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Friday, December 3, 2010

Sausage for the freezer!

Sausage making comes once a year at our house(some years twice if we are really lucky-once for deer and once for elk). Much to the joy of the household predator (our dog) and the sighs of the children, and our aching muscles. While I dread the amount of hours spent slaving over the kitchen aid and all the work involved, I can honestly say that I wouldn't do it any other way.

The frugal side of me loves that others pay to have someone else make their sausage but we do it and it doesn't cost us anything except for spices, bags to package and the meat to mix in, and the cost of the grinder and the scale -- which have long since paid for themselves. I love knowing that there is no mystery "spices-code for MSG", no nitrates, no refined sugar, no dairy, no soy, no hydrolyzed soy anything .. it's terrific! Just food in our food! That's by far the best part, and it's perfectly seasoned to our palates!

My recipes are designed for use as a frozen bulk sausage, not for smoking, etc.. that's a whole different type of thing. We don't make them into links because well -- I'm lazy and the sausage tastes the same to me in links or in chunks. We could of course do that with a larger sized casing- I prefer the natural casings-they tear less, IMHO. And then of course they would be frozen once stuffed into the casings. (one more step, again, lazy!) And the other downside to casings is that it's an additional cost (not much mind you, but still-cheap and lazy that's me), and they take up more space in my all ready stuffed freezer.

To start you need really clean elk or deer meat, (no hairs, etc..)and a selection of other items to help in the process, other than the spices and basic ingredients here are some tools you will need.

  • good food scale (what foodies kitchen isn't complete without one anyway)

  • food grinder (we use the kitchen aid attachment)

  • several large bowls-at least three, more is better

  • saran wrap

  • lots of latex or rubber gloves

  • clean working surfaces (empty all counters around the grinder and cover the wall facing the grinder with newspaper for easy cleanup)

  • small bowls for mixing spices (check to make sure you have enough of everything, sausage uses large quantities and you won't want to run out)

  • small skillet for frying sample batches

  • good sharp knives

  • cutting boards

  • plenty of fridge space or a cooler full of ice to keep ground meat cool while grinding.

  • box of saltine style crackers

  • packaging materials and sharpie permanent markers or good sticky stickers or masking tape.

***** Remember you will be working with raw meat, and something you and your family will be consuming so cleanliness is important. Floors, your hands, all tools, and kitchen counters should be immaculately clean. and kept clean. When handling the raw meat we use latex or rubber gloves. Keep your hair tied back, etc.. Keep your meat in the cooler unless you are working with it, and keep it covered.

Here is the step by step:

1. Once everything is assembled and cleaned, put together the grinder and glove up. Have your bowls handy. Cut the meat in small enough pieces to fit easily into your grinder. Keep the kinds of meat separate. We grind all of our deer meat first then grind our pork meat. No need to clean the grinder in between uses because you will be mixing it all in the end.

2. Once everything is ground we measure out batches of meat with the scale. Then we mix the spices in a small bowl or mug for each batch. We label the bowls with what kind of sausage they are and how many batches are in the bowl, if we are doing more than just one batch at a time.

3. Gently mix the meat in each batch together a bit without the spices added, then run it through the grinder again with the finer attachment. While it grinds have someone gently shake the spices into the catch bowl over the meat to evenly distribute them throughout the batch - this makes the job of combining later much easier. Also if you have seeds in your sausage it keeps them whole -- if you grind them the flavor can get stronger as they get crushed.

4. When you are done grinding the meat clean out your grinder with crackers -- run the crushed up crackers through your grinder-- if you want to make a gluten free product figure for some loss on the last batch and grind the cracker mess into a small bowl separate from your bowls with your batches in them.

5. Once all your batches are ground twice and your grinder parts are clean, mix -- use clean gloves for this for each type of sausage.

6. Once each batch is mixed try cooking a tiny patty of it in your fry pan. Don't skip this step! Trust me you don't want 13 pounds of really really nasty chorizo in the freezer taking up space for the next two years... (ask me how I know this!) It's much easier to add some salt, or garlic or whatever, or fix a salty batch, or a batch with WAYY too much of something now--than later after it's all packed up and in your freezer. I usually save back a bit of meat to mix in just in case.. even using TNT recipes I've made a few times, there are always some adjustments needed.

7. Make and label your packages and bags. Labels are easier to do before the meat is in your bags.

8. Using your scale pack the sausage into bags and lay as flat as possible. If you squish everything nice and flat it's very easy to store them once they are frozen solid. I use a box or cookie sheet to flatten and freeze the meat then once it's frozen solid I store it like old vinyl LP records upright in boxes in my chest freezer. I can easily fit 40-60 pounds of sausage in our freezer along with everything else if I use this method. (We pack our meat now in 1 1/2 # packages due to feeding 8 on a regular basis)

If you need to walk away from the grinder for a short amount of time, cover it with a big plastic bag to keep any contaminates (interested pets,insects, or toddlers) out.

** For safety when you are not sitting next to your grinder -- UNPLUG IT. Curious kids and pets have gotten their arms, etc.. stuck in running grinders-don't let that happen to the ones you love. Even for a minute UNPLUG IT!

In our house one of us grinds while the other mixes and measures spices by batch. Normally we make about 3-5 batches of the breakfast sausage, and about the same of Italian sausage, some andouille sausage (Emerril has a good recipe), some brats, some chorizo, some plain ground meat, and whatever else strikes our fancy. Last year it was jalapeno garlic sausage. Of course this all depends on how much meat we have, but the possibilities are endless and if you don't hunt-- you could still make your own all pork, chicken, beef or other meat sausage!

Basic Breakfast Sausage

7 lbs of lean meat (venison) & 1 1/2 lbs of pork butt

(We do around 7 1/2 -8 pounds of meat total (mixed pork and deer) per batch.) If you get the spices/ratio right on this recipe it is out of sight, but if you use too much meat and not enough spices it's not nearly as good.

4 T. salt
1 3/4 tsp pepper
3 1/2 tsp. dry sage
2 1/2 tsp. ground thyme
2 1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 1/2 tsp ground dry ginger
1 tsp crushed red chili pepper flakes- you can of course add more or less- this seems to be the right mix for us though.

**If you plan to put this in casings you may want to add a little water to make the texture better for stuffing. Grind your meat once, then combine meats & grind again. Combine all spices and as you grind the meat-sprinkle on the spices in layers, then it's very easy to mix up with gloves, and package for freezing.

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