Monday, April 20, 2015

Sausage Making: The Complete Stuff

I seem to state a lot of absolutes when I write on APP. I love this. I love that…so on, and so forth. Of course, one reason I talk about so many things I like is because I refuse to talk about things I don’t. Some posts might require a balanced approach depending on the topic, but more often than not I put fingers to keys to extol the things that move me. You do not see a whole lot of posts about strawberries for one simple reason. I don’t like them.

While my likes are easy to count, one specific food rises above the rest. It is just about a perfect food. It’s easy to grill, it’s portable, it can be eaten without utensils, and it can be as varied and interesting as you like. It’s the sausage.

Grilled Sausages on the Q

Even though I’ve grilled my fair share of sausages through the years, it has only been the last few months I’ve started making and stuffing my own. I’ve talked about this forever, but the largest stumbling block to my sausage making journey has been one elusive tool: the vertical sausage stuffer. No more talk, Daddy has a new toy.

I’m not going to talk about specific recipes here, but rather what my takeaway has been thus far and more importantly, words of encouragement if you are on your own sausage journey. Maybe I should re-write that last sentence...oh well, you know what I mean.

The Meat Grind

Sausage Grind

Whatever you do, be sure to use fresh ingredients and grind the meat yourself. I’ve ground a lot of meat over the years, and for sausage it is just as important to grind fresh meat at home. Sure, a professional meat grinder would be nice, but my meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen stand mixer, along with an after market cutting blade knife works fantastic. In a short matter of time, I can make easy headway through five pounds of diced pork shoulder.

Cold Meat

Chilled Bowl

When making sausage, it is imperative the meat is kept cold to keep the fat and protein from “breaking.” Every bite should be juicy and flavorful, not dry and crumbly. Keeping meat cold before, during, and after the grind ensures this. Prior to grinding, leave the diced pork in the freezer until it is almost frozen. Then, grind the meat into a bowl set on a bowl of ice. Finally, return the meat to the fridge until ready to stuff. The key? Keep it cold.

Primary Bind

Sausage Bind

In order to ensure an evenly mixed sausage in terms of taste and texture, the meat, fat, and seasonings need to be bound together. While it can done by hand, a stand mixer with a paddle attachment makes short work of it.

The Stuff

Filling Cassings

While I have made bulk sausage before (i.e. sausage without casings), it is the actual stuffing process that had alluded me. While Kitchen Aid makes a stuffing attachment, it is not ideal to go right from the grind to stuff, as we have talked about so far. Certainly a cheaper, hand-stuffer can work, but ideally, a vertical stuffer is the best solution. Hopefully, you will not be like me and wait six years to buy one.

Sausage Links

Stuffing is easy but takes some work. After the casings are soaked in water and then rinsed, slide them onto the tube of the filled stuffer. With on hand on the casing as the sausage leaves the tube, crank the stuffer down to continue to extrude the sausage. This is the part I’m still trying to get perfect. The key is to completely fill the casings, but not overfill them, so the casings over expand.

Pressing Aftermath

Once the casing is filled, measure off into 6-inch lengths (for most types of sausage) and twist in the opposite direction to secure. The readers on the sill are totally optional.

Grill or Smoke

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I like my sausages both smoked and grilled. However, no matter the method, obtaining the proper finished temperature is key and for pork sausage, that’s 150 F with an instant-read thermometer.

For sausage on the grill, start out over direct medium-low heat, 275-300 F for a few minutes a side, and then move to indirect medium-low heat to finish. About 15 minutes total.

Grilled Sausages on the Q

For smoked sausage, like Andouille, I used the smoking rack on my Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker to hot smoke. Hot smoking, versus cold smoking, is smoking at a temperature around 180 F. Since the finished temperature of the sausage is 150 F, the hot smoke is a very slow gradual cook.

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Another key to smoking sausage is to hang the sausage to dry prior to the smoke. The dire casings help develop pellicle, which is a tacky surface for the smoke to adhere.

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While all of my sausages have turned out good, I think it could use a little work before I call them great. These andouille were good, but they don’t look award winning. That said, the preparation of the process, much like my most recent pâtés, is straightforward. I just need to fine tune it.

When it comes to sausage, combinations of flavors know no limits. As summer, marches on, I'm looking forward to more stuffing and more experimentation. While it takes an  investment of time and money, making sausage is immensely more rewarding than picking up a packet at the grocery store.

Thinking of giving it a shot, don't take my word for it. For a more definite guide, I recommend Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's Charcuterie. The book, among other things, is my sausage bible. Now, what should I stuff this weekend?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Relatively Wordless Wednesday

While I love grilled vegetables,

Grilled Zucchini and Squash

I love a grilled ribeye more.

Grilled Ribeye

Then again, I love grilled quesadillas, too.

Grilled Quesadillas

Of course, no matter what I’m grilling, I just love to be in the zone.

I'm feeling it. #alookfromabove #myweber

Enjoy your Wednesday.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Joy of Lamb: Tips for the Grill

Grilled lamb is a meal I come back to again and again. Whether it is chops, a rack or a leg, I enjoy lamb not just on special occasions, but any occasion. While it may sound daunting, lamb is also very easy to grill, especially the leg. If you can grill a beef roast, you can grill a leg of lamb. You’re halfway there.

Bone-in leg of lamb

Bone-in or boneless, a leg of lamb is a wonderfully rich piece of meat that makes not only an awesome dinner centerpiece, but stellar lamb tacos the next day! Thinking of grilling a leg of lamb? Here are some tips:

First off, don’t just think about it, do it. As I mentioned, lamb is easy to grill, give it a shot.

Temperature is key. Lamb is a meat that really shines when it is cooked to medium rare, around 130-135 F. In order to avoid over cooking, use a grill thermometer with a remote probe. This keeps the grill lid down while still maintaining an ever critical eye over the grilling process.

Grilled Leg of Lamb

Bone-in or boneless. I love to grill bone-in meat. There is just something visually appealing to me when I take a leg of lamb off the grill with the bone protruding from the meat. It’s an epic sight and looks great on the dinner table. Of course, while the bone looks cool, it makes carving a little more difficult. If you want to go from grill to table to plate in seconds, boneless is the way to go.

Rubbed leg

Flavor. While marinades are great, I love a rich, fresh herb rub on my lamb. When it comes to seasoning, your immigration, or the ingredients in your herb garden, are your only limitations. I love to use a thick garlic and salt paste accentuated with fresh rosemary and mint. I always go heavy on the rub, as, on a large lamb, the crust is only a small part of the bite. I want the flavor to carry through.

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Make a leg of lamb the center of your next spring feast. You will not be disappointed.