This page comprises of a few tips and tricks I have been told and/or discovered whilst making sausages. Sausage making is mostly the same whatever you’re making, but mastering these basics will help you…
MEAT TO FAT
Most home sausage makers swear by a 50-50 mix of pork shoulder and belly. Whilst a decent guideline, this can be a little misleading. Far more important is that your sausage meat be 75% visible lean (+/- 5%). Less than this and you’re going to end up with a dry sausage, not a nice juicy one.
Different cuts obviously have different fat levels. Belly could be up to 50% fat. Shoulder could be 80% lean. Supermarkets tend to trim off external fat to make the joints look more appealing, but even if there’s not much surface fat a shoulder joint probably has 5% or so internally. Leg and loin are clearly leaner.
This isn’t easy, you’ll have to learn to judge it by eye, but my theory is that it’s best to buy whatever cuts are on sale (supermarket) and add back fat to make up the difference if it looks a bit lean, fancy cuts from the butcher are best left until you’ve got the hang of it.
KEEPING THINGS COLD
Everyone always seems to be banging on about keeping the meat and equipment very cold during the process. This is mostly relevant for the grinding and mixing stages. Room temperature pork cuts will smear the fat into the lean as it goes through the mincer, where as near frozen meat will not do this so easily. Dice up your meat then stick it in a ziplock and put it in the freezer, go squidge it around every 10 minutes so the outside bits don’t freeze and give it at least half hour in total or until the chunks become semi-frozen. Also if you have a steel mincer, put those gubbins in the freezer for 10 mins before you start too.
The main concern here is that both under mixing and over mixing seem to be cardinal sins. The key point is the longer you mix for, the tighter the texture will be, but you ought to at least mix until the mince is no longer identifiably mince, and is instead a sticky sausage meat. You must mix with the salt! Doing so will help you extract the myosin, which is the protein that will help bind your sausage and ensure you don’t end up with the dreaded crumbly banger! If you combine the salt with the water first, this will be even more effective.
You can mix all the ingredients at once, or you might try to mix the powdery ones with the salty water to get things nicely sticky and well bound, and then run the filler (rusk) through after. One tip though – get a bit of experience under your belt before using booze though, as the alcohol will do it’s best to ruin your bind (see Liquids section below).
I went on a course recently where they mixed all the leaner mince with 20% or so of the fatty stuff, then once it had gone sticky, loosely mixed in the rest. It worked well.
Unbelievably Hugh Fearnly-Whassisface suggests using no rusk at all in his river cottage book, however, most recipes call for 6% or so. I’m not sure I detect any discernible difference between rusk and breadcrumbs, a big bag of rusk is cheap and stores for ages. Consensus seems to be that rusk can ‘hold’ a bit more liquid than breadcrumbs, so bear this in mind when determining your liquid content.
I’ve also found potato starch recommended, which is essential if you want to make gluten free sausages.
Pea protein is renowned for its ability to hold water, so might have some benefit for sausage with high liquid content such as beer. However, use with care as I’m convinced that too much affects the texture in a negative, powdery way.
Just stick with rusk, but maybe try adding it after the initial mix if you’re having trouble with crumbly sausage.
Depending on your other ingredients, you will usually want to aim for about 10% liquid (see section on measuring below). I really recommend, no matter how tempting it is, to NOT make that 100% booze! The alcohol will inhibit the ability for you to extract the myosin when mixing, so always use at least half as water during the mix (ice cold of course), then gently mix in your wine or cider (or other good stuff) at the end. For a beer, or stout sausage you could use 5% water while mixing then another 10% beer for flavour. I think more than 15% liquid should be avoided until you’re experienced.
SEASONING & FLAVOURING
As noted above, add your salt first, then mix, then add the other seasonings and fillers. Many recipes call for 1.5-2% salt, but missus constantly finds that level too salty (2% definitely is), so I have compromised to 1%, which seems fine.
Many traditional sausage recipes call for 2-3% for all seasoning – salt, pepper and spices. I think this is fine for nondescript flavours such as Cumberland or Lincolnshire, but if I’m making something where the flavour is in the name (Pork and Fennel for example) I may up that to as much as 5%.
SKINS & STUFFING
All natural hog skins are a given, the 38/40’s produce whoppers that take ages to cook (they are probably suited to fat salami or chorizo), so the 32/34 or 34/36 are better – still ‘jumbo’ but not ridiculous!
Remember to start soaking them the night before though, because a couple of hours in water is not enough to extract all the salt, and will not make them super smooth and slippery enough for them to be that little bit easier to work with. You need a minimum 6 hour soak.
Sheeps’ casings for chipolatas are the devils handiwork, but you’ll need to get to grips with them for authentic merguez.
Most sausage recipes are given using percentages on the weight of the final mix. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make it easy if you’re starting with a set amount of meat and want to use it all. For a long time if a recipe called for 11% water and I had 800g of meat, I’d add 88g of water – that’s not necessarily right! In the recipe below I should have added 110g of water, 65g of rusk and 2.5g of seasoning and ended up with a kilo of mix…
80% Pork, 2.5% Seasoning, 6.5% Rusk, 11% Water
All well and good if you know you want to make 1kg of sausage mix, but you’ll need to break out the calculator if you realise you have 925g of pork and want to work with all of it!
I’m going to try to build a converter and put it here soon, but in the mean time the ‘easy’ method of doing it as a percentage of meat weight will not end in disaster…
THE SECRET INGREDIENT
Is… SUPAPHOS. Seriously, hunt some down and use it at 8g per kilo of meat. Since using this I have found the bind I get in my sausage is better than it has ever been – no more crumbly dry sausage, firm, juicy and extremely professional. Took me a year of tasty but inconsistent sausage to discover this… you’re welcome!