A few weeks ago I looked in my freezer and noticed it was getting a tad empty particularly of burgers and sausages. Time to order more meat!
A little thought and a phone call to my butcher – and about $200 later I’m swimming in sausages once more. Or rather – the meat to make the sausages with. I ordered about 3 kilos each of lamb, pork and beef. To be fair, the sausage meat itself – lamb, beef and pork cost $100.
This is about the 4th or 5th time I’ve gone on a sausage making binge. The difference this time is that I’m doing it over a few days and that I have developed a useful little spreadsheet to help me plan out my sausage making. Its more than just the meat, you see. Sausages become wonderful through other flavors: salt, pepper, garlic, wine in particular. I’m using Ruhlman’s sausage recipe for basic go-to garlic sausages for my base, though whereas he specifies a sausage ratio of 25% fat, but I leave that choice to the maker. Feedback from family suggested this was way too much – mine are at about 15%. Fat adds flavour, but some want their burgers and sausages leaner. His Ratio book was my inspiration to get started in this – and he’s such an excellent writer: (from p.135 of Ratio: “Sometimes I wonder if God didn’t create garlic specifically for sausage only to find out later that it went with a lot of other things too…”)
In this blog I’ll try to remember what it was like the first time out and imagine you are in the same situation. I’m also going to share and explain my calculator – don’t know why I have not done this before!
What you need
So let’s imagine you are just starting out in sausages. Here is what you need:
- A meat grinder with a sausage stuffing attachment. I started with a KitchenAid stand mixer with the grinder attachment. The retaining cap is made of plastic and it blew off after possibly 20 hours of use. I now use a cheap $100 Cuisinart meat grinder which is solid and metal but has a weaker motor than the KitchenAid.
- a hefty sharp knife. I use an old, massive 10” Wusthoff. It’s not my usual light, nimble Japanese knife – but it works really well cutting through big hunks of meat.
- a digital scale
- lots of room on your counter
- a microwave
- several really large bowls
- freezer bags
- vinyl gloves. It can get messy. If you are averse to meat and fat caking your hands, use gloves.
- wax paper – if you are making patties (because really, a patty is a sausage without the casing).
- optional: a stand mixer. Beyond using a meat grinder attachment, you are likely going to want to mix your sausage mix thoroughly before stuffing. This can also be done by hand.
The basic food stuff to buy:
- Meat. I don’t know a lot about meat cuts but perhaps I should. My usual request of the butcher goes like this: “I’m going to make my own sausage, so I’d like about 3 kilos of what you would use yourself (but specify the kind of meat you want).”
- Sausage skins: These are made from the thin but strong intestinal skin. Buy these from the butcher. You will need about a package for every 3 or so kilos of meat.
- Salt: Use sea salt or kosher salt. This is indispensable for flavour.
- Fat: Sausages need between 10%-25% fat, as noted above. I save all mine from soup stocks, bacon cooking, other sausage cooking. Nothing goes to waste. I also roughly trim off any big hunks of fat from the meat so that my fat content is more truly accurate. if you really have no fat, get that too at the butcher.
- Red wine gives your basic sausage a nice body and complexity
- Garlic. Even if its not a “garlic sausage” it still needs a minimum amount of garlic.
- Cayenne or hot sauce because all sausages should have a bit of heat.
- Black Pepper is important too in the general mix.
These ingredients are what’s needed for a basic sausage. Its your base mix.
Other stuff to flavour it: herbs, spices, dry fruit, nuts even, other fruit, cheese. This is where you can get truly creative. That said, the more different flavours, the more intense the work.
- Think about what you want to create. Let your palate’s imagination run wild. Once you have an idea, check out my sausage calculator. This is a sharable editable google sheet. If it gets messed up, I have a copy of it, no worries. Just email me if you accidentally mess it up. If you think the spreadsheet could be useful or if you want to mess with it and change up some of the basic formulas, I would suggest you download it as an excel sheet. If you come up with a better version, please let me know.
- Prepare your work surface. Start spotless and clean. Set up your grinder and a bowl to catch the ground meat in.
- I would also suggest you check out sausage making on YouTube.
- These 3 videos will give you lots more info and tips, though they are all clearly industrial operations.
- Figure out more or less what you want to do and have those ingredients on hand.
Let’s do it!
- Ideally your sausage meat should be at about 1-2 degrees celsius – slightly above freezing. This will mean you can refreeze it safely. Check my blog on this issue from a couple of years ago.
- The sausage skins now need to go into very salty water. This loosens them up and makes them easier to work with. (1 skin package for approximately 3kilos of meat)
- Weigh your meat and enter the weight in the sausage calculator spreadsheet
- Next, if you want to make a variety of different sausages or burgers, use the table in the sheet below the initial information entry to sort out what is going to go into each one. The spreadsheet will show either my exmple or someone else’s use of it. Please overwrite these and input your own. It’s set up so that only the yellow highlighted cells can be changed.
- Cut the meat into big thin strips that can go through the feeder of your meat grinder.
- Add the salt, pepper, and garlic required per your meat weight on the sheet.
- Weigh and add in the ‘extra’ ingredients
- Give a final check to make sure your grinder works well, make sure you have a fairly fine grinding plate (the round piece with the holes in it)
- Start grinding!
- Somewhere in the middle of the process, add the wine, and mix.
- Add extra ingredients at the end. Be aware of what happens with things like onions. If you put onions through the grinder, you get onion puree. If you dice them and add them separately you get diced onions in your mix. The same applies to any fruit or vegetable addition you use.
- Depending on how much you are making, and the order you mix your sausage mix, you may want to use a stand mixer to thoroughly mix it all together.
Its important to taste your product. I put about a half teaspoon of mix in a small ramekin and microwave for 20 seconds. Taste for the ingredients you want to profile, beginning with salt, pepper and garlic. Then focus on the other tastes you want to bring out. Just remember: you can add but you can’t take away.
Think of a patty as a sausage with a different shape and no skin. If you are making patties, cut a number of sheets of waxed paper (the calculator will tell you how many based on your inputs) and spoon the required amount of mix. Roughly shape them, wrap, bag, label, and freeze. I prefer to wrap patties individually, as that’s how they are usually consumed around here.
Once you are happy with your mix, its time to stuff them.
- Your skins should be nicely loose by now, so gently feed it on to your sausage stuffer and mount this on the grinder according to manufacturers directions. Feed out about a few cm of skin and start feeding in the sausage mix. Leave the end of the skin open to allow excess air to escape. It takes a bit to get the hang of it at first.
- Once your mix is all done you should have a nice long sausage. Cut it off at the grinder, leaving about 20cm clear. Tie this end as close to the end as you can, make sure all the air is out, and now start twisting them off according to how long/big you want them. My personal preference is to prepare freezer bags of 3-4 sausages at a time.
- Once done, bag, label, and freeze, or enjoy.
Meatballs are another great DIY meat product to make while you are at it with sausages. Characteristically, beyond the basic sausage mix, they need breadcrumbs – about 20% the weight of the meat, and eggs at about 10% the weight of the meat. You can add whatever other flavoring you want to do with them.
One of the problems with meatballs if you put them into a freezer bag and slide them into the freezer is that they will be difficult to separate from each other. To work around this problem, put them on a baking sheet on parchment paper and then slide them into the freezer for about an hour. This will freeze them without them sticking to each other so that when you put them in your storage bag they will come apart easily when you are ready for them.
I think I’m going to have enough sausages, patties and meatballs to last about 3 months. Using medium sized freezer bags, they easily accommodate both single serve and mealtime opportunities.