Dinner at Home
The butcher's daughter
Sausage-making handed down to next generation
Any of these recipes can be shaped into burgers. Grill over medium-hot coals, turning once, until cooked through.
The benefits for me and my siblings are many: We all value a super-sharp knife; we know our way around the meat counter; and are adventuresome meat cookers. Plus, we've all had the opportunity to learn some rudimentary sausage-making techniques from dad. These teaching moments continue every summer when the clan gathers to make my grandfather's recipe for the family sausage served at the annual reunion picnic.
The elders haul out the decades-old mixing tub, a steel tube to hold the meat and wooden plunger to force the meat into the casings. Then they gently guide the younger generations as they season, stuff and tie-off lengths of a garlicky, paprika-infused rendition.
This year, I'm determined to start my own sausage traditions with my young adult children. So I invested in a hand-cranked stuffer and hauled everything to our family cabin, where we have little to do but cook and relax. I purchased fresh spices, a few herbs and then transported the meats packed in layers of ice.
I ordered the natural sausage casings online, hog casings for entree-size sausages and smaller sheep casings for breakfast and appetizer versions. The cost of the casings shocked my father, who usually orders them from a German butcher shop for half the cost. The advantage of the expensive versions is that they come cleaned and threaded on a piece of plastic so the time-consuming task of threading them on the stuffer becomes a snap.
As for sausage flavors, everyone enjoys fresh breakfast meats, so we started with that idea. Our version combines coarse pork shoulder, warm spices and grated apple for a hint of sweetness. I used the sheep casings to make sausages about an inch in diameter that cook quickly.
My daughter and I are big fans of chicken sausage. We made our own version using a combination of flavorful thigh (boneless and skinless) and lean breast meat. Then we piled on the roasted chilies, fresh cilantro and shredded cheese. Stuffed in hog casings, they taste great cooked on the grill and then sliced over a hearty romaine and spinach salad with a lime and olive oil dressing.
While making the sausages, we heeded dad's advice to keep the meat cold and to not overwork the mixture. My daughter followed his tip to fry up a little before stuffing so we could adjust salt in the mix. Great idea, and it fortified our patience during the stuffing procedure.
Stuffing the sausages proves more work than creating the flavorful meat blends. After some trial, and burst casings from my son's exuberant strength, we realized that steady, even pressure yields plump sausages cased properly.
On the way home from the cabin, we stopped by dad's to give him some of our handiwork. The verdict: Not bad for novice "wurstmachers."
• Trim the fat (or ask the butcher to do so) from the outside of meat to your desired preference, but remember that a little fat adds moistness and flavor.
• Grind the meat coarsely with a meat grinder or on/off turns of the food processor (or ask the butcher to grind it).
• Always keep the meat very cold while grinding and seasoning.
• After grinding, add the sausage seasonings and blend thoroughly, but gently, with clean or gloved hands.
• Refrigerate seasoned meat for 30 to 60 minutes to meld the flavors.
• Soak hog or sheep casings in warm water until soft and pliable. Keep them wet for easier threading onto stuffer and to prevent breakage.
• Gently thread cleaned casings onto sausage stuffer.
• Stuff sausages by hand using a sausage stuffer or use the sausage stuffing attachment for an electric meat-grinder or stand mixer.