Posts tagged ‘sausage’

Knick Knock Knackwurst

Knackwurst
The holidays are upon us and as such it ‘Tis the season to make sausage, which is one of my favorite things to do. Call me crazy but I get a ridiculous amount of satisfaction from grinding and seasoning ordinary meat such as pork or beef and transforming it into a succulently stuffed masterpiece of man food. This will be the first sausage post I have done on the Pickled Pig which makes it that much more exciting. I have been making sausage for several years now and have learned oh so many lessons on what to do and not to do. One of the most painful lessons is to NOT make 15 pounds of sausage before you have tried and tested a recipe and method…what a waste! Go with a 5 pound batch at most.

My hope is that I can pass on many of these lessons to you so that you do not have to make the difficult decision of tossing a bum batch of tube steak. The sausage I am posting today was actually made a few days before Thanksgiving as part of an attempt to produce a twist on an authentic Alsatian dish called Choucroute Garnie. Traditional Choucroute Garnie often consists of sauerkraut, sausages, other salted meats and potatoes. The recipe I tested was again from my favorite magazine Saveur and turned out great. The twist was that it replaced the typical salted meats with a turkey draped in a blanket of bacon on a bed of sauerkraut and onions (follow up post coming soon). This was a perfect opportunity to make two of the recipes from the Charcuterie cookbook. The first is sauerkraut from the Salt chapter that I have been chipping away at and the other is knackwurst.

This was the first time I had made the knackwurst recipe and as such I was sure to follow the directions to a “T”. Knackwurst is a German style fresh sausage that is hot smoked. When translated Knacken literally means to crack which is the sound it makes when you bite into it. It is generally stubbier than a typical sausage and often contains a slightly higher ratio of veal to pork. Below is the recipe that was followed:

3 pounds boneless veal shoulder, cubed
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cubed
40 grams salt
6 grams pink salt
15 grams coarsely ground black pepper
4 grams mace
8 grams Hungarian paprika
2 grams coriander
1 gram allspice
140 grams nonfat dry milk powder (optional but I strongly suggest)
1 cup ice water
10 feet hog casings, soaked in tepid water for at least 30 minutes

Crunchy cubes of veal and pork shoulder ready for grinding

The first thing that I always do is cube my meats up so that I can stick them in the freezer for a bit while I gather and mix my spices. If I can stress one thing to you more than any other detail it is to make sure your meat is extremely cold. I like mine to be slightly crunchy however not completely frozen either…somewhere in the middle is just right. If you grind your meat while it is warm it will often smear across the plate and cause the meat and fat to separate giving you tasty meat with a texture of pencil shavings…needless to say, not good! I even like to put my grinder blade and plate in the freezer while refrigerating the grinder and auger. I have found that putting the grinder in the freezer can result in the plastic cracking. I have two small cracks to show for it. My point is that you cannot devote enough attention to the temperature of the meat and equipment. As such I often grind into an aluminum pan that is sitting in a small amount of crushed ice and water to keep the ground meat cold while I finish the process.

Old Yeller, my trusty 70's colored KitchenAid mixer with grinder attachment

After I have assembled the necessary spices and put my cup of ice water in the freezer to chill I begin the grinding process. As instructed I used the smaller of the two grinder plates and proceeded to grind the cubed veal and pork shoulders into the aluminum pan. Once finished I took the aluminum pan and again returned it to the freezer while I broke down my grinder for cleaning. I also took this opportunity to refrigerate the stainless mixing bowl that I will use to merry the spices and meat. I think you are beginning to see how obsessed I am with keeping everything as cold as possible. Toss five pounds of pencil shaving sausage once and you too will understand my attention to temperature. I ground my allspice, black pepper and coriander so that it is fresh and imparts its entire flavor to the sausage. Don’t use pre-ground spices that have been sitting in your cupboard for the past five years…it just won’t be the same.

Spices and such measured and ready to mix

After I have weighed all my spices out I remove the chilled stainless mixing bowl from the freezer and add my slightly crunchy ground veal and pork shoulder to it. I turn my mixer on low using the paddle attachment and begin adding my spices and then the ice cold water so that it all binds and mixes thoroughly. Once well incorporated I kick the mixer up another notch and allow it to blend until it forms what looks like a sticky paste. I totally forgot to photograph this step however, it is pretty straight forward. I do want to endorse the idea of adding the nonfat powdered milk to the sausage mixture. Initially I thought this was weird and would give the sausage a milky flavor which didn’t sound too exciting to me. After research I found that this product aids in helping bind the sausage while enabling the mix to retain its moisture during the smoking and cooking process. This stuff worked awesome and I strongly suggest you’re considering it.

Meat Pudding ready to rest for 24 hours

Once fully mixed I used a rubber spatula to remove the soon-to-be-sausage into an aluminum pan and cover tightly with plastic wrap pressing firmly to remove as much of the air that may be trapped inside. I then put the pan into the refrigerator for about 24 hours to allow the spices to work their magic and permeate the entire meat mixture. As mentioned this fresh sausage is smoked and as such we are using pink salt which is important to prevent botulism from rearing its ugly head. The pink salt will give the sausage a nice pinkish color similar to what you would expect from a cured ham. The 24 hour rest allows the curing process to run its course.

Sausage stuffer is stuffed and casings ready to roll

The next day I put my 5 pound The Sausage Maker sausage stuffer in the freezer so that it can get chilled. Then I took about 10 feet of el-natural hog casings, nothing but the real deal here, and began soaking them in tepid water. I have a perfect little reverse osmosis water dispenser that I slip the casing onto and turn the water on. This does a great job of thoroughly rinsing any of the salt solution the casings are stored in. Once finished I remove the sausage stuffer and transferred the pan of sausage into it. I then assembled it and loaded up my hog casings to begin the sausage stuffing process. The key to stuffing is a nice steady flow of sausage which you can stuff evenly by applying pressure to the casing as you allow it to slide off the nozzle. I tend to do this on my granite counter top and actually make it a little wet so that I can coil the sausage during the stuffing process.

Sausages stuffed and linked and ready for a smoke break

Once finished, I begin the process of linking the rope. My technique is to tie a knot on the end and begin measuring out the desired length and then pinching the sausage rope. Next I roll the link away from me and then move down to the next pinch and roll in the opposite direction. Each time I rotate the process of pinching and rolling a few times away and then towards me as I produce each sausage link.
After the sausages are linked I dry them off with a paper towel and use a sterilized needle to prick the sausages in an effort to remove any air bubbles that were trapped inside the casing. After that I return the linked sausages to the refrigerator while I ready my Bradley Smoker.

Smoked sausages hanging on smoke sticks

I set the smoker to 180 degrees and allow it to get up to temperature. Meanwhile, I break my sausage rope of links into groups of six and allow them to hang in the smoker from a wooden dowel rod that I use to smoke with. After about 2 ½ to 3 hours the sausages reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees.

Fresh out of the smoke shack and straight into an ice bath

The next step is equally critical and that is to ice water bath the sausages shortly after removing them from the smoker. If you do not and simply refrigerate the sausages you will be disappointed to find that they have shriveled up into a raisin sausage which doesn’t look too cool.

The sausage is fully cooked and can eaten cold if desired. I have since sliced the knackwurst cold onto a meat and cheese platter which was good as well as adding a few to my previously mentioned Choucroute Garnie dish for Thanksgiving (post and photos to follow shortly).

These sausages are awesome and can also be poached to temperature in some simmering water, almost how you would heat up hot dogs. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did! Guten Appetit!!!

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The Curing Chamber

Many people have me asked the question, “what the hell is a curing chamber” and finally I am now in the position to put a post up that would answer that question in addition to several others that may be lingering.  A curing chamber is an artificial environment where one can control the temperature and humidity at optimal settings ultimately resulting in perfectly cured, fermented and or aged proteins such as pork (salami, ham and sausages) or beef (dry-aged beef). 

The next question naturally is, “why the hell would you make a curing chamber” to which I say, “don’t get me started”.  While this may not be very typical, I revel in the thought of taking raw pork or beef and transforming it through the art of Charcuterie into something that tastes ten times better than it did originally, is perfectly paired with beer and wine and doesn’t even require refrigeration!  What other reasons would you really need to proceed?

When one cures a protein such as beef or pork you essentially create an environment that is inhospitable to nasty things that could otherwise hurt you (bacteria).  When you dry age pork or beef you slowly evacuate the water from the protein at the cellular level where bacteria like to live and feed, creating a situation where they can’t survive.  When you do this you also concentrate the porky and or beefy flavors resulting in a far more flavorful product.  This is why the steaks at Ruth’s Chris and Morton’s always taste better than the steaks you make at home.  The steaks have had a chance to age over time concentrating their flavors as well as improving their texture.

The art of Charcuterie has been in practice for hundreds of years and has been perfected in areas such as Italy and France where the conditions you are creating in your curing chamber exist naturally.  Italians have been dry curing their hams and salamis in caves for centuries, where the conditions (temperature, humidity, darkness) are perfect.  Unfortunately, I live in Phoenix, Arizona (it’s a dry heat) where the temperatures and humidity are often way to hot and way to dry to do so naturally thus my needing a curing chamber.  The optimal temperature for a curing chamber are in and around 55 to 65 degrees with the humidity in the 60 to 65 percent range.  This allows the cure to work its magic while the cells slowly give up their moisture.  The key to the humidity is to prevent the outside cells from drying out to the point where they no longer allow the moisture to escape.  Who would have ever thought biology and osmosis would actually be applicable!?  If the surface were to dry out and harden this would cause the water to be trapped inside the cells resulting in the growth of harmful bacteria which is not good for you or I. 

That is probably way more information than most wanted however, I did warn you to not get me started.  An old refrigerator is a great starting spot for creating your own curing chamber.  While as is it operates at a temperature that is too cold for curing and dry-aging it can easily be modified to suit your needs.  Refrigerators are excellent for maintaining constant temperatures which are critical to well cured meats such as salamis, in addition to being void of light which can cause it’s own set of problems. 

Through my research I felt like the webpage on The Sausage Maker best equipped me with the necessary knowledge to begin building my own curing chamber.  Some of the best advice they gave was looking for a refrigerator that has a bottom freezer section and top refrigerator section.  This allows you to maximize the space where your cured meats are going to be hanging while efficiently using the smaller freezer space to house your humidifier.  As mentioned in a previous post they used a Kenmore refrigerator which fits the bill perfectly.  I had looked around on Craig’s List for a similar fridge only to find models that didn’t have the right configuration or priced far beyond what I was willing to pay.  One day, by the grace of god, my coworker mentioned that he was replacing his perfectly good fridge with a newer and quieter version.  I asked about the configuration and quickly learned that it was exactly what I needed.  After a few emails of pictures I learned that he literally had the exact same model that was used on The Sausage Maker website…JACKPOT!

Future home of many tasty treats...I hope!

 After unloading my new treasure I quickly got to work removing all of the shelving and drawers to make way for my charcuterie endeavors.  After doing so I began the process of removing the layer of plastic and insulation that lay between the fridge section and the freezer section. 

Let's get this party started!

I did this rather simply with a carpenter’s knife.  After puncturing the plastic it literally cut like butter with the brand new razor blade that I used.  I was careful not to cut too far into the insulation so that I didn’t sever any of the wires that potentially lie beneath.

Plastic interior cut out to expose insulation.

After removing the insulation and exposing the wires that ran through, I then cut the second layer of plastic out which opened the two sections creating one large curing chamber. 

Insulation removed to expose bottom layer of plastic.

Two separate chambers become one!

The Sausage Maker version used stainless steel making the hole look nice while creating a barrier between the wires and insulation and the plastic interior housing of the refrigerator.  I have not had a chance to do this part yet however, everything else is good to go.
The first things I purchased were some stainless steel “L” shaped brackets that I could mount on the sides of the fridge.  I will then use dowel rods that will slide inside the fridge and hang from the brackets. 

L brackets to hang salami laden dowel rods on.

The salamis, hams and sausages will be suspended from the dowel rods.  I drilled four holes into the brackets large enough for stainless steel screws to go through and attach to the plastic interior shell of the fridge.

Hang Time!

I then assembled a fixture that I could set inside the fridge allowing me to artificially raise the temperature inside the chamber when necessary (all purchased at Home Depot).  When would that be necessary you may be wondering?  Many salamis must first undergo a fermentation stage which is responsible for the tangy flavor we often associate with dry cured salami and sausages such as pepperoni.  In order for the fermentation stage to begin the curing chamber needs to operate at a temperature of 80 degrees or more for one or two days depending upon the recipe.  The fermentation stage is also important in that is lowers the Ph levels (increases the acidity) in the meat which again aids in creating a bad environment for nasty bacteria to grow and flourish.  To accomplish this increase in temperature I am using an outdoor lighting fixture, an extension cord and two 75 watt bulbs.  I cut the female end of the extension cord, stripped the wires and wired it into the outdoor lighting fixture.  I suggest outdoor versus indoor in that it is more equipped for the humid environment that is the curing chamber.

Equipment for heating element during fermentation stage.

Next, I purchased a thermostat controller from a brewing website called Homebrew Heaven for $46.00, much cheaper than what is offered via The Sausage Maker’s website.  I opted for one that was not digital as it was less expensive and one less thing that could break (in my opinion).  I mounted the thermostat controller to the outside of the fridge and plugged it into a power strip I mounted on the same side.  The controller has a piggy-back style plug allowing you to plug the fridge into it.  When the desired temperature range (give or take 2 degrees) is achieved it will cut the power to the fridge until it is necessary to cycle back on in order to maintain the correct temperature.  I ran the temperature probe inside the refrigerator and will mount it to the back middle part of the fridge’s interior so that it is out of the way.

Thermostat controller mounted on outside of refrigerator.

The next item I needed to purchase was the Titan EOS 1 Humidity Controller from eBay for $112.00, again far cheaper than what is offered by The Sausage Maker.  This controller is mounted on the inside wall of the refrigerator so that you get accurate readings on your humidity level inside the chamber.  It utilizes that same piggy-bag style plug to which the humidifier is plugged into thus controlling its operation on and off as necessary to achieve the 60-65% humidity levels.   

Humidity Controller mounted on inside of curing chamber.

Then I purchased a Vick’s filter free (cheaper to operate) humidifier and several gallons of distilled water from Wal-Mart.  The humidifier was about $45.00.   I also purchased a thermometer that allows me run a cord inside the chamber indicating the interior temperature and humidity level so that I do not need to unnecessarily open and close the door to monitor what is going on inside.  Last but not least I installed an analog style hygrometer, (out of my old cigar humidor) just so I could double check my humidity levels as necessary.

Voila! The Finished Product

I have had the chamber up and running for the past few days and have had to tweak things here and there to achieve a consistent environment of approximately 60 degrees and 60% humidity as is often called for in the recipes of Charcuterie.  The first lucky item to enjoy some R&R in the chamber is the pancetta which has about 4 or 5 more days curing time left.  I hope you find this helpful and can tell you that I am quite possible one of the least handy type people around and I was able to build this contraption…my point…don’t be afraid, you can do it.

Chapter 1 Salt continued – Dry Cure

We are officially on our way to testing every recipe in the great cookbook, Charcuterie. Before diving into the bacon I think it is wise to share some of the key points that authors Ruhlman and Polcyn discuss in Chapter 1. Salt is essential to preserving food. Salt has several effects on food when it comes into contact with it. One very important effect is at the cellular level where salt facilitates a fluid exchange that makes food preservation possible. At the same time flavor is introduced to the meat while changing the shape of the proteins, enabling the meat to retain more moisture which is great for pork due to its lean fat to meat ratio. The last wonderful effect salt has on food is that it creates an inhospitable environment for the microbes that cause decay and spoilage to live and or multiply. Basically, if we didn’t have salt life would suck!
Of all the positive effects that salt has on food, the pig may be one of the very finest. One thing Ruhlman and Polcyn drive home is their admiration for the pig which I too have embraced and want to champion to you. “Of all the world’s foods that can be preserved to great effect, the pig has proved to be by far the most versatile. It is the only animal that has generated it own culinary specialty: CHARCTUERIE.” “…the pig is an animal whose glories go largely unrecognized in America. In France they like to say that every part of the pig is used except the oink.” “Furthermore, the pig provides a range of widely differing things to eat, more in fact than any single other animal we know of.”
Now to the Bacon. The first thing I did was assemble the dry cure which contains the magic white dust that is salt. The basic dry cure contains three things; Salt, Sugar and Pink Salt (curing salt/Nitrites). We have thoroughly discussed the effects of salt on food. The sugar provides the cure with a subtle sweetness as well as having nice browning effect on the surface during the cooking process. The pink salt or sodium nitrites are responsible for the curing effect which we see in the flavor, the rosy red color of the meat and the prevention of bacteria growth. The basic working ratio for the dry cure is 2 parts salt to 1 part sugar, plus 10% of their combined weight of pink salt. A very good point is made by Ruhlman and Polcyn when they encourage you to weight your ingredients. A cup of Morton’s Kosher Salt weighs 8 ounces while a cup of Diamond Crystal Salt weights 4.8 ounces.
I made a half batch of the dry cure using 225 grams of salt, 212 grams of dextrose (112 grams if using granulated sugar), 25 grams of pink salt. Dextrose and sugar can be used interchangeably given the weight difference. The authors like dextrose better due to the fact that it is less sweet than sugar with a finer grain which dissolves more easily.

I had said that I was going to go to The Pork Shop in Queen Creek however; I called and found out that I need to place the order a week in advance. I wasn’t about to wait another week to begin the recipe so I went to Lee Lee’s Oriental Market and purchased four slabs of pork belly, each one weighing approximately 2-3 pounds each. It will be fun to compare the pork belly from The Pork Shop as I am under the impression that the pigs they butcher at The Pork Shop are better in quality aka FATTER. As Emeril says, “Pork Fat Rules!”

I decided to do a few of the bacon recipes in Charcuterie for testing purposes only of course. I am doing the Fresh Bacon on page 41, the Maple-Cured Smoked Bacon on page 83 as well as some Savory-Style Bacon (Black Pepper, Bay Leaf and Garlic) that is discussed in the same recipe.
The first thing I did was place the pork belly in an aluminum pan where I applied about a ¼ cup of the dry cure until it was completely covered in cure.

I then transferred the bacon-in-the-wings to a large Ziplock baggie where it will rest for the next seven days.
Next I assembled the ingredients that I needed for the Maple-Cured bacon. I just so happened to have a quart of some really great maple syrup from the great State of Ohio (Go Buckeyes!-sorry couldn’t resist). This maple syrup is made by a guy that is a neighbor of my mothers in the Mac-O-Chee Valley in West Liberty, Ohio. I used about a cup of Maple Syrup to cure two of the four pork bellies. I am also using a cup of Brown Sugar.

I then put the pork belly into the aluminum pan where I again used ¼ cup of the dry cure to completely coat the pork belly and placed it inside the large Ziplock baggie and then added the Brown Sugar and Maple Sugar. This too will cure for seven days.

Notice the brine beginning to come together. This will work perfectly to ensure an even distribution of the cure throughout the entire pork belly.

Last, but certainly not least I assemble the ingredients to make the Savory-Style Bacon; 2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper, 5 cloves of garlic and 4 bay leaves.

After dredging the pork belly in the dry cure I put it in the Ziplock baggie and added the pressed garlic, crushed bay leaf and black pepper.

Voila, we are on our way with beginning two of the many recipes from the great cookbook, Charcuterie and I couldn’t be more excited. After I checked on the kids last night to make sure they were on their way to dreamland I pulled out the drawer on my man fridge and with much excitement checked on my four bacon babies nestled all together doing their curing thing. One day down, six long more days to go before the next step.
As a final note it is important flip the bag every other day or so to redistribute the cure, technically called “overhauling”.

sausage related humor