Making sausages at home is a rewarding and interesting craft. In complexity it is somewhere between making bread and making beer or wine. The reward comes in the flavours that can't be matched by the industrial sausage found in the supermarket and the knowledge of being in control of every ingredient that goes into the sausage.
Sausages are made from minced (ground) meat. This can be purchased from a butcher already minced (ground) but the true sausage buff will sooner or later want his own meat mincer (grinder). These can be inexpensive hand cranked affairs found in most kitchen junk drawers or motor driven mincers (grinders) running a wide range of prices.
All mincers (grinders) operate on the same principal. An auger pushes the meat into a rotating blade that chops the meat as it forces it through the stationary output plate. The size of the holes in the plate determine the coarseness of the minced (ground) meat. They range from 4mm to 13mm and the meat can be run through several times for a very fine mince (grind).
Real sausages are stuffed into casings and this requires a stuffier. Fortunately, this can be done with the same meat mincer (grinder) by adding a stuffing tube.
You can group all casings into 2 general classes, Natural and Man made. Natural casings are the intestines of animals, more specifically those of Cows, Hogs, and lamb or sheep. Man made are those that are pretty much made from anything else, cellulose, collagen, fibrous, muslin and the catch all synthetic.
Man made casings need little or no preparation. Fibrous need to be soaked before use, but that is the extent of the preparation.
Natural casings are another story. They can come in a package of brine or in a heavily salted brine/water paste, or even in a cake of salt. These need to be pre-treated before use. The first reason is to dilute the salt to a palatable level, and to prevent them from getting so tough that you need a chainsaw to cut through them.
Take the natural casings from the package, and place them in a large bowl. They sometimes have a plastic ring they are tied around. Spread them out, and examine the way they are bound. Separate the amount that you will need (be excessive) for your sausage project (don't worry, any leftovers can be added back to the package). Place the casings to be used in a second bowl, and fill with as much water as you can. Let them soak for a few minutes then drain and refill. Then place a few inches of water in the sink (drain plug needed here). Drain the casings again, place in the sink. Take a casing, open one end and fill the entire casing with water from the tap. Do it for one whole length, then drop it and move to the next one, basically flush the inside. Be careful, because they will knot up on you. Leave them in the sink of water, and then withdraw what you need as you are ready to stuff it.
After they are stuffed, you need to remove all the air pockets. If you do not, you will end up with pockets of grease, that will make the whole thing will not look uniform and may even make for a lumpy looking sausage. What you use to poke the casings with is your business, a knitting needle is to large, but the tip of a knife, a sewing needle or pin, an ice pick or a sausage pricker does the trick.
This can be broken down into 4 main steps:
mincing (grinding) the meat
Adding of spices and flavourings
Stuffing the casings
One thing we advocate is that you must keep your meat as cold as possible throughout the sausage making process. Before and after each step of the process refrigerate the meat and keep it as stiff as possible without actually freezing it. When mincing (grinding) the meat, if you use warm or soft meat, it tends to be mashed through the mincing (grinding) plates, turn mushy and lose all of the juice in the meat. You will also notice that once meat has been minced (ground) there is far more surface area for bacteria to develop, which is another good reason to keep it cold.
Mincing the Meat
Make sure that you cut your meat to fit the size of your mincer (grinder) ‘funnel’. Then refrigerate the cubed meat. Get the mincer (grinder) and dishes for the minced (ground) meat set-up on your work surface. Take the meat out of the refrigerator and mince (grind), working as quickly as possible. Cover the minced (ground) meat and return to the refrigerator or freezer, to chill down again.
Adding of Spices and Flavourings
We use two different methods of adding spices to the sausage:
Adding the spices to the cubed meat before mincing (grinding). This way when you mince (grind) the meat the spices are evenly distributed throughout the meat. If using this method we like to add the spices to the cubed meat the night before your mince (grind). This allows more of the flavours to work their way into the meat.
Adding the spices to the minced (ground) meat. You must be careful when using this method that you mix the spices thoroughly into the minced (ground) meat. The trick is not to compact the meat together too tightly when you do this. Again, keeping the minced (ground) meat very cold prior to adding the spices makes a big difference.
Put the meat back into the refrigerator once you have finished adding the spices.
Stuffing the Casings
Follow the instructions for Preparing Casings for Stuffing depending on which casings you are using.
After flushing the casings we like to keep them in a bowl of warm water next to the sausage stuffier. The warm water keeps the casing lubricated when you feed it onto the stuffing horn. Select the stuffing horn that is best suited to the thickness of the casing you are using. Find the end of a casing and slip this over the end of the stuffing horn. Push the casing over the stuffing horn towards the sausage stuffier, so that it forms an accordion-like pleat. Keep the casing wet throughout this process or it will not slide back on the stuffing horn very easily.
Leave some of the casing hanging over the horn. Start stuffing the sausage meat into the casing. You will need to regulate the flow of sausage into the casing, which will determine how tightly packed the sausage is. If you try and pack the sausage too tightly the casing will burst. If the casing does burst, tie it off at that point and start again. To regulate the flow of sausage hold the casing on the stuffing horn with your thumb and forefinger. Increasing or decreasing finger pressure on the casing will determine how tightly and consistently the sausage is packed.
As the sausage comes out of the stuffing horn, you can tie the ends at regular intervals or make links by twisting the sausage. Sausage like Boerewors is made in one continuous piece, which is coiled for storage.
After stuffing the sausage into the casings, we like to hang the sausage. This allows the casings to dry properly as well as gives the flavours in the sausage time to develop. We turn the central air conditioning up full until the house gets really cold. Cover a broom handle with aluminium foil and straddle between two chairs. Hang the fresh sausage over the broom handle until the casings are dry. Make sure that the sausage stays cool, or bacteria will develop. If the sausage has a lot of liquid it will drip from the casings as they dry, so you may want to put something down on the floor to catch the drippings.
When freezing sausage, you should place the sausage in zip-up type plastic bags. Use a straw to suck out as much of the air as possible. Seal the bag and freeze the sausage quickly to lock in the flavour. We use a vacuum sealer for this purpose which works very well, and makes for an attractive presentation if you are dishing out sausage to your friends as gifts.