VOLUME 5 ... THE MIGHTY SAUSAGE

"At the table of a gentleman living in the Chausee d'Antin was served up an Arles sausage of enormous size. "Will you accept a slice?" the host asked a lady who was sitting next to him; "you see it has come from the right factory." --- "It is really very large," said the lady, casting on it a roguish glance; "What a pity it is unlike anything.""
 

Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) The Physiology of Taste (1825)


 

From our best selling and original Amsterdam Beer Sausage with Jalapenős and Cheddar and One and Only Toronto Potato Sausage, to the classic Spicy Italian, Chorizo, and Merguez sausages, to the wildly flavourful Elk Sausage with Wild Blueberries and Bison Sausage with Pistachio Nuts and Gin, The Healthy Butcher has experienced fast and widespread recognition for its sausage-making since opening.   We recently featured on Breakfast Television (August 10, 2005) and showed the Canadian viewers how we make the freshest of fresh sausages at our store...  so, we though it fitting to pay tribute to the mighty sausage in Volume 5 of Live to Eat.
 

INTRODUCTION:

Sausages can be considered an almost perfect food. International in nature, they combine wonderful herbs and spices, flavourful meats, vegetables, fruits, and grains in a natural casing. They can be poached, boiled, steamed, baked, fried, roasted, or grilled. They may be used as an hors d’oeuvre, in a sandwich, or as an ingredient in other dishes, such as stews and casseroles. In their charmingly odd package, the ingredients meld when cooked, basted in their own savory juices. Then, when eaten, the contained goodness bursts upon your palate in the most festive way possible. Is it any wonder that many cultures through the centuries have created innumerable local festivals to celebrate, honour, and consume this incredible food?
 

Sausages have been with us for a very long time. Before refrigeration, the process of drying (or curing) meat, both in slabs and in sausage form, by using salt as a drying agent was the only way to preserve meat. Today’s saavy cooks are rediscovering the craft of sausage-making as an important way to sample the best of the world’s culinary heritage. There are three main types of sausages - fresh, cured, and smoked.  And the art of sausage-making falls within the broader term Charcuterie - which includes Cured Meats, Terrines, and Pâtés.  In this newsletter, we will only provide an introduction to the topic of sausages and leave the other areas of Charcuterie to a future issue.

TYPES OF SAUSAGE

Fresh Sausage - Fresh sausage refers simply to combined meat and spices ready for immediate consumption. These sausages can be broken up and used as an ingredient in other dishes such as sauces or they can be left in their casings and refrigerated for up to two-to-three days or frozen for three months before cooking.
Cured Sausage - Cured sausages, such as salami and pepperoni, are firmer and keep much longer than fresh sausages. Curing meats retard spoilage by removing most of the moisture using salt.   Unfortunately, curing agents – nitrates and nitrites – have been linked to cancer and other diseases. This is the reason The Healthy Butcher has yet to enter this culinary area – never fear, however, we are diligently working to create nitrate- and nitrite-free cured meats.
Smoked Sausage - Sausages can be either cold- or hot-smoked. Cold-smoking involves low heat for a long time and does not result in a cooked sausage, but rather imparts the smokey flavour. Hot-smoking involves higher heat for a shorter time and results in a fully cooked sausage.
 

CASINGS

Natural casings, primarily made of animal intestines, are the ultimate example of waste-not-want-not. These casings are made of a natural protein called collagen. They are strong, almost transparent, and semi-permeable – which allows flavours such as smoke to penetrate and at the same time protects and concentrates the flavours within. At The Healthy Butcher, we primarily use casings from pigs. However, we make a wide variety of pork-free sausages, in which case we use casings from sheep or artificially made collagen casings.
 

MEAT, FAT, AND SPICES

One of the greatest advantages of buying sausages from a local butcher (meaning the “The Healthy Butcher”) is the control over the ingredients you eat. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, in The River Cottage Meat Book (an absolute must-read cookbook), had this to say about fresh sausages:

       “Everyone loves sausages, and you can buy them just about everywhere that has a chill cabinet … They run the whole gamut of meat quality, from sublime to unmentionable. The very worst of them – which is, of course, most of them – are made from mechanically recovered pork slurry, blasted off the carcasses of factory-farmed pigs with high-pressure hoses, then hovered up off the abattoir floor. After being sieved and ground to an even paste, stabilized with the addition of chemical preservatives, this is mixed with cheap cereal binders (as much as 50 per cent of the final sausage), artificial flavourings and a few more preservatives to boot. It’s finally squeezed into artificial casings that are crimped into sausages at the rate of several thousand an hour. Refrigerated, these have a shelf life of over a month.
       On the other hand, the very best sausages are made by conscientious butchers, who use lean shoulder and fat belly, along with fresh pork trimmings from their own cutting room, … and their secret blend of herbs and spices. They won’t keep for more than a week, but with a loyal clientele to support them, they won’t need to.”

The reputation of the meat processing industry has reached a sad state of affairs. It’s no wonder the quote “you don’t want to know what’s in your sausage” has become so well known. The phrase “meat and meat by-products” gives us a chill every time we read it on a package at the large grocery stores.  At The Healthy Butcher and I’m sure at any quality butcher shop, only the freshest and best organic meat, herbs and ingredients are used. The key to gourmet is in the details. We grind whole black peppercorns immediately before mixing the pepper into the sausage mix. Fresh parsley, thyme, and mint are used – not the dried variety. And no nitrates, nitrites, artificial preservatives, artificial flavouring, artificial binders, or pre-mixed seasoning packages are ever used in our sausages!

The fat content of our sausages is the most common topic of questions from our customers. Our sausages vary from very lean (about 15%) to traditional amounts (about 25-30%). It’s common for commercially made sausages to contain up to 50% fat.  For those of you who may be inspired by this newsletter to enter the world of home sausage-making, you may be tempted to reduce the fat content to levels that produce dry sausages. Fat gives flavour and juiciness. Although 30% may seem like a lot, don’t forget that a good deal of that fat will be lost during cooking – leaving a nice juicy sausage.  As our Head Butcher, Sebastian Cortez, frequently says to customers in search of the leanest meat... “Meat without fat, is like life without love.”
 

MAKING SAUSAGE

The process of making sausages is quite simple…

1.   Grinding the meat – Meat is typically ground through plates with holes of 1/8 inch, 1/4 inch, or 3/8 inch. How the meat is ground will play a huge role in the consistency of the final product. Coarsely ground meat, like in Italian or Chorizo sausages, will be juicier and have a texture similar to the unground pork or beef used in the recipe.  Finely ground meat, like in most breakfast sausages or hot dogs, will create a very consistent and almost pasty-like texture.

2.   Mix the meat – Here’s where a vivid imagination can create the ultimate gourmet experience. For a new sausage-maker, start with a traditional recipe as a base, and then vary it as you wish – always using fresh herbs, spices, vegetables, and maybe even fruits.  Kneading a small batch by hand is not difficult, but make sure that the mixture is thoroughly mixed; you do not want a pocket of salt or black pepper to ruin your eating experience.

3.   Stuffing the casing – There are an infinite number of designs and sizes of sausage stuffers… home manual stuffers are very inexpensive. Fill the stuffer with the sausage mixture and feed it through the casing. With a skewer, prick any air bubbles that appear as the casing fills up. Do not fill the casings too full, or the sausage might burst during linking or cooking.

4.   Linking – Depending on the type of sausage, links should be 5 to 8 inches in length. Starting from the knotted end of the casing on your right, measure the desired length and pinch the casing between your thumbs and forefingers. Twirl the sausage clockwise. Now move down the casing the same length, pinch, and twirl it counter-clockwise. After a short time, you’ll be linking like a pro.
 


COOKING

The key to juicy sausages is patience. Whether you’re pan-frying, grilling or poaching, make sure to cook the sausages slowly. Excessive heat will burn the outside before the insides have cooked as well lose a significant amount of the tasty juices. To grill, preheat your BBQ and then reduce to medium-heat once you’ve placed the sausages on the grill. Flip minimally – twice is ideal. To poach, bring a sufficient amount of lightly salted water to a temperature of 180°-200°F –  the water should not be boiling. Put the sausages in the hot water and poach them over very low heat – they will take 15-30 minutes. To panfry, put the sausage in a dry heavy skillet over medium heat, turning them until they are browned on all sides.
 


FINAL WORDS

In the coming months, we plan on holding a sausage-making class at The Healthy Butcher for those chefs and chef-wanna-be’s alike who wish to explore this area of charcuterie. If you are interested in attending such an event, please send an email to info@thehealthybutcher.com, and we will let you know the details when the plans have been made.

 

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