Production Kim Hoepfl and Jodi-Ann Pearton. Recipes Marli Roberts. Photographs Christoph Hoffman.
Central to the repertoire of the charcuterie and garde manger chef is the knowledge of sausage making.
Sausages are an ancient food. The word sausage is a derivative of the Latin word salsus, meaning ‘salted’, and communicates that it was in ancient Greece and Rome that the earliest idea of a sausage came into being. Very economical in their means, the ancients used just about everything that was available to make their sausages, from nuts to dormice. Sausage, by virtue of the facts that it can preserve meat so well and render it easily transportable, was a logical food for a nation unsupported by fast food chains and with a vast and nomadic army. It was Napoleon who so rightly recognized that an army marches on its stomach. Enter the versatile and useful sausage…
By the Middle Ages, regional types of sausage had started to evolve all over Europe, whose combinations of flavour enhancing herbs and spices differed from region to region, as did the choice to preserve sausages by either smoking or drying them, or doing neither and leaving them fresh. When meat was scarce, grains and potatoes were added as sausage fillers, with Christians even making fish sausages to enjoy on meatless fasting days.
Cultural preferences further diversified the contents of sausage, with French and German cuisines showing a preference of adding blood to their sausages; the addition of apples for flavour and the use of ‘sweet’ spices, mace, allspice and coriander. Mediterranean sausages, by contrast, are more likely to contain ingredients naturally found in the area, such as pork or lamb, and flavoured with endemic herbs rosemary, fennel and oregano.
Sausages are made by mincing meat finely, or grinding it, then adding salt and spices. The mixture is then stuffed into a thin casing, either natural or synthetic. Meat is the primary ingredient, and sausages make use of the full spectrum – pork, veal, beef, turkey, chicken, pheasant, venison and lamb. Traditionally tougher cuts would have been used, being full of flavour and the grinding process removing any residual toughness.
The role of various ingredients:
Fat is your great friend when making sausage, and is necessary to the success of the final product. The fat content of a sausage can rise to as much as 50 percent, but in general about 25-30 percent is preferred. Fat plays the role of flavour enhancer and moisturizer: It prevents the meat from drying out in storage and is rendered upon cooking, resulting in a juicy sausage. To reduce fat in a sausage would require an intricate understanding of the role that all the other ingredients play in creating an ultimately succulent product.
Seasonings and cure mixes
Salt is an integral part of sausage preparation as its acts as a preservative. Be sure to weigh the salt you use, as different salts have different volume to weight ratios. Sausages that are dried or cold-smoked must include nitrate or a nitrate-nitrite combination to make the sausage pathogenically safe. Sugar, dextrose and honey can be added to the curing mixture, and will have the affect of mellowing flavour as well as producing a moister finished product.
Spices, while they also have minor preservative properties, give sausages their specific flavour. They can be added to sausages whole (like coriander sometimes is to boerewors), ground or in a blend. To get the most out of spice, purchase them whole wherever possible; toast them in a pan to release their flavour then grind just before use.
Sausage recipes frequently call for dried herbs, which should be treated in much the same way as spices. Adding fresh herbs will alter the taste of the final product, so be sure to test a sample before you make a large batch. As a rule or thumb, you will need 2-3 times more fresh herbs than dry ones.
These include vegetables, wine and citrus zest. The degree to which vegetables are cooked and the cooking method will impact on the final flavour they contribute. Be sure to allow any cooked ingredient to cool completely before incorporating it into the sausage mixture. Highly acidic items such as wine and vinegar should be added with caution – too much can give the final sausage a grainy texture.
There are two categories of sausage: Basic grind sausages and emulsion sausages. The former have a medium to coarse texture and apply to sausages that are:
- Fresh: These are raw sausages that will then be boiled, fried, grilled, baked or braised.
- Cooked: Sausages that are poached or steamed after they are shaped, then sliced or served cold, or further prepared by grilling, baking or frying.
- Smoked or dried: Hot or cold smoked sausages that are then air-dried in a curing room. Before serving, they may be prepared the same way as cooked sausages.
Emulsion sausages e.g. frankfurter and mortadella are made from a basic mixture referred to as forcemeat.
- The ratio of ingredients consists of 5 parts raw meat to 4 parts fat and 3 parts water by weight.
- This makes emulsion-type sausages especially suited to poaching before smoking. They can also be successfully frozen before cooking.
Equipment: What to use and how to use it
The condition of your equipment and its temperature will play a big role in the final quality of your sausage. Crucial to the sausage making process is maintaining the forcemeat at a very low temperature. This is achieved by thoroughly chilling the sausage-making equipment before use and using ingredients that are cold or, where possible, frozen. To make sausages, you will need a scrupulously clean:
- Grinder, with the correct sized grinder plate (coarse, medium or fine)
- Mechanical mixer and bowl with which to combine the ingredients
- Sausages casings of the required length and diameter
- A sausage stuffing machine
To further maintain the safety of the sausages produced, it is required that you chill any part of the sausage making machine that comes into direct contact with the sausage meat. To do this, place equipment in the refrigerator or freezer or directly into a container of iced water.
If the mixture becomes too warm during production, you will have to cool both the mixture and the equipment. Part of keeping equipment cool requires that you don’t overload your machinery. If your equipment isn’t large enough to handle bulk recipes then break the formula down into batches.
Step 1 Weighing
Carefully weigh out and combine the raw meat and dry ingredients
Step 2 Grind the sausage meat
Basic grind sausages:
- Cut meat pieces to the size that fits the feed tube without having to be forced. If products fail to flow smoothly through the grinder, stop immediately – this could be an indication that the meat is being squeezed and torn, not cut neatly. When this happens, disassemble the grinder, remove any obstructions, reassemble the grinder and continue.
- Since their texture is especially fine, their meat ingredients should also be trimmed of gristle and sinew; the finest grinder plate should be used and the grinder must be kept very cold. Fat and water should be frozen before grinding and meat and fat should be kept separate when grinding. Lean meat together with the water in ice cube-form should be ground together, with the ground fat added later.
Step 3 Mixing
During this step the meat and various other ingredients should be mixed long enough to distribute the fat, as well as all seasonings being used. Mixing has a second benefit: It draws out the proteins responsible for the finished texture of sausage. Mixing may be done by hand. If so, keep the mixing bowl chilled by balancing it upon an ice bath while mixing. Any liquid must be added gradually and be thoroughly chilled when added. If using an electric mixer, make sure that the component parts are well chilled before use. Lastly, do not overload the mixing bowl. Rather work in small batches which will reduce friction and the keep the mixture cool, as well as blending ingredients homogenously. A tacky appearance and slightly sticky texture indicate readiness, and should emerge after a few minutes of mixing. When making emulsion sausages the fat should be allowed to rise in temperature enough to melt it during the final blending. This way it will liquefy and blend evenly with the lean meat.
Step 4 Testing
Don’t wait until the entire batch has been encased and formed into links before testing that the mixture has the desired flavour and correct texture. It is important to test the full batch, each time. Test by taking a small sample and cooking it in the way you intend the entire batch to be cooked. Also taste the meat at the same temperature you intend to serve it.
Step 5 Garnishing
Garnish, such as cheese, vegetables, nuts, cured or smoked meats or dried fruit are examples of garnishes that can be added to sausages. Garnish is usually added after the meat has been ground, mixed and tested and is folded into the base mixture.
Stuffing into casings
Natural casings are made from the intestines and stomach of sheep, pigs and cattle. Synthetic casings are made from edible food grade material. Sheep and pig casings are suited for use in fresh sausages while beef casings are well suited to cooked or smoked sausage. The diameter and thickness of each type of casing differs, which will determine the ultimate size (length and diameter) of the final sausage.
When using natural casings, they should be laid out to remove knots, then formed into bundles of the required length. If you will not be using them immediately, store them in salt. Before using them, rinse them thoroughly, flushing out any remaining salt, and tie a knot into one end of each length of casing.
To stuff the sausage, assemble and fill the sausage stuffing machine according to manufacturer’s instructions, tamping the forcemeat to remove any air bubbles. As usual, keep it all scrupulously clean and cool. Also keep the nozzle of the stuffer lubricated with a little water to prevent the casing from sticking and tearing.
To pump the sausage into the casing, secure the open end of the casing over the nozzle of the stuffing machine, then pump the sausage into the casing, using your free hand to support the casing as it fills with sausage. Finally, twist or tie the sausage into the appropriate shape. To make links, either press the casing into links at required intervals and then twist the link in alternating directions for each link or tie the casing with twine at regular intervals.
A note on pork:
Pork sausages that undergo lengthy smoking or drying procedures but that aren’t cooked need to be make with certified pork. This is pork so treated to destroy pathogens responsible for trichinosis.
Makes 8 sausages
900g lamb leg, cubed
120g onion, chopped
5g garlic, chopped
5ml all spice
5ml pink peppercorns, ground
25g orange zest
25g lemon zest
1,5g black pepper, ground
60g iced water
- Lightly sauté the onion and garlic in a dry pan until soft. Cool completely
- Mix the meat and all the other ingredients, except the water, together and allow to marinate for a few minutes
- Meanwhile chill all the sausage making equipment in iced water
- Using gloves assemble the equipment and then mince the meat through a medium grinder plate
- Place the mince into a sanitised mixing bowl and use a ‘K’ attachment to mix with the water
- Replace the grinder attachment with the filling attachment and then gently push the sausage skin onto the filling tube
Fill the skins with the filling and then tie the sausages to the desired size using either twists in alternate directions or with string