One weekend every couple of months we pull out our meat grinder and delve into a weekend of sausage making. It’s a family effort of grinding the meat, massaging the fat and spices through the mince before letting it rest overnight so that the flavours can mature. The next day we stuff our savoury meats into their casings-coils for the Sweet Italian, chipolatas for the Maple Breakfast and roll length links for the Pork and Apple. The kitchen is filled with the sounds of spices being pound, discussions about what flavour medley to try this time and laughter overtop of a soundtrack from the 80s.
Except when the meat grinder gets going. It’s a bit loud and requires concentration for a few minutes. In terms of volume it is similar to a vacuum. Unlike the “Evil Sucky Monster” that compels all cats to hide under the bed, the “Meat Grinder 2000” is like the Pied Piper. They end up underfoot, reaching to the counter in hopes that some mince might come their way.
We sustain ourselves with a Cook’s Prerogative Lunch of sausages and peppers with crusty bread to soak up the juices.
Our sausages are then lovingly wrapped and labeled for freezing. There’s enough for about two months of weekend breakfasts, quick dinners, barbeques, pizzas and of course sausage rolls. Then we will start the whole process again.
We discovered sausage making years ago at a class taught by artisan salami maker Antonio Sgro at Signorelli Gastronomia. It was my first time taking a “cooking class” which I did with #1 and #2 step-sons during school holidays. I’ve always had the boys in the kitchen with me so they knew their way around. It never occurred to me that an 11- and 9-year-old would be unwelcome at a salami making class. The evil glares I got as we arrived to the evening class from the other participants was palpable. They were saying with their eyes “How dare you bring children to this adult event.”. I scurried the two boys over to an end table so we would be out of everyone’s way.
The boys were enthralled with Antonino’s accounts of selecting the pigs he would use, trialing spice mixtures and making something by hand. He is passionate about his craft and the boys drank it in. He was equally drawn to the boys, spending most of the hands on component with us regaling the boys tales of how sausage making is a family tradition and everyone has to help. He didn’t like it as a small child but he grew to love the time together as a family. Even though he tried to be a mechanic, this was his life, his passion and you should always follow your passion.
The three of us were back a few months later with Stuart in tow to learn how to make sausages. We were greeted again with foul looks from the other participants that were quickly quashed by Antonino’s warm welcome. The boys were super chuffed that he remembered them and we went to our table over on the end away from everyone. It was a wonderful to see the boys teach Stuart, with Antonio’s supervision of course, how to work the meat. We were stumbling through putting the savoury meats into the casing so Antonino came to the rescue demonstrating a method that takes three people which we still use today.
We continue this family tradition not only because it brings us together but because commercially prepared sausages are one of Stuart’s migraine triggers.
The nitrates and nitrites that are used to preserve cured, precooked and some fresh meats and sausages are used by the body to fuel the nitrous oxide pathway, feeding the migraine beast, comprise 10% of the daily dietary intake. According to the Australian Food Standards nitrates and nitrites are required in cooked and cured meats (salami, bacon, ham) but not fresh sausages. However, commercially prepared fresh sausages as well as those prepared by butchers commonly use preservatives to prolong shelf life. The regulation requires that the minimum be added as per the instructions on the packaging because the storage time is not long enough to allow the components to naturally degrade. The NSW Food Authority found that is is quite common for the amount of preservatives in sausages to be over the recommended daily allowance because they do not sit on the shelf long enough.
So in the tradition of slow food we make our own sausages. We know exactly what goes into them and ultimately ourselves. We savour our time as a family having fun and getting something good out of it. Besides, it’s super easy to make your own sausages for now as well as freezing them for later.
Here are my tips if you decide to take this up:
- Take a class or learn from someone who knows how to make sausages. There are all sorts to tips and tricks that are passed down from the artisan. The main one being that the meat has to be worked with your hands, similar to kneading dough. The only way to get that right is to have someone show you.
- Initially invest in an inexpensive meat grinder. The first one we had cost $40 on E-Bay. It was small, the motor wasn’t very strong and it took a while to grind the meat. After two years we agreed we were committed to sausage making and upgraded to the Kenmore “Meat Grinder 2000”. This thing does in 5 minutes what used to take us 30. Still, I recommend starting with a low end model until you are committed but don’t wait two years.
- Invest in an apron for everyone as you will get meat everywhere. Aprons will need to be washed overnight for the next day or else they will go rancid.
- Be creative with your meats and spices. There are heaps of recipes on the Internet that you can use as a jumping off point. A lot have far too much salt in them, I generally used 1 tsp salt to 1 kg of meat/fat. Large amounts of salt are a remnant of the curing process which doesn’t apply because you are freezing. You can always add salt, you can’t take it away so use a light hand. Be sure and avoid any migraine-triggering spices.
- Never use a “curing salt”. These are the nitrate and nitrite salts. Just leave that out of the recipe. This includes celery or rosemary extract/salts as they are just plant based nitrate and nitrites. You are going to freeze your sausages to preserve them.
- Only use natural casings, the artificial ones are made of plastic. Casings can be purchased from a butcher that makes their own sausages. Generally they are gratis if I buy some meat. It generally takes three good arm pulls per kg of sausage meat. Soaking the casings overnight in milk allows the milk enzymes to soften the casing. Rinse the casing in warm water before putting onto the stuffing nozzle to soften it making the job easier.
- I prefer to make the sausage mince and then let it rest overnight. This allows the flavours the mature and the meat to cool. During the kneading process the heat from your hands melts the fat through the meat. This makes it sticky and harder to push into the casings. Refrigeration stiffens the fats allowing the sausage to glide into the casing.
- Freeze your sausages within 48 hours of making.
Enjoy my friends.