by Emily Kennedy | back to the article →
Jenna Sprafkin, executive chef at Chilmark Tavern, believes that making a basic sausage is a safe and easy first technique for a budding charcutier to master. Here, she takes us through the finer points of the process.
To make good sausage, all you really need is a meat grinder, a stuffer, some prickers and casings. A meat grinder for your mixer (I use a KitchenAid) is relatively inexpensive in the world of mixer attachments. There are also a lot of freestanding grinders and hand-cranks that will work for this purpose.
Make sure you have meat with a high fat content, or you have extra fat to supplement your meat. No one likes a dry sausage, right? Traditional sausage is made out of pork butt or pork shoulder—they have the best meat-to-fat-ratio and a lot of flavor.
Take your meat and cut it up in pieces that are small enough to make it through the hole of the grinding attachment. You want to season the meat well: salt, pepper, and then whatever spices strike you. Use a recipe at first, then experiment with available ingredients.
Let your meat sit for 24 hours in a chilled place, just so everyone gets to know one other. Then, take that meat and pass it through the grinder. Depending on how you’re going to use the meat, pass it through once, or twice if you want a finer grind. If you’re going to be stuffing it into casings, you typically want something a little finer. (You know when you eat a piece of drier sausage and you can feel the individual granules of meat in there? If you grind it through two times, it breaks it down a little more.)
Keep things as cold as possible throughout the process. (It’s more of a concern when you’re in a hot kitchen or you’re doing big batches of stuff. Surface areas are exposed, and that’s where all the bad things like to live, so sausages are kind of putting it all out there, full monty.) One of the tricks when making sausage is to throw some ice cubes into the mix as it’s going through the mixer—that provides the meat with a little bit of lubrication, which, for whatever reason, turns out a better product.
Next, put the meat into the bowl of the mixer with the paddle attachment and paddle it: this helps to emulsify the fat to the meat. Keep an eye on the mixture, and when the meat starts smearing against the sides of the bowl and appears a little tacky, you know it’s ready.
At this point, if you were going to stuff your meat into casings, you would load it back into the mixer with your attachment and your casings, pump it through, and then tie them off. You can also freeze the sausage in pack sizes, and pull them out of the freezer as you need them. Sausages keep well, and are a great addition to pastas, omelettes, or really, just about anything.
“Poor guy,” quips a chef walking by.
“Well—it was a female,” Chef Nathan Gould barely glances up from the 120-pound pig beneath him as he sliced a line straight through her belly.
Nathan is demonstrating how to break down a whole pig. Whole-animal butchery, arguably one of the purist building blocks of charcuterie, is not without its time constraints. Performed solo, like today, it can take over two hours.
The head comes off first, then it’s down to the belly to remove the innards: kidneys, liver, heart. The pig is flipped, and a cut is drawn down the back. Nate makes an incision below the fourth rib, and explains each cut of meat and its charcuterie product—the front leg makes coppa; the pork loin, lomo; the back fat, lardo; the pork belly, pancetta, etc. And then the real fun begins.
When turning parts of a pig into edible charcuterie, many techniques can be employed. They are often modified and combined, and temperatures vary from cut to cut, but these are a few of the most commonly utilized methods.
Hot Smoking: Placed in a smoker with hot coals, meat is simultaneously flavored and cooked, or cured. Depending on the temperature, hot smoking renders the meat shelf-stable for long periods of time.
Cold Smoking: Usually salted or brined first, cold-smoked meat is hung in a smoker with heat generated in a separate chamber, so as to not cook it.
Pâtés: A mixture of cooked ground meat and fat whipped into a spreadable paste, pâtés often utilize variety meats, spices and a hint of alcohol.
Sausage Making: Sausage can take two incarnations: fresh or cured. Both processes involve grinding the meat, seasoning it, and stuffing it into casings. Fresh sausage gets cooked, but cured sausage requires adding a small amount of powdered cure with the meat before it’s smoked, then hung to dry.
Dry Curing: The process of rubbing a salt-based mixture over a cut of meat, the meat is left covered for a day or two and then hung in a temperature-controlled space.
Confit: To confit simply means to preserve in fat. A French peasant tradition, it was borne out of necessity. By storing meat this way (most often duck and chicken), it would last longer than simple cooking techniques alone.