We sat down with Katherine Sowden from Bella Roma Foods in Guelph, ON to talk about a personal passion of hers, making sausage:
Katherine’s top 6 sausage making tips
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- The right cut for the job: In terms of selecting the right cut for your sausages it all comes down to math. You want to aim for a cut that gives you a ratio of 80% meat and 20% fat. Stay away from cuts that end in “loin” (i.e. tenderloin), they will be too lean and will make your sausages dry and not very flavourful. Instead, choose a pork butt shoulder.
- Keep it clean: Before grinding the pork it is important to trim the meat of glands and sinew. Although the process of “cleaning” the meat of these items makes more work, it will help produce a better sausage.
- Don’t judge a sausage by its casing: There are pros and cons to using either natural or synthetic casings. Synthetic will give you a more uniform look but natural will give you superior flavour.
- Salty dawg: No matter what combination of flavours you intend to infuse the meat with, you want to always make sure the salt content is 1.5-2% (i.e. 2 g of salt per 100 g meat).
- Don’t get too stuffed: When loading the cylinder/canister of your stuffing machine the meat should be packed tightly to reduce the number of air pockets in the meat. When filling the casing go slow. If the casing is overstuffed you risk having it burst when you go to link the sausage and if you under stuff the sausage you risk wasting large amounts of casing. The right balance of knowing how full to stuff the casing comes with practice and patience.
- Temperature is everything: When cooking fresh sausages you want to make sure that the internal temperature of the sausage reaches 160°F on a meat thermometer to ensure it is safe for consumption.
Sausages are made through the process of grinding meat, such as pork, adding salt and other spices to create a mixture known as a forcemeat.
This forcemeat is then stuffed into a vessel such as casing to form a sausage. The word sausage comes from the Latin word ‘salsus’ which means salted, or preserved by salting. Evidence suggests that the sausage is one of the oldest processed meat products.
Make sure that the internal temperature of the sausage reaches 160°F
What are the best cuts to use when making sausage?
When selecting the best cut of pork for making sausage one of the main things to take into consideration is the meat to fat ratio present in the cut. Typically, when making sausage you want to aim for a cut that gives you a ratio of 80% meat and 20% fat. When making sausage you want to avoid leaner cuts of pork which will typically end in the word “loin” (i.e. tenderloin). If the cut you select is too lean it can lead to a sausage that is dry, lacks flavour and is tough on the palate.
The ideal cut of pork for sausage making comes from the shoulder area of the hog because it will generally offer you that ideal meat to fat ratio of 80/20.
Although there is a general perception that cuts that come from more active areas of the hog are tougher and therefore less desirable, it should be noted that the actions of grinding meat help break apart those connective tissues that make the meat traditionally tough so that it is more tender and palatable.
When making sausage you want to avoid leaner cuts of pork which will typically end in the word “loin.”
What you should consider when making different flavours of sausage? (Italian vs. chorizo vs breakfast)
Adding flavour can take your sausages to the next level but there are a few things that you should take into consideration.
Grinding and Texture: Before grinding the pork it is important to trim the meat of glands and sinew. Although the process of “cleaning” the meat of these items makes more work it will help produce a better sausage.
When cutting the meat into chunks to process through the grinder make sure the pieces are small enough to pass through the machine. I also recommend making sure the meat is well chilled before grinding to help prevent the meat from becoming pasty in texture or clogging the plate of the grinder.
When selecting the grind plate for your grinder you want to think about what the end-use of the sausage is going to be and whether or not this style of sausage has a specific textural attribute that differentiates it from other styles.
Make sure the meat is well chilled before grinding.
For instance, breakfast sausage is traditionally ground fine to create a smoother texture, whereas meat in traditional Italian sausage is more coarse. Be careful not to pass the meat too many times through the grinder or you risk creating a sausage that is tough.
Salt: No matter what combination of flavours you intend to infuse the meat with you want to always make sure the salt content is 1.5-2% (i.e. 2 g of salt per 100 g meat).
Seasoning and Mixing: When seasoning and mixing the meat for sausage there are a few things to consider:
- The first is the volume of spices and herbs you are going to blend into the meat. If you are adding a large volume of spices and herbs to the meat you may need to incorporate a wet ingredient like water, wine, beer, etc. to help the spices bind to the meat and be distributed evenly throughout the mixture. When developing your own spice blend, I suggest you start with a small volume of spices, taste test by cooking a sample piece, and adjust the seasoning as needed. My rule of thumb is when increasing the amount of spice in a blend, do so by increments of 5% to reduce the chances of over spicing.
- Second, if you are considering adding ingredients such as cheese, sundried tomatoes, olives, etc. to a sausage you will need to ensure that it is chopped fine enough to fit through the horn of your sausage stuffer.
- Third, if adding an ingredient that shrinks and gives off moisture when cooked (i.e. mushrooms, bacon, etc.) consider cooking these ingredients first to remove the excess moisture and liquid so that your sausage does not shrink significantly when cooking them.
When increasing the amount of spice in a blend, do so by increments of 5% to reduce the chances of over spicing.
One of the most important things to remember is to not overmix the meat. Make sure you minimize the amount of time you are mixing the spices and meat to reduce the amount of frictional heat generated which can warm the meat to the point that it becomes pasty and impacts the final quality of the sausage.
Difference between natural and synthetic sausage casings?
When making sausage there are two options for casings: synthetic or natural. The most common natural casing used for sausage making is hog and typically measures 32-35mm in diameter. As with anything, there are pros and cons to using either natural or synthetic. Some people prefer to use a synthetic casing because it promotes uniformity in diameter of the sausage and reduces cost. On the other hand, a natural casing may not produce a product that is uniform in diameter, but in my experience, it will create a higher quality product.
Use of a natural sausage casing.
What is the best way to stuff and link a sausage?
- When loading the cylinder/canister of your stuffing machine the meat should be packed tightly to reduce the number of air pockets in the meat.
- If using natural casings, make sure they have been rinsed thoroughly and that you have them stored at room temperature while you work with them. It is important to have enough moisture on the horn of your sausage stuffer to ensure that loading the casing onto the horn is easy and that it doesn’t rip.
- When filling the casing go slow. If the casing is overstuffed you risk having it burst when you go to link the sausage and if you under stuff the sausage you risk wasting large amounts of casing. The right balance of knowing how full to stuff the casing comes with practice and patience.
- Linking is the last stage and everyone has an opinion on how to do it. When we teach people to link sausage we generally tell them to:
- Hold the end of the sausage with your left hand, then use your right hand to pinch the sausage gently where you want their first link to end.
- Next, rotate the sauce 3 times away from the body to form the link. For the second link use your right hand to pinch the sausage where you want your next link to end.
- While holding the other end with your left hand, rotate the sausage 3 times towards yourself.
- Repeat the process until the strand of the stuffed casing is linked. Use a sharp, sterilized pair of scissors to cut the links apart.
Quick video on how to link your sausages. Refer to the tips above as you are linking.
What is the key to cooking sausage correctly?
When cooking fresh sausages you want to make sure that the internal temperature of the product reaches 160°F on a meat thermometer to ensure it is safe for consumption. I have always found the best way to cook a standard Italian sausage is on a barbeque. I will usually preheat my grill to 280-300°F and slowly grill the sausage until the casing is golden brown and a meat thermometer reads 160°F (approximately 20-30 minutes).
Check out our Hot Italian Sausage Recipe.
Why should you take a chance and try making your own sausage?
The biggest benefit of making your own sausage is knowing what exactly is going into your food. Making your own sausage means you can control whether or not fillers are used, whether or not preservatives are used, the fat content, salt content, etc. Knowing what we are putting into our bodies when it comes to food, in general, is more important than ever and society seems to be trending towards this idea.
It's also a great way to understand how to use more economical cuts of meat in new ways. Too often we get stuck in only preparing a cut one way because that's all we know, but learning the versatility of a cut of meat helps add variety to your menu so that you can avoid "the boredom" that we all often get from cooking. Unfortunately, our culture has created this idea that food and cooking are chores to avoid and because of that we are more disconnected from what we eat, how we prepare food and how we shop and manage food waste.
Learning a skill like sausage making is one way a person can reconnect with food and how we fit into the food system as consumers. The meat that one spices for sausage can be transformed, not only into sausage but be used in pasta sauces, as pizza crumble, in chili, etc.
Finally, sausage making is something that can be done in a group setting and is a unique way to spend time as a family working to prepare the food that you eat. It's also a great opportunity to get children involved with making food and understanding how to handle raw meat properly.
Why is buying Ontario pork to make your homemade sausages important?
It all comes down to being a responsible member of the food system. Knowing where your food comes from is an important first step to understanding how an ingredient was cultivated and what qualities it may possess because of the provenance of it. I know that when I buy Ontario pork I am buying a product that supports local farmers, is free from hormones and is cultivated by a community of farmers that believe in being socially responsible. From ensuring animal welfare to being more environmentally friendly in their practices, Ontario hog farmers are constantly striving to improve their operations to produce a product that is superior in quality. The quality of the ingredients you select will ultimately impact the overall quality of a dish you make.
Learn where to buy Ontario Pork