Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sausage Therapy

Making sausages at home is fun and easy. All you need to is two simple pieces of equipment: a meat grinder and a sausage funnel (Figure 1). By making your own sausage, you have total control over the contents—particularly the type and quality of the meat and the flavouring.

Hand-cranked grinders are easy to find and relatively inexpensive—starting at $30 for a new one. Be weary of used grinders—they often have worn or mismatched parts and might not work properly.

To get a sausage funnel, the best bet is to go to a restaurant supply store. Like parts for espresso machines, they come in standardized sizes. Be sure to buy a funnel of the same diameter as your meat grinder. I suggest you screw off and bring the ring from the front of your grinder with you to the store.

The ingredients and procedure described below is for making fresh sausages—ones that you must cook before eating. The same basic set of ingredients and procedures can also be used to make dried sausages. For those interested in making their own salami, Tim Hayward of the Guardian provides an excellent recipe.

Figure 1. Buy us, we're cheap.


All sausages contain three essential components: meat, casings, and salt. Usually, they also contain flavourings such as garlic, herbs, and spices.


You can use just about any kind of meat to make sausage. There is only condition that must be met: it must contain enough fat! Specifically, to be moist and flavourful, your sausage must contain about 25% fat. For pork sausage, I suggest using 50% pork shoulder (also know as Boston butt) and 50% pork belly, which yield roughly the right fat-to-lean ratio.


Natural sausage casings are made of animal intestines. Hog casings are the cheapest and most readily available (Figure 2). They are also relatively thin, which which makes them an ideal casing for fresh sausages. You will most likely have to see a butcher to get your hands on these. Here in Montreal, Portuguese butchers seem to be the most reliable and least of expensive source for hog casings.

Natural casings are typically sold packed in salt and frozen. You will need to soak them in water and separate them before use. If you have casings left over when you’re done making sausage, drain them, salt them very generously, place them in an airtight bag or container and store them in the freezer for future use.

Figure 2. Hog casings are dope.


The word “sausage” is derived from the Latin “salsus”, which means salted. In other words, sausage is by definition salted meat. Salt is essential not just for flavor but also for texture—it breaks down proteins in the meat, making sausages tender and springy. Any salt will do—rock or sea salt, with or without iodine. For fresh sausages, you need about 1.5-2.0% salt by weight (i.e., 15-20 g of salt per kilo of meat).


You can flavour your sausages with just about anything—the possibilities are endless. Innumerable combinations of herbs or spices and other things, like cheese or chopped vegetables, can be added. I provide a few suggestions below.

Two classic flavourings are garlic, fennel seeds, and pepper flakes for an Italian-style sausage and sage, thyme, marjoram, and chives for something approximating a British banger (Figure 3). One combo that I enjoy tremendously is pimentón (smoked paprika), garlic, and red wine.

Figure 3. Flavor Flav.


Like all of life’s most pleasant activities, it takes two to make sausages. You can do it alone if you have a machine, but it’s far more pleasurable to do it with another person. One of you will pump, the other will receive the sausage. It’s a calming, almost therapeutic activity. The similarity to other life situations is uncanny.

You will follow this procedure:

  1. You will grind the meat coarse. If you do not own a motorized meat grinder (Figure 4), you may wish to ask a butcher to do this for you.
  2. You will add the salt (start with 1.5 teaspoons per kilo) and the flavourings to the meat and you will mix thoroughly. You must fry up and taste a small sample to check the seasoning. You will add more salt and flavourings if necessary and you will sample the meat again. You will repeat until satisfied with your meat.
  3. You will begin feeding the meat into the grinder. You will crank until a small knob of meat appears at the tip of the funnel.
  4. You will take a soaked piece of casing and put almost the entire length onto the funnel. I say almost because you must leave about an inch hanging off the tip of the funnel. This procedure should not be unfamiliar to most responsible adults.
  5. You will twist the end of the casing with your fingers several times to seal it. You will then resume cranking. The person on the receiving end should keep one hand over the funnel to control the rate at which the casing slides off. Some pressure is needed to insure that the resulting sausage is rigid (Figure 5). Everyone prefers a rigid sausage.
  6. You will continue cranking until you have filled the entire length of casing on the funnel. You will now have something that many of us wish they had: a very long sausage. Twist the tail end several times to seal it (Figure 6). You will repeat steps 4 through 6 until you have used up the meat.
  7. Now you will do the opposite of what many spam e-mails suggest: you will transform your long sausage into short links. At about 10 or 15 centimetres from one end of a sausage, you must gently push the meat inside the casing forward and back to create a gap. You will twist the resulting link about five times (Figure 7). You now have a sausage link. Repeat this along the entire length of the sausage, twisting every newly formed link in the opposite directions to tighten, not loosen, the previous slink.
  8. You will now separate the links using a knife or scissors. Don’t worry if the ends open up.

Figure 4. Grind.

Figure 5. Make it rigid.

Figure 6. Do the twist.

Figure 7. Hyperlink.

Note: If a casing bursts at any point during the pumping or the twisting process, do not despair. A burst sausage casing is no catastrophe; you won’t get a disease and you won’t contribute to the world’s overpopulation problem. When a casing bursts, you must seal it off before and after the break (by twisting). Feed any escaped meat back into the grinder and pump it into another casing. No cause for despair.

Your sausages are now ready to cook. They will keep uncooked in the refrigerator for a few days. For longer storage, you must place them in an airtight container and freeze.

A quick note about cooking fresh sausages: do it slowly! Whether grilling or frying (I prefer the latter), use gentle heat and turn the sausages frequently. They are done when golden brown and slightly sticky on the outside—after about 20 minutes.

Good appetite.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Licensed to Grill

A version of this article appeared in the Montreal Mirror on March 15, 2012 (here).

Grilling means cooking by direct heat radiation. The food being cooked rests on a grill, at a certain distance from the heat source—usually, hot charcoals or rocks heated with a propane flame. As the familiar charcoal and gas-fuelled devices are for outdoor use only, grilling is a cooking method most of us use only in the summertime. That’s unfortunate because grilling is both a delicious and healthy way to cook things.

Grilling in the wintertime need not entail freezing one’s derrière. It can be done indoors, right on your stovetop! All you need is a cast iron grill pan—basically, a large skillet with ridges on the inner surface. This can be acquired at a kitchen specialty store for around $50.

It matters little whether your pan is circular or square. The most important thing is the shape of the ridges. They should be at least two centimetres apart and the valleys between them should be at least one centimetre deep. Beware of pans with shallow ridges placed close together! These will just fry foods rather than grill them.

Look at those ridges.

Notice that I said cast iron. Don’t even think of getting anything made of any other material, especially Teflon-coated aluminium. Teflon begins to disintegrate and emit toxic fumes at tempera­tures above 250°C (500°F), which you can easily achieve on a domestic stove. Yes, cast iron is heavy, but why not improve your musculature while you cook?

With use, cast iron naturally develops a non-stick property, not unlike that of Teflon. Your grill pan will not have this property straight out of the box, however. To develop it, you will have to allow layers of waxy fat to build up on the pan’s inner surface. This is called “seasoning” the pan. Even if the manufacturer of your new grill pan claims it is pre-seasoned, you should build up more seasoning by rubbing cooking oil over the inner surface with a piece of paper towel and heating the pan over high heat until the oil is smoking. Repeat the process four or five times, allow­ing the pan to cool before reapplying oil.

When the time comes to grill something on your stovetop, heat the empty pan on medium to medium-high heat. It’s a mistake to use high heat! You’ll burn your food and make a whole lot of smoke. Allow at least 10 minutes for the pan to heat up. Once that pan is hot (it should be smoking slightly), do just as you would on an your outdoor grill. Obviously, the surface area is a little more constrained so you may need to be prepared to cook things in batches.

Even at modest temperatures, grilling on a pan will inevitably produce some smelly, clothing-penetrating fumes. If you have a kitchen fan, I strongly advise you use it at full power. If you don’t, I strongly suggest cracking a window at least slightly open. After an indoor grilling binge in an unventilated kitchen several winters ago, my mother told me I would never reproduce smelling the way I did. She may have had a point.

To maintain your pan’s non-stick properties, avoid washing it with soap. Use only hot running water and scrub it vigorously with a non-metallic but stiff-bristled brush. The inner surface should remain somewhat oily-looking after washing.

Steak with Blue Cheese Butter Recipe


  • 300–400 g well-marbled steak (about 2 cm thick)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 50 g blue cheese
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard

  1. Remove from fridge 30–60 minutes before cooking to bring the steak to room temperature.
  2. Coat both sides of the steak with soy sauce first, olive oil second.
  3. Put the grill pan on medium-high heat. While waiting for the pan to heat up, mash the butter, blue cheese and mustard together with a fork in a small bowl.
  4. Grill the steak, about five minutes per side for medium rare. If you want to impress someone with a sexy-looking lattice of grill marks (see photo), rotate the steak about 60° after three minutes of cooking on each side.
  5. Remove the steak from the pan, cover with a plate or foil and let it rest for five minutes. This is very important!
  6. Garnish with blue cheese butter and serve.




Serves two normal people or one greedy fat bastard (i.e. myself).

Good appetite.