Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Smoke House Sausage & Not
Every year we try something new and this year we made polish sausage and summer sausage. Some of it turned out great and some turned into a smoke house fire but I really should start my tale at the beginning.

We had some Rocky Mountain Elk that we'd saved from Kirk's hunt last fall and we froze it in cubes planning on combining it with pork for sausage. I pulled it out of the freezer to thaw after we had cut up the pigs on Saturday. It was a minor player in the polish sausage but in the summer sausage it was a featured item.
You can tell the difference in meats this summer sausage meat mixture as the lighter meat is pork and the dark the elk. Yes, it has lots of elk in it. We used a store kit which included the casings for we've found it is more comfortable and often more successful to start out with lots of help and then move step by step towards independence.

It probably was that lesson we learned years ago when we tried twice to make a batch of sausage from a recipe in a sausage making book and bombed that led us to try the store's packaged mix. We have learned that we chunk our meat lean and so we had to do some research on how much fat we needed to add. This wasn't in the package instructions as they expect to buy you meat from the store.

After the first wreck we went to just making sausage with a pre-mixed Italian seasoning packet we bought from the butcher at our local grocery store that they used in making their own sausage. With a little added anise spice we were quite pleased with it and the Italian sausage went into soups and lasagna, and on top of our home made pizzas. That serves us for quite a few years but when I saw all those left over packages of Italian sausage stacked high in the freezer I thought it was high time we branched out a little. After all we had tried lots of different kinds of cut of pork and had made Canadian bacon a couple different times there wasn't too much more to learn in that area.

Lest you think we move awfully slow, it isn't easy to learn to cut meat when the opportunity comes just once a year. That's why for many years you'd find us studying the diagrams we'd made and re-reading the butchering manual. Helping a friend who for a while butchered four to six hogs a year ingrained the cuts into our minds but if you'd seen us last week you'd find us once more glancing at the diagrams to refresh our memories. Measure twice and cut once the saying goes and for us its glance twice at the diagram for after Kirk's cut, we can't put it back together again. Then we've got a different cut of meat or worse case we've got to cube it for sausage or ground pork. Come to think of it, why haven't we ever done cubed pork for stew meat? Hm... next year.

Everything we've read says don't guess, measure so one of those pieces of equipment we saved for was a meat scale. This time we added 30% pork fat to the polish sausage and 35% pork fat to the summer sausage since it had more elk in it and therefore leaner. In the past our sausage was too lean and dry and even though the package didn't say add 30% fat our research suggested it. We of course added onion because what is meat without onions? Then Kirk mixed the meat combinations with the spices and a little water and we let it sit over night for the flavors to blend. Of course meat grinds better cold so bundled in our sweatshirts and coats we went out into the chilly garage early on Monday morning and began.

Into the grinder went the flavorful combination.
Some of the ground sausage meat we made into patties to fry up later like a hamburger. Of course two of the patties immediately found there way onto the grill. The best way to test to see if our fat ratio was going to work. Delish! Meat ground fresh before freezing is the absolute best since some of the juiciness is lost in the freezing process. Sausage frozen not smoked does not require a cure.We now use this handy little patty maker to make uniform hamburgers and sausages instead of forming them in our hands. You can dial the thickness you want.

We've spent probably at least twelve years saving up and buying something each year to make our butchering tasks easier. The large equipment is expensive so we'd put a little away each month and on the lean financial years we'd buy several little things like bacon hooks for the smoke house and meat scrapers. On better years it would be larger items like a meat cuber. First we tested to see if we really needed an expensive piece of machinery like the slicer. We'd price them and then borrow our friend's who was graciously eager to help us in anyway. The slicer made the bacon taste so much better because it was thinner for we'd spent years slicing our bacons by hand, not a fun task. Neither is going in to debt so as we've grown older with less umph to get the work done, our equipment numbers have grown relieving us of some of the labor and giving us a more professional product. The appreciation for the equipment is greater having done it the hard way many times.
These big summer sausage casings were stuffed with the stuffer attachment on the meat grinder and the task went fast especially since the sausage was comprised of a lot of elk which grinds better than pork since it isn't greasy and apt to clog up the insides of the grinder.

The polish sausage is done with intestines which are called natural casings. We bought them already cleaned and packed in salt to preserve them. First I had to let them soak and then untangle the mess which is as bad as a yarn ball which has spent fifteen minutes in the hands of a playful cat. Yup, you'll even find a few knots to untie but sometimes the most challenging part is getting one end open. Much worse than a plastic garbage bag. Then you clamp it on the end of your faucet with your fingers and let the water flow through to rinse out the salt and open up the casing. This was nothing new for me.
Then I slipped a section of casing on to the stuffer tube of the appropriate size. This is the first year we've used a stuffer and it does need to be mounted but we wanted to try it out first to see just what way would be best. We learned it needs to have a little height so the sausage hangs down making the twisting of each section easier and it needs to be able to unbolt easily so the stuffer will fit into the sink for cleaning. We also found out that if you spread a little oil on the tube the casings slide on easier. We've also observed that when using the meat grinder to stuff that the meat backs up a bit and it comes out more mooshy and not as hamburger like. It isn't a problem when you're stuffing the summer sausage casings because of the large opening.

It is when you are using link sized ones. Here you have polish sausage links. Some of the meat we did into patties to see if we preferred links or patties. I'm thinking I might prefer patties since they lay nice and flat but we'll see.
For the fresh sausage that you freeze right away you don't need to use a cure but it is another story with smoking.

That's where my story comes to a flaming end. Yes, the last thirty minutes when I needed to up the temperature in the smoke house, the fats began to drip and land on the flames. Quickly the temperature soared in the smoke house and the flames shot up consuming the insides. When I saw the smoke roaring out of the stack from the kitchen window I ran. First I shut off the propane that supplied the fuel and after the flames had died down a bit I started quickly pulling sausages from the smoke house. They didn't fare as well as the hams that one year caught fire. My husband armed with welding gloves pulled them from the flames as fast as he could while I steadied the clean sheet lined wheelbarrow that he was tossing them into. Never again have we stuffed the smoke house so full of bacon and hams.

This time though since the meat isn't as dense I fear it won't be such a happy ending. The summer sausage might be okay but the link polish sausages are squeezed dry by the flames. I'm a bit scared to cut a summer sausage open this morning a check. I'll just have to use the polish to flavor soups and such. Luckily most of the polish sausage I fresh froze. When Kirk came home from work last night and saw the mess he too was glad for my forethought.

We definitely have some rethinking to do for the next time. Maybe, we'll use the oven and do little batches at a time. Pitch in any time here wise readers for we could sure use some tips. Do keep in mind we have a large smoke house. Not quite as large as a one hole out house but pretty big, just in case that makes a difference.

In regard to our use of cures, in the past the pioneers packed there meat in salt. They used salt peter when smoking their meats which has some chemical similarities to nitrite that is used today. Nitrites and nitrates are not good for us and can cause lung damage ect. but I have not found a way around them in smoking bacons and hams. There are some companies out there that sell non nitrite bacon but be cautious some are using powdered concentrated celery which is high in natural nitrites and is hidden in the label as natural flavoring. If this form of nitrite is safer I don't know the piece I was reading lent me to believe it wasn't though they didn't come right out and say it. Spinach also has high levels of nitrites in it naturally. That is why spinach is not recommended to feed to children under a year old since their systems can't handle it yet

We do smoke turkeys without a cure and use a non-iodized salt with sugar etc. The link, I hope works, but is at the top of this post since computer illiterate can't seem to get the thing to move down here. - Sorry! - But it is different when we smoke ham for we have two hind quarters, they are huge heavy chunks of meat being smoked. The meat's size makes a big difference how you handle it for the larger the density the longer it takes for heat to penetrate it's core. This gives bacteria more time to grow. You don't smoke huge chunks of meat like a side of bacon or a hind quarter of a pig and not run risks without a cure. Remember a cure has been used since at least the 1400's.

Now things change if you are smoking a smaller chunk of meat and you can choose to do it without a cure but your recipe will be calling for a significant addition of salt. Sugar will usually be added to diminish the salty taste such as in our recipe for the smoked turkey that has the sugar in the black cherry cranberry juice and the addition of brown sugar.

Until we have discovered another way, we will continue to use a cure in our hams and bacons. Keep in mind that we only make one hind quarter into ham for Kirk's and my use and this will last us over two years. Typically when we have ham we have company and that further diminishes our consumption. We eat a little more bacon but it two has to last at least two years and we do not eat lunch meat, hot dogs, or other items with nitrites in them from the store.

Couple the limitation with the fact that we have our own eggs, milk, a large portion of our own vegetables, grind grains for part of our bread items and make more and more products each month from scratch. The limited amount of nitrites isn't likely to harm our health since so many other toxins are avoided.

Not all of you are in our situation though and I applaud your efforts to eat healthy and try and buy non nitrite meats.

Beware of the sneaky labeling and if you know of a way to make smoke ham and bacon at home safely without nitrites, PLEASE we'd love it if you'd share it with us. I've searched and searched but no luck so far. For now we will continue to smoke our hind quarters whole with a cure and then cut them up into smaller meal sized chunks to be frozen until reheated.

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