I've always felt that gourmet store made sausage from the major chains was a bit too subdued for my taste. Never enough spice and flavor. Also, I prefer a coarser grind than is normally offered. So once Fall and cool weather arrived, I vowed (with the help of Mrs. Moose) to make this the year that I tried my hand at sausage making.
As a first step we purchased this grinder attachment made for the KitchenAid mixer.
It had excellent reviews and was made of metal (as opposed to the brand name KitchenAid grinder which is largely plastic). It was also much cheaper than the KitchenAid version. The only bad thing I have to say about the grinder is that the charming "Chinglish" instructions which come with the attachment are somewhat deficient. It would certainly help to have an exploded view of each different combination of plates and blades together with a description of the recommended use of each combination. But that's a minor quibble because the internet has plenty of illustrations to guide you along the way.
Also purchased over the web were hog casings.
Next stop was Costco for 15 pounds of pork shoulder (at about two bucks a pound). Along the way I also bought some salt pork because i wanted to add additional fat and could not find pork back or belly. The salt pork may have added too much salt and next time we'll definitely reduce or eliminate the salt called for in the recipe. (Mrs. Moose notes that, in spite of the added salt pork, the sausage did not taste too salty for her and I must admit that the Kolbasz sausage we had crumbled into our eggs this morning did not taste overly salty at all).
We settled on 3 recipes to try (links will open in new tabs):
I'll confess to some fear and trepidation as we began, as we have never done this before and we would need to use new equipment and new techniques. However 10 hours later (interrupted by an hour while the Lowes guy installed our new dishwasher to replace the EPA compliant washer which had recently died after a short life, just as the other 4 washers before it had) we had 17 pounds of sausage.
I thought the Hmong sausage was the best. Some photos of the process of making the meat mix for the Hmong sausage, from left to right below,
ginger, garlic, onions and chili peppers
then with cilantro
and finally the meat mix after grinding
We were so so proud.
What we learned:
Casings are fascinating. They are light, seemingly unsubstantial, and pencil thin coming out of the bag. You need to rinse warm water through them but finding the hole in the end of a thin casing is like opening the end of the world's smallest vegetable bag in the supermarket. Once the water flows through them they expand out and become remarkably thin but remain surprisingly strong. It's apparent why intestines have been used as condoms throughout the ages. Once washed, the casings shrink back to their original pencil like diameter.
At first rolling the casings onto the filler tube was awkward but we soon learned that the secret to this step is to keep the center of the casing (like keeping the center of a straw) centered over the center of the filler tube. If the center of the casing moves away from the center of the tube, you simply use you fingers to pull at one side of the casing or another (but not both) until the casing is centered again and then continue to evenly push the casing onto the tube until it gets out of center again. I suppose that after a while this process becomes automatic but at our current level of skill it requires a few minutes to "tube up".
As all the recipes say, you need to keep everything cold. Making sausage is a job only for people with room in their freezer or who have Scandi last names. Once the fat in your meat mix starts to melt you can still make sausage but its like over packing your meatballs. You might not be happy with the texture.
Initially, one of my fears was that once the sausage started prairie dogging out the end of the grinder, I would not be able to keep up and the scene would be similar to that episode of I Love Lucy where she works in the candy factory and the assembly line far outruns Lucy's ability to keep up. A baseless fear, it turns out. At no time while sausage making with a KitchenAid attachment will you ever wish that the sausage would come out more slowly. In an attempt to speed things up I found myself pressing ever harder to feed the meat mixture into the grinder. The next day both Mrs. Moose and I had sore arms.
15 pounds of shoulder makes a shitload of sausage.
A shitload of sausage takes a long time to make (especially when making three different recipes). In fairness however, much of the 10 hours was expended staring at stuff, scratching our heads, and reading and re-reading instructions and recipes. In the future we'll limit our production to 5 pounds and one recipe (unless we want to make some to give away). I think that, going forward, about 3 hours work for 5 pounds, should be adequate.