|Sausage on the hoof.|
Learning to butcher my own meat was part of my learning process as a hunter. My first hunting mentor, Dave, sometimes butchered his own and sometimes dropped it off with the processor, but he felt it was important enough for me to learn some rudimentary skills with my first deer kill. From him, I learned how to skin an animal, find and remove the tenderloins (arguably the most precious cut from any large mammal), neatly fillet out the backstraps (otherwise known as the loins), harvest the neck roast and break down the rest of the carcass into quarters (two hams and two shoulders). From there, I learned on my own how to separate and remove the various "roasts" from these large joints. Roasts are actually individual muscles that allow the intricate functions of motion.
After doing it myself a handful of times, I decided to take it easy when I lucked into a true trophy buck during a hunting trip in South Carolina. All I wanted to do with that deer was stare at its beautiful antlers (eventually on their way to the taxidermist). I really didn't feel like messing around with the butchering process. So I dropped the carcass off and picked it back up again a few days later. The packages of venison were neat and the ink stamps identifying each cut looked more professional than my magic marker labeling system, but the meat was... off. It became clear to me that in order to get the most from my deer, both yield and quality, I was going to have to do it myself from top to bottom. Since that realization, I've never looked back.
Now, before you think this post is going to continue down a boring path about sharp knives and blunt dissection, let me assuage your fear. No, dear readers, the only thing I want to write about today is making sausage. Sausage, sausage, glorious sausage. Apologies to Internet foodies who've seen sausage-making posts on just about every home cooking blog in existence, but I don't care. Making sausage is about the most fun a person can have in the kitchen.
For a primer on grinding "loose" sausage (sausage that is not cased), you could read an earlier post I did on making breakfast sausage. In fact, if you've never made sausage before, I highly recommend you start there (or any number of other food blogs, Hank Shaw's immediately comes to mind) to learn the basics. Today, however, I made sweet Italian link sausages out of a feral hog I shot down in Florida, back in January.
This is Sue's favorite homemade, fresh sausage recipe and it comes from the most-excellent book, "Charcuterie" by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. I give you a list of ingredients and amounts, with the caveat that my version uses more domestic, farm raised pork fatback (almost 2 pounds instead of 1) because wild pork is leaner that the domestic pork the authors no doubt intend most people will have access to and I added more toasted fennel seeds to the spice mix because I like the hell out of them.
You will need...
4 pounds boneless pork shoulder (I used odds and ends from my hog), diced into 1-inch pieces
1 pound pork fatback, diced into 1-inch pieces
3 Tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp minced fresh garlic
2 Tbsp toasted fennel seeds
2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
2 Tbsp sweet Spanish paprika
3/4 cup ice water
1/4 cup chilled red wine vinegar
and, 10 feet of natural hog casings (cleaned and soaked small intestines)
The quick (and hardly adequate) rundown is; you add the spice mixture to the diced meat and fat, allow it to sit for awhile to let the flavors penetrate (I left mine in the fridge overnight), run it through your meat grinder (what do you mean you don't have meat grinder?) work the water and vinegar in until the mixture is fully blended and sticky to the touch, pack the sausage filling into your sausage stuffer (what do you mean you don't have a sausage stuffer?) apply the hog casing over the nozzle (check out this cool product from The Sausage Maker; the pre-tubed, pre-washed natural casing) and crank out your totally awesome sweet Italian links.