Sausage Making I - Ingredients
Sausage Making I - Ingredients
There are so many types of sausages in the world and so many ways to make them, I'll need to limit my posts to the most common types and the basic information for making them. Because time is a constraint for me most days, I'm also going to have to break the subject of sausage making into sections. This one will focus primarily on ingredients.
The primary sausage types that we'll deal with here and in later posts are the ones that are most common in N. America and Europe. These include:
COOKED-SMOKED SAUSAGES - These are cured or uncured products that must be kept refrigerated like smoked sausage or cooked bratwurst.
DRY AND SEMI-DRY SAUSAGES - These are fully cooked, fremented, shelf-stable products like summer sausage, pepperoni or snack sticks.
FRESH SAUSAGE - These include uncooked, sausages like fresh Italian or breakfast sausages.
Any discussion of sausage making has to start with ingredients. Like anything else in this world, you get out what you put in. Quality, fresh, right-for-purpose ingredients are absolutely necessary to make good-tasting, safe products. Here's the key items you'll need:
MEAT - Fresh, clean meat is an absolute necessity. It should be at 30-32F and free of debris and contaminants. When making sausage, aged meat is a BAD thing. There is no worry about tenderness because you are grinding everything. While aged meat is great for a steak, roast or kebab, it's the worst thing for making sausage. If you are going to make sausage out of part of your harvest, remove the sausage-destined meats as soon as the carcass has gone through rigor and start grinding!
SALT - The "secret ingredient" of sausage making. It serves as a flavoring, a preservative and is critical to making meat particles in the sausage bind together. The salt should be pure, fine-flake and NOT iodized like table salt. Morton's Alberger is the best because the fine flakes dissolve quickly. If you can't get it, use pickling salt (no iodine in it) and dissolve it in water before adding it to the blend. The iodine in table salt will often leave little green dots in sausage and that will tend to get people wondering if you know what you are doing...
SODIUM NITRITE (aka "curing salt" or "prague powder") - This is the compound that actually "cures" the meat. It's what gives a smoked ham its typical pink color. It's also a valuable bacterial inhibitor. Pure sodium nitrite is so powerful that it only takes 1/4oz to cure 100 pounds of meat. As a result, it's never sold in pure form. There's too much risk of a novice sausage maker adding too much and killing someone. (Pure sodium nitrite is so reactive it can corrode stainless steel.) It's most often sold as a 6.25% mix in salt with the names shown above and is usually dyed pink with a bit of food coloring. Again, this is so it can't be mistaken for regular salt. The usage rate for the prague powder is 1 lb per 100 lbs of meat.
Note that a lot of old time sausage recipes call for sodium NITRATE (NO3). I don't recommend using NITRATE unless you are making slow-cured items (like country hams that take 30 days to dry cure) or REALLY know what you are doing. If you have questions, email me and I can explain why.
WATER - Make sure that it is clean and cold. For some sausages, adding some of the water as flake ice is called for. If you are making a fermented sausage, make sure the water is NOT CHLORINATED. If you are forced to use city tap water (that contains a lot of chlorine), measure it out 10 minutes prior to use and pour meat juice into it until it turns pink. The protein in the juice will bind to the chlorine and inactivate it.
SODIUM ASCORBATE OR SODIUM ERYTHORBATE - Sodium ascorbate is a form of Vitamin C. Erythorbate is a mirror-image molecule to ascorbate, but has no vitamin activity. Both are used for the same thing: accelerating the curing reaction. In order for sodium nitrite (NO2) to cure meat, it has to break down to nitric oxide gas (NO) in an acid environment. It's actually the nitric oxide that binds with the meat pigment (myoglobin) to create the cured color. Ascorbates speed up this reaction and provide more uniform color in cured meats and sauages. These compounds are often in the pre-mixed sausage spices you can buy at sporting goods stores.
SPICE - There are a lot of comercially available spice blends out there. Most are somewhere between "OK" and "very good". If you use a purchase spice blend, read the ingredients to see if they already contain the salt, cure or ascorbate. You would not want to double up on the salt or cure.
If you are making your own spice blends from recipes you have found (a lot for free on the internet), be sure that you are using FRESH, VACUUM PACKAGED spices. Most spices lose potency in 3 months unless prepared and packaged correctly. Most spices on the grocery shelves are over 6 months old...(get the picture?) I'm not going to advocate brands, but a little web research will help you find 2 brands that do an extremely good job of preserving spice quality. Nuff said?
BACTERIAL CULTURES - The dry and semi-dry fermented sausages need to have lactic acid-producing bacteria added to them in order to ferment. These are the same kinds of bacteria that are used to ferment milk into yogurt and are harmless. Most often the bacteria are lactobacilli or pediococci. Dried cultures are availble to amateur sausage makers from a number of supply houses, but they are TOUCHY to work with and tend to DIE EASILY if you don't follow directions to the letter. Also remember the note about chlorinated water above - chlorine is intended to KILL bacteria and that's the opposite of what you want with a fermented sausage.
OK - this covers the very basic elements of sausage-making ingredients. The next post will focus on procedures to make sausage and why certain procedures are important. Time for a beer....