The best thing about succeeding at something new and technical in the kitchen is that it builds one’s confidence for other projects. The Camembert and other cheeses made me realize that doing is everything; after a few tries one develops the beginnings of a feel for the method, and the results provide positive feedback in the most encouraging form: excellent food. Every time I make a food that seems to fall outside of the “normal” homemade category (vinegar, cheese, bacon, maple syrup, etc.) I am astonished not only at how easy it was but at how much better the result is than almost anything I could hope to buy, even for a lot of money.
Thus emboldened by the really tasty cheese that I’ve been making lately, I acquired pork, pork fat, pink salts, and hog casings over the course of a week and recently busied myself making some salami. This batch was pretty straightforward Italian, with wine, fennel seeds, garlic, and dried red pepper. I have many ideas for future batches–I’ve made lots of sausage but never stuffed it into intestines before–so I didn’t want to complicate the operation for my first try.
So I took a five-pound pork sirloin and cut it into hunks and ground it through the large die, seasoned it with salt and #2 pink salt, and ground it again through the large die. I took about a pound and a half of half-frozen pork fat and ground it through the large die as well, then put it back in the freezer. A big part of the addictive appeal of cured sausage is the wonderful tangy flavor that results from bacterial fermentation; lactobacilli do their work as the meat dries. In place of the powdered cultures that many people use, I added half a cup of kimchi brine from the last batch, which is positively brimming with the beasts. I also added wine, pepper, garlic, and a pinch of sugar for the bacteria to eat. Then I mixed the fat into the meat with my hands for a minute or so to get it all friendly and blended.
I took some of the filling and cooked a small patty in a pan to taste it for seasoning, and it was fine. Then I switched from the grinder to the stuffer attachment on the old KA and pushed the soaked and rinsed casing over the nozzle in a tight, overlapping series of slippery pleats and started feeding the meat into the hopper. It took a few minutes to get into a rhythm–another set of hands would have been a big help at this stage–but I got them all filled with few problems. A knot needed cutting, and there were a few blowouts when I twisted them into links, but it all went pretty smoothly.
I hung all the links up over the kitchen counter, using the charcuterie hooks sunk into the beam from whence I just cut down bresaola and duck prosciutto. Fermenting the sausages at room temperature for a day or two gives the bacteria a real metabolic boost before they retire to the cooler confines of the wine fridge (or basement, if you’re so blessed) to slowly dry. About half the batch are currently out on the porch hanging from the ceiling over the smoker, bathing in smoke–my half-assed version of a cold-smoker–so we can enjoy two versions of what is exactly the same sausage once they’re all dried.
And that wait means I won’t be able to report on the result for a while. But it’s worth posting about, I guess, since the point is that there’s nothing hard or scary about it once you’ve procured the requisite ingredients (which is easy). Tomorrow or Friday I’ll have the hot-smoking challenge post up, which turned out exceedingly well, and there’s a lesson in there, too: these days, when I fire up the smoker I try to have more than one thing to put in it. Since the sausages were done, I could take advantage of the exhaust from the chimney to give them an extra little something in the flavor department. I also smoked pasta and coffee. A BTU saved is a BTU earned.
Another note: a 5-pound pork shoulder or sirloin is easily enough for making four or five different distinct types of salume. What I ended up with is a pretty absurd quantity of same-flavored salami that will all be ready at the same time. In future I’ll be using hog middles because their larger diameter makes for a more satisfying result and uses more meat per unit. Width matters more than length, after all.