Note to self: Never attend a cooking workshop on an empty stomach…
At 7pm I showed up at The Cookbook Store in Yorkville with a serious appetite for learning… and sausages. There’s always been a mystery behind this tubular meat that I love so much. Today we’d be revealing the uncertainty behind what goes into these encased wonders with the help of Sausage Partners owner Kyle Deming, whose reverence for meat and respect for the animals he uses leads him to make pure, simple sausages with little filler or additives.
Kyle spent six years cooking in Scotland, even winning best haggis in the country while he was there – pretty good for a Canuck! Kyle formerly served as head chef at Starfish and The Ceili Cottage. Making sausages for a few friends’ birthdays he developed a reputation amongst his cronies and soon his links were in high demand. Deciding to focus on his passion, in 2012 Kyle and his partner Lorraine opened Sausage Partners Leslieville. Kyle is incredibly well spoken and knowledgeable and his enthusiasm for his craft was well reflected throughout the evening.
As my stomach grumbled along during the demonstration, with the promise of fresh cooked meat on the horizon, I settled into my seat in their prop kitchen. Unfortunately for me, I never got my fix – so, here’s your warning – before you read these instructions, prepare yourself a little snack.
A step-by-step guide to great sausages…
Today we broke down a whole pork shoulder to make simple pork sausages. For Kyle, he finds that people tend to use sausages as a catch-all for a huge variety of ingredients. He prefers to make his sausages as pure as possible – high quality cuts of meat with salt and pepper to help accentuate the natural taste of your product.
Using a 70/30 ratio of fat to lean meat is the general rule for most sausages. Take care to ensure that your meat remains cold throughout the whole process. Even having slightly frozen meat helps keep the fat emulsified during the grinding process so that it bonds properly with the meat.
Kyle prefers to use a Berkshire/Tamworth cross for his pork, finding purebred Berkshire pigs too fatty. He sources his pork from a farm in the Kawarthas that are cared for over 9 to 10 months before making it to market.
After breaking down your meat and removing any excess sinew, connective tissues or glands, it’s best to cut the meat into strips, about 2 inches wide and 4 to 5 inches long. He finds that strips feed easier into the grinder, rather than chunks.
Grinding is the ultimate tenderizer and air is your biggest enemy when piping. With that in mind, we go back to the importance of keeping your meat cold during the grinding process. You can sit your bowl or bucket in ice while grinding, as the blades generate a great deal of heat. If you’re making sausages from tougher meats like beef or veal, a smaller grind will help enhance tenderness.
While Kyle prefers to simply season his sausages with salt and pepper, that doesn’t mean that sausages can’t be delicious with other ingredients as well. The rule of thumb for salt is 2% per volume. Don’t bother with fancy salts; kosher salt is perfect. While salt is a fundamental preservation agent and helps with overall flavouring, pepper levels are based on preference – add as little or as much as you like. Kyle uses white pepper in his mix and also dries out some fresh sage for his salt mixture.
If you’re keen on adding other ingredients like garlic or onion to your mix, cook down the ingredients first and then chill them before mixing them in. Without cooking them first you’ll lose the depth of flavour in your finished product.
Also, adding some water is very important in the mixing process to aid in piping. Your meat should be slightly loose, not pasty when piping, or else air will get trapped in the casings and cause bubbles. Using beer or wine in your sausages is also a great flavouring agent, however it’s still no substitute for water. Don’t worry if you add a little too much, sausage casings are permeable. Let them sit for a few hours for any excess water to drain out.
There shouldn’t be a stigma about using breadcrumbs in your sausages. While Kyle doesn’t, they help catch the fat during cooking and generally increase the juiciness and tenderness of your sausage.
You can also add seeds or whole spices to your sausage mix. If you do, Kyle suggests roasting them first to bring out the natural oils and then grinding before adding them to your mix.
Ensuring no air enters your casing is the number one rule in piping. Making sure your mix isn’t too pasty comes a close second; otherwise it will be a slow and very tedious process. For ease of use, tubed casings make it easy to get them onto your piping machine, and natural casings always produce the best taste and texture.
Make sure you bring the sausage meat to the very end of the tube before tying off the bottom end so no air can get in. If you do find yourself stuck with an air bubble, simply prick the casing with a pin. Also remember to leave your back end untied, otherwise you’ll run into trouble when linking!
Now that you’ve got many feet worth of freshly piped sausage, it’s time to link them into the smaller, single serving portions we all love.
Start your link from the knotted end. Pinch the sausage between your thumb and forefinger at the desired length and then twist several times. Remember the direction you twisted in! You must alternate twists in opposite directions or else your links will unravel.
It’s best to let your links dry for a bit before cutting, to make sure the twists stay intact. Use scissors to separate them, rather than a knife, which tends to tear or pull at the casing.
So, now you’ve got your beautiful sausages, but it’s not entirely over. You could certainly pop one in the frying pan right away, but ideally you want to let the sausage casing come into contact with air for at least 24-hours to maximize the texture and snap. Resting the sausages (unwrapped) on a plate in the fridge will also give time for any excess liquid to drain out.
After resting your sausages you can wrap them in butcher paper or parchment paper and store in the fridge for a week to ten days before needing to freeze or eat… if you can resist the temptation to immediately devour them.
Kyle prefers a cast iron skillet or griddle for sausages like this. Twenty minutes on medium-low heat should do you just fine! The only other ingredient to take into account is enjoyment… and after following these steps, that shouldn’t be very hard to achieve.
Though they’re currently closed for some renovations, if you’ve more questions about sausage making, you can always visit the Sausage Partners website.