. There are so many other neat things to talk about, like fermented sausage, different casings, hot dogs, canned sausage, pickled sausage, and other cooked meat specialties, but I guess that will all have to wait for another day’s post.