Thursday, March 17, 2011

Making A Mess (Of Sausage Goodness)

Sausage on the hoof.
So, how exactly does one get from a large animal on the hoof to a freezer filled with a dizzying array of roasts, loins, rib racks, stocks, ground meat and sausage? The easy way is to field dress (remove the innards) your deer, elk, hog, antelope, etc. etc. and bring it to the local wild game processor. Once it's at the butcher's shop, your harvest will hang in a meat locker (typically frozen), dismembered into manageable cuts (often with a meat saw) and packaged and labeled for your home freezer (sometimes accurately, sometimes adequately).

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
Spice mix
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
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.
Like so.

Trouble is, in addition to the very best, hands down, most flavorful, most satisfying, most gratifying sausage you'll ever eat, you're also left with a kitchen area that looks like someone has detonated a hand grenade.
I wish I could go on waxing poetically on forcing minced meat into pig guts, but Sue gets home from work in four hours and if I want to sleep in this house tonight, I have some clean up to do. Bon appetit!


  1. That Sausage Maker video reminds me of a sex ed video I watched back in high school. :o

  2. Boy, the tone of this conversation started off in the gutter without even being dragged kicking and screaming! I love it!

    At any rate, I love making sausage! The most wonderful thing about sausage is, once you've got the basics down you can do a million things with it. It really lends itself to creativity. The stuff is pretty hard to mess up, barring extreme over-salting, so don't be scared.

    Then again, you nailed the downside... a good sausage making session will destroy the kitchen.

  3. Phillip - It's impossible to avoid, especially with someone as depraved as Carolina Rig. Since this post, I've also made the "Charcuterie" merguez sausage with venison and I'm about to stuff a batch of Hank Shaw's Hmong sausage, also with venison. After that, I'm taking a break. My back is killing me and my hands are turning into prunes.

  4. LOL. I really need to get out there sometime and meet up with you guys! I sometimes wonder what would've happened if I'd been blogging when I still lived in NC (OK, technically I was blogging on my personal website, but no one called it that back then).

    Sausage is certainly more labor intensive than some folks may realize. I do big batches once in a long while, usually when my supply of sausage trimmings starts to take up too much space in the freezer. I'm lazy though, so most of what I make is loose sausage.