Two and a half months since updating my blog, it’s fair to say I’m in a bit of a blogging drought. It’s not that lots hasn’t happened since mid-April (there was a trip home to Canada, Casey’s 2nd birthday, and a few other things), I’ve just been in a bit of a funk to sit down and blog about it. To be perfectly honest, between Facebook, Twitter, Google+, my other sites Hao Hao Report and Lost Laowai, Flickr, and most recently Pinterest, I’m a bit shared out by the time I get to my personal blog.
However, I’ve been meaning to jot down some notes about my semi-recent foray into the wonderful world of home-made sausage making. As many of this blog no-doubt know, living in China affords one few choices when it comes to sausage. Unless you are in a big enough city that has access to a decent import foods store, you’re going to be limited to the pre-cooked/packaged monsters that are 90% starch filler. Anything that optionally comes in “corn” flavour isn’t a sausage in my books.
So, back at the end of March I got it in my head that I wanted to try my hand at making sausage. A few searches on Google and Youtube netted me the confidence I needed, and a trip to Taobao found me an inexpensive meat grinder ($30) and some hog casings (intestines, about $2). Even after all these years of buying stuff off Taobao, I was a bit surprised to find casings on there. They came from a company in Haerbin, up in China’s far north eastern Heilongjiang province (well-known for its sausage making). They are preserved in salt, and simply need to be soaked for a few hours before use.
My first two batches of sausages (one pork and one chicken) turned out alright, but not fantastic. Both were a bit dry, which for the chicken was a bit expected (as I didn’t add any additional fat), and for the pork was a lesson learned — more on that in a minute.
This weekend I decided to jump back in and give the sausages another go. First up was a pile of breakfast sausages. While last time I only ordered hog casings, this time I also got some sheep casings. I had assumed they’d be much smaller and I’d get tiny little breakfast sausages. I was wrong. Best I can figure the attachment for the meat-grinder stretches the casings out upon loading, and so hog or sheep, both sausages roughly end up similar sizes. Still, big breakfast sausages are nothing to turn away.
Making sausages comes down to three things: 1: type of meat (usually pork, and almost essentially fatty), 2: level of grind (decided by the size of your grinder’s cutting plates) and 3: seasoning.
I’m not real particular about the cut of pork (other than in considering the amount of fat that’s on it), and I doubt it matters too much once it’s ground up. Cheap is fine, as long as it’s not sinewy, as that will gum up the grinder and what does get through will hurt the taste/texture of your sausage.
For the breakfast sausage, I used all pork, in a ratio of about 7:3 lean meat:fat. I ground it twice — once with the largest plate and once with the middle plate. This resulted in a consistency I like for breakfast sausage. For spices, I relied on the excellent advice of Erica Lea, with one addition — syrup.
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
- 1/2 teaspoon rubbed summer savory
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3/4 teaspoon marjoram
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
- 2-3 tablespoons of syrup (maple if you have it)
The above is per 1 pound of pork. As I was making about 3-4 lbs, I simply multiplied my ingredients to match.
NOTE: Checking your seasoning is essential. Once you have your meat ground up and your season mixed in, make a tiny little patty and fry it up. This is how your sausage is going to taste when cooked, so adjust as needed.
Hot Italian Sausage
The next batch I did was a spicy Italian sausage that borrowed its spice list from TheSpicySausage.com, a fantastic resource for home-sausage makers. I tweaked it a bit.
- 5-lbs pork (I used a, roughly, 3:1 ratio of pork and beef)
- 1-cup cold red wine
- 1-cup chopped fresh parsley (I used dried)
- 5-tsp salt
- 1-tbsp garlic powder or-4 to 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1-tbsp fresh ground pepper
- 3-tsp cayenne (I skipped it as I was out, but I don’t advise skipping it)
- 5-tbsp fennel seed
- 2-tsp crushed chili peppers (I used fresh)
- 5-tbsp paprika (I used 4 tbsp of regular “fancy” paprika, and 2 tbsp of smoked paprika — to help make up for the missing cayenne)
A note to in-China readers, there wasn’t a spice on that list I haven’t gotten off Taobao in the last few months — it’s a fantastic resource for getting a hold of spices that are dead easy to get back home, but near impossible to find in supermarkets here.
Also, these didn’t turn out as spicy as I would have liked. Quite mild, likely due to the missing cayenne, and perhaps because I used fresh instead of dried chili. Next time I’ll be making sure to spice them up a bit.
Both sausages turned out decent — certainly better than my first attempts. The one thing I learned was not to handle the meat to much (people have been telling me that my whole life — snicker snicker). It must be kept cold — optimally you should put it in the freezer for 30-60 minutes between grindings/stuffing. The heat from your hands (or just the room temperature) will begin to render the fat in the meat, and it wont blend properly, causing your sausages to come out a bit dry/flavourless.
The whole endeavor is a bit of work — certainly a lot more than running out to the supermarket or butcher’s and grabbing a package of whatever sausage your heart desires — but it is well worth it. Aside from being in China and not having access to that convenience, it also allows me to completely control the content of the sausage. I can be confident that the stuff going into the sausages is meat I would eat even if I could identify it, and that’s invaluable — even more so in this country where there’s a new food scare daily.
This point also extends to ground meat in general. I now no longer need to buy any ground meat. It doesn’t take long at all to grind up my own — whether for sausages (in or out of casings), hamburgers, chili, dumplings, pasta sauce, or what have you.
Perhaps most importantly though, I now have something to eat my home-made sauerkraut with! 🙂 Oh, and to all the Canucks, happy Canada Day tomorrow — may your day be as full of sausage as mine. Erm… you know what I mean.