There’s Nothing Funny About Cylindrical Meat

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.

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  1. April 13

    I like the use of kimchi brine; you could have mixed in some of your leftover whey as well.

    Clever cold-smoking setup; I considered the same approach, but figured I’d get poached by neighbors, passers-by, or firemen.

    I also agree with your “make different stuff” approach, I still have a dozen links of plain sausage that I’ll have to endure eating. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.

  2. April 13

    Yes, width matters far more than length.

  3. April 14

    Fun! I do wonder about your doing it solo, though. Sausage-making days are ones well spent in the company of others (if for nothing else then they can catch the links rolling out of the stuffer, or fetch you another beer if your hands are in the muck).

  4. I have a few recipes, hundreds of years old, for some splendid sausages… you are inspiring me to get that attachment. Sadly, we city folk have no smokers… I think you have a sausage feast in your future… can’t wait to see how they turn out!!! Btw, great use of chimney smoke. They used to hang meats in the chimneys in the olden days… now that would make for blackened meat!

  5. April 14

    So what resources do you use to help you figure out how to do all this? I would love to do this, but being that I’m a total newbie, I don’t even know where to start. I don’t have a meat grinder (can you recommend a good basic one?). Could I use a food processor instead? And where do you find things like hog casings and frozen pork fat? I really am clueless about stuff like this. You have these hanging in your kitchen? Are you worried about bugs and such? We have a LOT of bugs here…

  6. Peter
    April 14

    David: I though about using whey, but I had heated it to 200˚ to make ricotta so I figured it wasn’t so active. Next time, for sure.

    Zoomie: Moving on…

    Deana: It would be fun to make some Medieval and Roman recipes. I smell a theme party…

    Mo: The Ruhlman book is a good place to start. I like the KA; I wouldn’t suggest a fo-pro. I’m not worried about bugs for now, because they’re not out yet. If you have lots, use a wine fridge. I got the casings and fat at a local market with a good butcher. My suggestion is to start simple with duck prosciutto and bresaola and guanciale and work your way up.

  7. April 14

    Okay, thank you!! I have a KA, so I’ll just have to get the attachment…Mother’s Day is coming up after all.

  8. Peter
    April 15

    I will say that the new KAs have plastic grinders, and that sucks. I have my Mom’s old one, and it’s all metal. Maybe poke around ebay or Craigslist and see if you can get a metal one; they really hold a chill and make for much better results.

  9. April 15

    Kimchi brine, eh? Ballsy. I’ll stick to my starter cultures. Ken Albala doesn’t even bother with a starter, and he’s been pretty successful, though.

    I like the hack on the cold-smoker, though. Just watch to make sure your temp doesn’t go beyond 65 while those are on the porch. Oh, and watch for raccoons. They’re clever…


  10. April 15

    Glad you mentioned that, I wasn’t too impressed with the reviews on the plastic one. Dang, the older metal one is pricey, though! Can’t wait to hear how yours turns out! I was daydreaming last night about having a farm, we almost moved to one when I was a kid, what a bummer we didn’t!

  11. Peter
    April 17

    Hank: It’s true, he doesn’t, and I’m in his camp: centuries of people used a pinch of saltpeter and the microbes from their skin as they mixed the meat and it worked pretty well. I figure that my pickle brines and/or whey contain millions and millions of the desirable creatures. I took the sausages down before nightfall; they didn’t get a lot of smoke flavor so I may bring them out again next time I fire it up.

    Mo: Two words: e bay.

  12. Mo
    April 18

    eBay was where I was looking! But my awesome husband went out and not only bought me a smoker this weekend, but the book you recommended, the meat grinder and sausage stuffer attachment have all been ordered. Woo woo. AND he’s putting a thermostat in our little fridge so I can do cheese and sausages in it. AND I just got a raw goat and sheep milk source down the street!!! This weekend was like the best mid-year Christmas ever! We used the smoker yesterday for a spring time family BBQ. Grass fed burgers and brats, spring onions, fennel, asparagus with a delicious mint-lemon sauce. Heaven.

    • Peter
      April 18

      Holy shit. Someone’s getting laid tonight.

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