Why home sausage making is good for you, with hints and tips from guest authour Paul Peacock.
There are so many things you can say about making sausages at home.
Are they cheaper? Yes, a little.
Are they tastier? Oh yes, very much so.
Are they healthier? Absolutely!
But the main thing you can say about sausage making is “IT’S GREAT FUN!”
Indeed, the very first time we decided to make sausages, got the skins and the equipment together and made our first batch in our little town house kitchen, we literally rolled around the place crying with laughter.
But humour aside, the reasons behind continuing to make sausages are founded in the questions we posed at the beginning.
Homemade sausages are cheaper
Well, anyone can buy the really cheap sausages that disappoint every time you eat one. The cheapest sausages will always be dirt cheap, but these don’t compare with sausages you make at home. Take meat content and the quality of that meat as an example. The cheapest sausages are around 33% meat, and not particularly good meat at that. Home made sausages are more like 75% meat - and boy! You can tell the difference.
Homemade sausages are tastier
The meat content alone makes a huge difference to how a sausage tastes, but it’s more than just that. Homemade sausages are made from the freshest materials, and added flavours are new, pungent, more vital than sausages sat on a shelf in a supermarket.
But there are subtleties about sausages that can only really be appreciated when you make them yourself, fresh. The various types of sausage skins available for sausages have their own effect when it comes to the gourmet experience of sausages! A sausage resting on a shelf often doesn’t have the bite on the teeth, that resistance before giving way releasing a mouthful of juicy sausage.
The homemade sausage is a different matter, only when you have tasted the best of homemade will you understand how brilliant they are!
Homemade sausages are healthier
The fundamental idea of sausage is that it is salted. This is how the meat within them is preserved, and it is the salt, preserving salt with saltpeter added, that reduces the action of spoiling bacteria in the sausage.
But bought sausages often contain chemicals designed to keep them looking palatable in the shop, to prolong their shelf life to give the store extra time to sell them, and then there are stabilizers and colourants and often a lot of other chemicals too.
Your sausages, made at home, might only have four ingredients:
Meat - with a little fat
Breadcrumbs (or rusk)
What can be healthier than that?
What makes a good sausage?
To make a good sausage you need good, wholesome ingredients. And there is a reason for all the ingredients, too. They are not there simply to make meat go a but further - they are not bulking agents.
You can use almost any kind of meat in sausages. Obviously pork sausages are the most common, but you can use beef, venison, lamb, chicken, even fish!
Generally, sausages need fat. On the whole, a good sausage has around 10% fat and pork shoulder is just about this ratio. The fat is needed for many reasons. In some sausages, like chorizo, the fat is a part of the combination of elements that preserve the air dried, uncooked, sausage. In an old fashioned English breakfast sausage, it is part of the complex cocktail of flavours. A sausage without fat is often uninteresting, dry and difficult to cook.
You can make breadcrumbs at home, or buy rusk, which is generally gluten free. Most butchers use rusk, which imparts a savoury flavour of its own. The rusk (or breadcrumbs) is not there to bulk out the sausage, but to evenly distribute the cooking juices within the sausage. Without breadcrumbs, the fat and water in the meat would pool, giving you an almost inedible mess.
Most sausages are about 10% - 15% breadcrumbs.
Another mistakenly thought about ingredient. Water is an important part of a sausage, without which the sausage would not fit in the skins, and most importantly, it wouldn’t cook either. The main function of water in the sausage is to cook the food from the inside. Otherwise you would have a perfect insulator, burning on the bottom and remaining raw in the middle.
Sausages are around 10% water.
As we said, the word sausage means salted. Many off the shelf sausages are very high in salt, and some even have sugar added to disguise the saltiness! However, it is not possible to make a sausage without salt!
Most home made sausages are around 2% salt, a little lower than those in the shop. But never reduce the amount of salt from a recipe - it is there to preserve you from spoiling bacteria.
You can ass almost anything to a sausage to flavour it. My favourite is simply salt and pepper, but onion with beef, pork and apple, herbs such as sage and coriander, parsley and garlic - all of these and more are regularly used to make sausages.
In the UK, every county used to have it’s own breed of pig, and with it it’s own recipe for sausages. Some of them still exist, Lincolnshire, Cumberland, Somerset and so on.
How to know if you have added enough flavours.
If you try 1/2 % of the weight of meat used as a rough guide, mix the whole of your sausage recipe - meat, water, breadcrumbs, salt etc, then make a little pate of a small amount of the meat and cook it completely. You should be able to gauge how effective the flavours have become in your pate, and adjust accordingly. At 1’2 %, you will not have overpowered the sausage.
A word about skins
There are two types of sausage skin. Artificial skins and animal skins. Even the artificial skins come from animal origin, so there is no such thing as a truly vegetarian skin.
Animal skins come packed in salt, either tied to a ring, or loaded on a tube. They need soaking to remove the salt, and then transferring onto a delivery tube of your stuffer. This is easier if everything is wet, and the skins have been soaking in cold water for about 45 minutes.
Usually the delivery tubes come in three sizes to match the sizes of the available sausage skins. For the majority of cases pork skins (known as hog skins) of 22mm diameter are the easiest ones to start with. You can buy sheep skins that are smaller, or beef ones that are much larger, depending on the recipe you are following.
You can get very large skins for black pudding, and even larger ones for haggis!
Having mixed all the ingredients evenly and completely, tested for flavour, you are ready to fill your skins. I suggest you think of something very sad before you start, to avoid laughing your head off during the process.
How I started
Our fist sausage making session cost me £20. I bought a small plastic stuffer / grinder from Weschenfelder, some skins and made up a recipe of my own:
2 Kg ground pork shoulder
200 g breadcrumbs
200 ml water
20g curing salt
4g black pepper
Mixed the lot and while it was mixing, soaked my skins in water.
I remover the cutter plates and the ‘knife’ from inside the mincer and sterilized everything with Milton. The skins were a b it tricky. Having salted them, they rolled over each other like an alien, and to open the end I ran a dribble of water into one of the skins.
Loading the skin onto the plastic delivery tube was easy so long as the plastic was wet, and once fully loaded, the skin was cut off. Be careful - this process is where the laughing begins!
Don’t knot the skin - just leave a couple of inches dangling off the end, and as the meat comes out, it will drag the skin off the delivery tube.
Take a small handful of mixture and, turning the crank, force the meat into the hopper and into the tube, and out into the skin. Continue the process until all the meat is gone!
Well, it’s embarrassing. My skills of describing how to link in threes aren’t good enough to show you how to do it. And why bother? To link, first of all, knot the end you didn’t knot at the beginning. Then decide how long the sausage is to be.
Use your fingers to make a little dent in the sausage where you want to link, and twist it round three or four times. Then, the next one twist in the other direction!
If only I had known, I would have done it this way
At Weschenfelders you can buy sausage spices. They have lots of different packs for you to make amazing sausages - all you add is meat, water and breadcrumbs (or rusk). The correct amount of salt is included, and if you mix them well, you get an amazing result. I recently made some ‘Old Yorkshire’ seasonings, but you can get all kinds, many organic, all blummin fantastic.
I’ll let you into a secret, these seasonings are used by nearly all the butchers in the country - when you buy your local butchers ‘Award Winning Sausages’ you can more or less bet your shirt that they came from one of these packs.
They make sausage making at home easy, fun, and you can guarantee perfect results.
You can buy all kind of stuffing implements, I am making a collection of them. Perhaps my favourite is the hand cranked grandma’s mixers that are so useful for all kinds of tasks in the kitchen, and once bought, they last for ever!
I’d say it is a small investment for a lifetime’s supply of brilliant sausages!