As many people know, the Meat Locker has a Twitter account. When I signed up for it I didn’t really understand Twitter. My sister told me “it’s a great way to immediately hear thoughts from a bunch of people, then immediately forget those thoughts”. She also told me that John Mayer is hilaaaarious on it. After a pitch like that, I couldn’t resist. So I linked my Facebook page to my Twitter page and the rest is history, or at least as “historical” anything on a social medium can be these days. Like most Tweeters, whenever I log on, I check @mentions to see who’s saying stuff about my store. Perhaps this is #self-obsessed, but I do find out what people like or dislike about the shop. And the other day the following tweet popped up.
IanKiar wrote: FOR THE 4th TIME IN A ROW ALL YOUR GODDAMN SAUSAGE CASINGS BUSTED 3 MINUTES AFTER PUTTING THE GODDAMN SAUSAGES ON THE GODDAMN BBQ! @sanagans
Wow! All caps means I’m being yelled at. The G-Damn is pretty emphatic; I get the dude’s mad. And you know what? So would I be. I don’t want my customers to pay for a perfectly good, well-seasoned sausage and have it blow up like an over-pumped bike tire whenever they cook it. So Ian Kiar, this is for you. I’m going to attempt to explain why this occasionally happens, and how the customer can avoid it from occurring, at least 99% of the time.
First, I’ll explain how we make our sausages. We make our pork sausage fillings from primarily shoulder and belly meat, with added back fat if necessary. We also use the trim from the loins and leg cuts, as long as we keep a good 25-30% fat content, necessary for a moist sausage. This meat is well chilled before being ground, after which it is seasoned with whatever tickles our fancy. As flighty as this part sounds, we have actually solidified about ten good recipes and rotate through these, with the occasional new one popping up from time to time. Now the sausage is ready to be piped.
We use all natural casings from hogs and lambs. These are the intestines of said animals that have been washed out and packed in salt. There are different types of natural casings; beef is used for salamis for example; but we just use hog for big sausages and lamb for small, thin ones. You must fully rinse the salt out of the casings before using them – this takes about half an hour. The sausage mix, or “farce” as it’s commonly called – goes in the sausage stuffer. The casing gets fed onto a cylinder that is attached to the stuffer and a hand crank is used to coax the farce from the stuffer into the casings. The sausages are then twisted, pricked for air holes (which relieve pressure from the farce when it gets cooked) and separated before going onto trays into the display cabinet. I would prefer to air dry them in my locker for at least six hours before the display stage, but demand and real estate doesn’t allow me this luxury.
It is VERY IMPORTANT to realize we use only natural casings. Most commercially prepared sausages are made with collagen casings, which actually aren’t as bad as they sound. Collagen casings are processed from cattle hide. They are thinner and stronger than natural casings. They don’t break as easily, and they don’t have that same “bite” as the natural casings. By “bite” I am referring to the toughness that sausage casings can have after they’re cooked. Collagen casings also don’t produce that natural curve to the sausage that ours do. I chose to use hog and lamb casing because I wanted to produce a sausage that was a made with the least processed ingredients, and something your grandparents would have made. I’m no enemy of advancements, as can be witnessed by my (eventual) acceptance of Twitter, but when it came to the sausages, I wanted to go with the intestines. If the Egyptians did it, so could we.
Unfortunately natural casings have the disadvantage of bursting when being cooked. This can be due to a couple of reasons, but the two I feel are the most responsible are tightness of the stuffing and the method of cooking. One reason is our fault, and the other is not. We conduct spot checks to ensure the sausages are being piped properly and are not over-stuffed. If I feel they are too taut, they are to be re-done. They should feel like a man feels in his loins when he is making time with his lover. Sorry, I should have preceded that with “earmuffs”. (“Earmuffs” is what I say to the younger staff at the shop when I want to have “grown-up” talk with the other adults. Borrowed from Old School, I know, but it’s useful in real life too.) The sausages can’t be too hard or too soft. As Goldilocks would say…
So if the sausage bursts because it is over-stuffed, I blame myself. The cooking, though, is up to the cook. We have been telling our customers to cook the sausages over a low heat for a long period of time, but I think there is still some confusion. What I have been telling people is to cook the sausages slowly and evenly and the chances of splitting are minimal. I thought that was enough but obviously I was wrong. Ian Kiar’s Tweet proved that. Maybe I wasn’t being heard, or perhaps people are so used to cooking Johnsonville Brats that they forget our sausages need a little more of a tender touch. So I want to be more clear. I decided today to make a tutorial showing no fewer than four different methods of cooking sausages that we made fresh today. So without further blabbering, here is how it went down.
First – Lisa made these beautiful Italian sausages. Pork, toasted fennel seed, chili flakes and fresh garlic. I took home four.
Second – I have prepared four cooking methods. I preheated my oven to 350˚F. I preheated my barbecue to 400˚F. I turned a pan onto medium-low and poured a tablespoon or so of olive oil into in. And finally I put a pot of water on to simmer.
(That’s right, a Broil Mate!)
Notice the element is set to 4. Do whatever the equivalent is on your stove.
Third – I set my timer to twenty minutes and put each sausage into its hot prison. The poached sausage simmered, the pan-fried sausage sizzled, the oven-baked sausage roasted, and the barbecued sausage grilled.
The poached one is pretty straightforward. I left the heat exactly the same and didn’t really do anything, other than turn the sausage over in the water at around the ten-minute mark.
The oven baked on was the same. I flipped it once at the ten-minute mark.
The grilled one required a little bit of thought. I didn’t want the grill to be too hot, so after it was pre-heated I put the sausage on an indirect area of the grill and left the lid open. I turned the sausage a couple of times during the twenty minutes to ensure even cooking.
The pan-fried sausage was pretty straightforward. It started to sizzle after four minutes and I turned it after ten minutes. I turned it once more at the fifteen-minute mark to get a little extra colour on the one side.
And here are the results. In terms of appearance, the poached one looks kind of dry; the grilled one didn’t achieve the colour I wanted, so I think it could have used a little higher heat; the baked sausage also didn’t have the desired caramelization; the pan-fried one did, though, and looks the most appetizing.
And now for the taste test. I found the poached sausage to be a little dry, which I totally predicted.
The grilled sausage wasn’t even fully cooked!
I put that one back in the oven to finish. Next time I’ll leave it on the grill for another five to ten minutes.
The baked one was very good, less dry that the poached sausage but not as browned as I like my sausages to be.
But the pan-fried one – oh snap! That was daaaamn tasty!
The caramelized exterior somehow made the interior taste better. It was juicer, saltier and more satisfying than the others. I think I need to give the grill another chance, but for the purposes of this experiment, let’s just say the pan wins.
Now, at the end of the day the sausages are just one part of the meal. I chose to slice the sausage and eat them with a smoked ham and kidney bean thing I made a while ago. Delicious..
And then I just ate more sausage on a cutting board with mustard. Because I’m a fat pig.
Oh and guess what. THEY DIDN’T BURST! I COOKED THE GODDAMN SAUSAGES FOUR GODDAMN WAYS AND NONE OF THEM BURST!
Having properly made sausages are the beginning of any well-made meal. I hate to hear that something we produced turned an otherwise delicious mealtime into a sad affair. So I will continue to have properly stuffed sausage in my display case. I hope this tutorial helps you have properly cooked sausages on your table.