Thursday, 26 May 2011

I ♥ sausages...

I ♥ sausages was bizarrely the first suggestion of what I should call my blog.  Then an unhelpful soul remarked that it might attract some dubious characters looking for “a different type of sausage”...nudge nudge... wink wink... I assume they could only have been talking from experience; a shady search for “Sausage + Fun” disappointingly ending in a chorizo making course at the local church hall.  Deciding that my first choice of name had instantly soured, I hesitantly tested out others.  Fairly early on I discovered neither my wit nor imagination were up to the test.  Having waded through and discounted countless food related idioms which were snapped up probably close to 10-15 years ago I had also decided to discard such gems as “Dog’s Dinner”, “Recipe for Disaster” and “One Sandwich Short of a Picnic”.  Yes seriously!  By the time I stumbled upon a food related title which hadn’t already been collared and which didn’t conjure up images of insane asylums or Pedigree Chum, I failed to notice that “Recipe for Happiness” sounds like a twee blog dedicated to self-help.  But then I guess as they say, that’s the way the cookie crumbles (ooooohhh!  Could I have wedged that into a blog title?)...

Anyway, the reason why the newly tarnished I ♥ sausages was currently at the top of the naming heap was due to a foray into sausage making last weekend.  A friend of mine had recently broken up with a long-term other half and was in need of something to keep her occupied (maybe cooking as self-help isn’t such a disjointed idea after all).  A beautiful day boded well for a barbeque, and making sausages would definitely keep my newly single friend away from Facebook stalking her ex for an hour or so. 

When I first decided to try my hand at sausage making about a year ago it was to the catchy tune of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe which was then posted on the Channel 4 food website.  It’s hard not to be jollied into “The Good Life” daydreams of living off the land and making EVERYTHING from scratch when watching River Cottage’s idyllic surroundings or reading his books.  I hold him entirely responsible for my weekend of madness a couple of months ago, when I dug up half my patio to plant a variety of vegetables – not necessarily an inspired idea when living in a rented property in South London. 

The basic process for making sausages is remarkably simple: mince the meat, flavour, package, cook – Done! (as his Ramseyness would say).  The flavour combinations are endless, they’re incredibly versatile and thankfully very forgiving for experimentation.  What’s not to love?  As last weekend proved – if you can think of the flavour combo and are willing to put it in an empty casing you can make literally anything into a sausage!

The first task is sourcing the sausage gut, we used natural sausage casings (i.e. intestines) from a local butchers.  Now they aren’t the most appetizing sight: a small plastic bag of what looks suspiciously like, well, exactly what it is!  Not for the faint of heart, but just keep in mind the end results.  You’ll need to order 2-3 meters depending on how many sausages you’re making. 

The casings need to be soaked for up to two hours to remove the salt, then by taking one end and placing it under a flowing cold tap they can be “inflated” like a hose until the whole length is untangled and has been rinsed through for 1-2 minutes. 

Secondly, mince the meat.  We used 2 parts shoulder to 1 part belly but I have also tried recipes using equal parts back and shoulder.  If you don’t have a hand mincer you can either be very conscientious and finely hand cut the meat (like a sturdy Italian matriarch... Hey!  Mama Nocerino!) or buy ready minced meat. 

Once the mince was ground we split it three ways and added flavouring: One third with fennel and nutmeg; one third with chilli, red onion and coriander; and one poor maligned third whose destiny it was to be transformed into (oh the horror of even writing it!) a “breakfast banger” with baked beans and fried eggs chopped into it – and no it wasn’t a Heston style innovation.  It was quite literally the sausage version of an all day breakfast in a can. 

Even the heartbroken chef who had come up with the recipe wasn’t 100% convinced when she first tasted it... apparently though it grows on you.  I’m afraid I should add an affidavit that I can’t confirm or deny whether this combination is worth trying, as through some judicious plate juggling skills worthy of any master magician I was able to prevent them arriving uninvited amongst my more conventional offerings. 

At this stage you can fry a small pattie of the mixture to test for flavourings and seasoning but this isn’t essential.  (Especially when you’re trying to avoid eating experimental sausages devised by your friends.)

(guess which third this was!)

Next push the filling into the casings (we used a sausage attachment on the meat grinder but Hugh suggests that a wide necked funnel and the handle of a rolling pin as a pusher would work just as well).  Pull about two inches of the casing over the end, then once the meat has started filling the gut tie a knot.  If you tie before the filling emerges then you end up with air bubbles.  After that it’s just a case of pushing the filling into the casing, which slips very cooperatively off the machine as the filling is pushed into it. 

Once all of the filling has passed through the machine, tie a knot in the other end.  Then (looking suspiciously like a balloon bender at a children’s party) grab the sausage at the midpoint and twist, moving down the doubled up sausage twisting in alternate directions every 4-5 inches or so.

After that it’s just a matter of cooking them and enjoying the fruit of your (rather messy when there’s three of you in a minuscule kitchen) labours! 

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Pork Sausage Recipe:
Sausage Casing, 2-3 meters
500g, minced free-range or organic pork shoulder
250g, minced free-range or organic pork belly
25g fine dried breadcrumbs (we didn’t have breadcrumbs handy and so used oatmeal as a stopgap)
1 heaped tsp salt
16 sage leaves
Black pepper
White pepper
¼tsp nutmeg or mace

Chilli, Coriander and Red Onion Sausages:
500g pork belly and shoulder, minced – ratio 2 parts shoulder to 1 part belly
2 large green chillies, chopped -  seeds included
1 handful fresh Coriander
½ red onion, finely chopped
2-3tbsp oatmeal
Salt and Pepper
1tsp ground coriander

Fennel Sausages: (I love the combination of fennel and pork – pot roast pork with fennel is a firm favourite dish)
500g pork belly and shoulder, minced – ratio 2 parts shoulder to 1 part belly
2-3tbsp oatmeal
Salt and Pepper
freshly ground nutmeg to taste
2tbsp fennel seeds

“Breakfast Banger” (shudder):
500g pork belly and shoulder, minced – ratio 2 parts shoulder to 1 part belly
2-3tbsp oatmeal
1 tin of baked beans with most of the juice drained
4 fried eggs chopped coarsely
a generous squeeze of tomato ketchup
1 small handful of chopped chives. 
Enough said.

Notes:  1.5 kg of meat made approximately 18 decent sized links.