Every few months I turn 15lbs of pork butt into sausages. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years:
1. Don’t use your Kitchenaid as a meat grinder or stuffer. There’s a reason it’s called a ‘mixer.’ It mixes well. The grinder attachment is atrocious. Get yourself one of these babies, which would probably grind my arm if I could get it in far enough. (And no, they didn’t pay me to tell you that.)
2. 5lb batches are about the right size. That allows you to do three different flavors without totally overwhelming your freezer. Many recipes are sized for 5lbs and it’s also about the max capacity my Kitchenaid can handle in the mixing stage.
3. Be assertive with flavorings. I like my sausage flavoring like my ice cream flavors – when I taste it, I want to think “THAT is what that flavor is supposed to taste like!”. You can’t beat a good old British Banger and this is my favorite recipe for those. I’m also a big fan of these Lao sausages (the biggest problem being what on earth do you serve them with?). My latest batch includes pesto, and Alvin is partial to Calabrese. I do a batch of half-salt bangers in sheep casings for Carys and I actually think they are one of her favorite foods. After raisins, of course.
4. You MUST include some kind of grain in your bangers, and consider adding it to your other recipes too. It may have been introduced as a way to ‘stretch’ the meat to fill more tummies (by some stingy British person like myself) or to improve the sausage’s mouthfeel, both of which it achieves nicely. I do about 8oz grain (usually breadcrumbs, but you could try ground oats, or barley, or…?) per 5lb batch of meat.
5. Cook and taste a sample of the sausage before stuffing. You don’t want to find out that it needs more salt after it’s in the casing.
6. Buy casings pre-loaded on a plastic sleeve – hog for adult-sized sausages; sheep for kids. If you’re lucky enough to live in Berkeley, Cafe Rouge on Fourth Street has them. If they’re not pre-loaded they just come in a pile and I can’t tell you how fiddly it is try to get those things onto the stuffer nozzle. (I just saved you an hour of your life. You’re welcome.)
7. Don’t over-stuff. An over-stuffed sausage will look nice until it hits the grill, when it’ll burst open faster than Anthony Weiner’s pant fly in front of a camera. You should feel a bit of slack in the sausages as you go, which will get filled as they expand on the grill.
8. Twist off the sausages as you stuff. Some folks just like to stuff a huge long rope and twist off at the end, but for me that’s an invitation to over-stuff. I plunge the meat with my right hand and hold the sausage in my left. Just before the sausage is long enough I stop plunging, as it takes a few seconds for the just-plunged meat to work its way through the grinder. Then you’ll get a break as the meat comes out more slowly (because you stopped plunging), and you can pull a bit of casing off the nozzle and twist off your sausage.
9. I’ve come to the sad conclusion that it’s better to cut the links between the sausages before freezing them. They can be difficult to cut when they’re frozen, and the uncut ropes take up a ton of space. Just take your pretty photos of the links first, then cut the twists with scissors and lay the sausages out on a parchment paper-lined tray to freeze. If you throw them all in a bag to freeze you’ll end up with an enormous block of sausages you can’t separate except by throwing them on concrete. Trust me, I know.