July 2011


Here’s the latest from the Butcher Shop. I’ve been getting up early in the morning to exercise my American Male birthright of making sausage. Saturdays and Sundays, I go in to work at around six in the morning with my primary job being to make as much sausage as is necessary from Picnic to Links within an 8 hour time frame. I’m going to be walking through this using pictures and proportions that are on an industrial scale, but you can easily do this at home in smaller quantities.

The most important element to a successful sausage is the fat content. A good sausage will have 25 to 30% of its weight comprised of fat. You can attempt a healthier sausage using either poultry or a leaner cut of pork, i.e. pork loin, but you will end up with a drier sausage. With beef as well, there isn’t a cut that will really hold up to making a fresh sausage without added fat.

On the flipside, if you add too much fat, when you cook your sausages, you’ll essentially be doing two things: Deep Frying the pork within the casing, and leaving room for horrible flareups on the grill. The fat will melt, and instead of soaking into the meat and blending with the seasoning, it will fry and dry the meat, and leech out of the sausage, shriveling your masterpiece and leaving you open to sausage ridicule. Speaking as a professional, you do not want anyone ridiculing your sausage.

If you’re doing this at home, and don’t have access to a room that is kept just above freezing, you’ve got to work quickly, and here’s why: Just like a buttercream frosting, pork fat begins to break down and melt, even at room temperature on a regular day. 70-80 degrees can cause pork fat to soften, and instead of having a sausage with little flecks of fat, your links will be smooth and puttylike when raw, and closer to a hotdog in texture when cooked. Also, you want to avoid foodborne illness, so between every step, chill the meat down, either in a bowl resting in an ice bath, or ideally in the fridge. In your downtime, rinse and sanitize your equipment between every step. It’s important.

The best cuts of pork to use for your sausage are the ones that you slow roast. Cuts of Boston Butt, from the upper shoulder, and the Picnic, from the front haunch of the pig just above the leg, are the ideal cuts. No matter how much you want to, do not use Pork Belly to make bacon. Didn’t you see what I wrote above? It’s too fatty! I’m going to show how to make sausage with a Picnic, as shown below. It’s inexpensive to buy at the store, and it makes delicious, delicious sausage.

Delicious Pork Picnic, I will make you into sausage!

Just by looking at the outside of the cut, you see how it has a thick layer of fat. This is the ideal that we are looking for when we make sausage. Just below the surface, there’s meat that has ribbons of fat as well, similar to but not as fatty as a bacon, which we will see as we start the process.

Making Sausage: You will need-

1 Boneless Pork Picnic Roast (approximately 4 pounds)

Seasoning mix (Google it. Any kind you want)

Standing mixer with Grinder and Sausage stuffing attachments

Pork Casing- This will give you plump sausages, not thin ones like the breakfast variety

Before you start, do a couple of things. First, rinse the casings, as they’re probably full of salt. Run them under cool water, swishing them about until you shake free all the excess salt, and then pour off the water a few times as it fills. After that, fill it with warm water and let them sit for fifteen minutes. This will make them more pliable and easier to work with. Also, throw every removable part from your grinders and stuffers into the fridge or freezer. The auger, the plunger, blade, extruding dies, the nozzle. Everything. The heat given off by the machinery in the sausage making process will cause the pork fat to melt, your sausage souffle to fall and the texture to become less glorious, and more homogenous. Nobody likes a languid sausage. When in doubt, the best advice is to keep cool.

Anyhow, on to the assembly!

Step 1: Cut the Pork into Small Pieces

Meat, Chopped

“That’s not small at all!” you say? Well, for the meat grinder we have at work, which handles upwards of 100 pounds of meat at a time, it’s small enough. For the home sausage maker, dice  up the meat into cubes small enough to fit down the feeder chute of your grinder attachment on the stand mixer. If it won’t fit, um… dice it smaller, or quit.

Step 2: Grind the Pork

Now that your stuff is diced, put it in the fridge, and quickly assemble your grinder using the chilled parts, tighten everything, and then grind your meat. Use whichever die you would use for hamburger meat. If there are lines of fat that don’t look incorporated, don’t worry. As you mix, it’ll all come together.

The Pork, she is Ground

Step 3: Add the Seasoning, Mix Well.

Add the Seasoning (Chorizo)

Mix Well

Mix it by hand. Fold it like you would a chocolate mousse, and once you get tired of doing that, mix it like you would hamburger meat, as long as you’re not the kind of person who squeezes it through your fingers. Don’t be that person. You want it to look nice as well as taste good, so don’t mix angry. Make sure you get the bottom, the sides, and any place where there may be an excess buildup of seasoning. The mixing is a very important step, as you want sausages that are uniform in flavor and appearance. Nobody likes an ugly sausage.  

Put it back in the fridge. Clean the grinder attachments well, let them dry, and put them back in the freezer to chill.

When everything is chilling, relax. Check your sausage casing. It should look like snot. Does it? Okay, good.

Casings, Soaking

Step 4: Stuff the Sausage

Pretty self explanatory, but here’s the breakdown. First, assemble your stuffer. Get the auger back out, the nozzle, and set it up. Next, get your casings, soaking, and put a little more warm water in the bowl. Find the end of the casing, make it like a little funnel, and dunk it a few times in the water, so that you get a good rinse on the inside of the casing that slides through as you put the casing on the nozzle.

Like this.

Next, load up your meat into the hopper. In my case, it’s about 20 pounds of chorizo. Here’s what it looks like.

Now that you’ve got everything ready, pump it out. Pump it up. Leave about four inches of casing open at the end of the nozzle to tie off after you finish filling. At home, there’s not really any real danger of overfilling, but you want the sausage to have a little give, like a bike tire that needs a little bit of inflation. Try to pack the sausage evenly, so as not to get any air bubbles. If you do, it’s okay, because you can just prick the sides of the sausages with a fork to  let the excess air out. Don’t think you have to pump too fast. We’re about a quality end result, here. Remember. Don’t fill it too full. Nobody likes a busted sausage. 

Step 5: Link the Sausage

Now that you have your long tube of meat, you need to link it. The easiest way is to do it two links at a time.  Tie off the end of your sausage, squeeze the meat  towards the knot until you have what appears to be a plump link of sausage, and then give it a pinch and twist it a couple of times.

The bits of twisted casing in between the links shows that the sausages were not overfilled when pumping, and just like balloon animals, could be twisted with ease and care. If they are too full, they will rip down the side, and as we said before, Nobody likes a ripped sausage. 

Next, separate the links, pack them, and either freeze them, refrigerate them, or throw them directly on the grill. Now, you’ve made some great sausage. Put another check in the column for things to cross off the bucket list!

 

 

 

 

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A Continuation of  Straight from the Vine(yard) pt. 1

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Where were we? Ah, yes. About to make a dinner. This was the bounty that we had to work with:

It was quite bounteous, the bounty

If I get stuff at the Farmer’s Market, as a general rule, I don’t mess with it too much. The salad that we made really didn’t need a whole lot of fancy bells, so we spun the greens, chopped up some snap peas, and incorporated some fresh herbs in there. We had picked up a Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette at the market, with which we lightly dressed the salad. We sliced a loaf of french bread, boiled the potatoes and tossed them with a chive compound butter, and grilled the scapes with a simple olive oil, salt and pepper coating.

With the fish, I really didn’t want to mess with it at all. I patted it dry and took it out of the fridge, salting and peppering the skin and the flesh. In one of the cupboards, we found some cedar planks, so those were soaked, and within an hour, we had loaded our simple fish, topped with fresh dill, and put them on the grill.

Over a lower flame, for about fifteen minutes, the fish cooked on the covered grill. By the time the smoke wafted in to the kitchen, everyone was ready to eat. Granted, we had been snacking on smoked bluefish spread the entire time, but we were ready to sit down and enjoy a great meal together.

The Madre had made a sangria with bits of rhubarb, which was chilly and refreshing, and with a toast to a wonderful day on the town and a surely lovely evening to come, we ate. As people who have had a delicious dinner are prone to do, we then played the hit game, Apples to Apples.

The next morning, we took a drive across the island to the scenic (aren’t they all scenic towns on MV? Here, I’ll answer for you. Yes. Yes, they are) Edgartown, one of the oldest whaling ports on the Eastern Seaboard. All of the houses lining the marina were glorious Captain’s residences appointed with picket fences, rose gardens and Widow’s Walks. We bought ice cream and cupcakes along the way, and as the sun slumped lower in the sky, we walked out to the lighthouse, one of a handful on the island, with a history that went back to the days of Mickey Rooney as Lampy in the wondrous tale of Pete’s Dragon. (That was a documentary, right?)

One of many shingled houses in Edgartown

Thankfully, no Whaling wives were walking on our self-guided tour.

Uncle Greg and the Lighthouse Attendant, looking at something important.

We came back to the house that evening, with boutique cupcakes in tow, and had some Grandma’s Pizza trucked in from Long Island. I’ve never had a pizza called that other than out on the East Coast, and it turns out to be a Long Island staple that over the last years, has made its way into and been co-opted by Brooklyn pizzerias. It’s a rustic, Sicilian style pizza, topped with olive oil, crushed tomatoes, chopped garlic, and a smattering of mozzarella cheese. So, yeah. Old style. Great for reheating, and gives the family from Long Island a little nostalgic flavor of home. Pretty good stuff.

The next day, we spent some time on the beach, far away from the prying eyes of high society, wherein we collected rocks and bits of shells, sunned ourselves (the setting of “roast” on the sun is a degree of doneness that my Midwestern Scandinavian skin will gladly accommodate), and schlepped back to the house for some salad, cheeses, iced tea, pasta, grilled leftover vegetables, and smoked fish. As Aunt Carol put it, “nobody on the island is eating like us right now”, and to be honest, I had to agree with her.

The next morning, we woke up and took ourselves for a day in Oak Bluffs. We walked among the shops, picking up a couple knickknacks and gewgaws along the way. as we were waiting for our dinner reservations at a local brewpub, Uncle Greg and I took a quick walking tour of the Methodist campgrounds, an early settlement of picturesque “gingerbread houses”. Originally, small lots were leased for Methodist retreats during the summertime, and over time, the empty lots were replaced by these tiny but intricately detailed summer homes of which over 300 exist today.

Also, while we were waiting, we made our way past the oldest operating carousel in the United States, complete with a Brass Ring. Granted, the horses looked like this:

and if that wasn’t enough, there was this other reminder of childhood ambition gone wrong:

but just as Something Wicked that way Came, something Big was around the corner.

It was a delicious dinner at the local brewpub. We had two woodfired pizzas, delicious fresh calamari with a spicy remoulade, and the best fish and chips either of us had ever eaten. I’ve eaten a lot of fish and chips in my day, and this was the freshest, simplest, lightest fried cod I’ve tasted. When you eat a steak, a lot of times, overall success of the steak eating experience is gauged on toughness, flavor, and degree of doneness, but rarely freshness. A sear on the outside and cooking anywhere over a medium will mask whatever freshness the steak is lacking fairly well. With fish, though, it’s easily identified, as for lack of a better term, the aroma will tell you straight away what’s fresh and what’s not. Most people, as smell is a huge part of sensing and enjoying a meal, never get past the initial whiff of a dish as it comes to the table, as fish is consistently served in landlocked areas at less than ideal freshness. For this reason, fish in the Midwest is ordered more seldom, mostly because of the smell. I wonder, then, knowing that fish can indeed arrive to the Midwest at almost optimal freshness, just how many pieces of prime seafood sit in someone’s walk-in cooler because people have been turned off by the smell.

The fish here smelled like nothing other than the waves lapping at the beach. Breaking into it to let out the steam, still, nothing was too overbearing. After that, the flavor of the fish, needing nothing so much as even a squeeze of lemon, left me feeling fully satisfied.

Our last day was spent at an Alpaca farm, where we walked through barns filled with animals that looked and smelled like both hipsters and how we’d imagine Falkor from the Neverending Story to present himself.

Hipster

Falkor

We petted them, picked up some hats and woolen items for friends and family, despite our judgment for winterwear being clouded by the 90 degree heat, and moved back to the house for a day at the beach.

That night, we went back to Vineyard Haven, home of the Ferry Terminal and Carly Simon’s Midnight Farm shoppe, for dinner. We walked around the town, saw the famous Black Dog tavern, and wound down the evening with burgers and a march along the side streets, pondering an idyllic life among the tourists and locals.

The next morning, I packed up my gear and went back to the airport for a flight back to Chicago in time for work the next morning at six A.M. The lady, staying with the family in Connecticut for another five days, dropped me off at the terminal on her way back to the ferry, and away I flew through the clouds.

Martha’s Vineyard is a delight. If you’re not in the thick of tourists wading around looking for Ice Creams and Island hot spots, you realize that time slows down, and you can actually relax under a sky of blue and a sea of green and also blue. If you ever go, take it slow. Enjoy your time away from the city, and go as far off the map as your vacation can take you. Sometimes staying at the far tip of an island can feel like you’re at the end of the world, ready to fall off into the ocean. Just remember that if you fall in, there’s still room to enjoy yourself. 

Maybe not straight from the vineyard. I have found that it’s best to write about an event immediately following said event, for things, they do get muddled in the ether after days or weeks of swimming.

There was a trip to be had this summer, and it was to the East Coast. Typically, me and the lady, we spend a week or so out in New England with family. With this year being a milestone birthday for her mother, we were invited to spend a week with them on scenic Martha’s Vineyard. While we’ve spent some time in Connecticut, and while I’ve done my time in New York City, I’ve never made it to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, or the upper coast of New England. Most of my time was spent on the sunny, sandy, unspoiled beaches of Rehobeth and Fenwick Island, Delaware. Unfortunately, according to sources from back East where we used to go, they no longer resemble the quiet beachfront communities of my youth.

You’re lucky to get a towel down anywhere within sight of the water.

Now, Martha’s Vineyard, always a tourist destination, had a couple of things going for it. First, we went in late June. It’s not quite high season yet, but we were starting to feel it. Second, instead of staying down-island in the bustling towns of Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs, we were far removed, situated in the up-island community of Aquinnah.

It’s pretty far away from everything

As I said, I’d never been there before, and there was only so much time to take in all the sights and flavors of the island, so after our flight landed and we had a lovely drink on the porch, we headed out for dinner at Lola’s, a beachfront restaurant with live music, dancing, and large portions of Southern food and drink. Late into the evening, we ate, drank, and were merry, alongside a birthday portion of key-lime pie and a dance from the elderly owner that involved a sparkler and a party hat in the shape of a cake.

The next morning, I wondered what we could do to top the previous evening’s activity of mirth and mayhem. For most things, life on the island takes a more subdued tone, and after some coffee and granola, we were off to visit the Chilmark Farmer’s Market.

Tucked back behind the Chilmark town hall, in a grass and gravel parking lot, are two rows of EZ up tent stalls arched over the backs of pickup trucks laden with local greens, potatoes, coolers of grass-fed milk, meats, and handmade brooms fashioned out of sorghum switches.

The second picture is where I picked up most of the things that we were going to make for dinner. All Island grown, all tucked away in buckets and as deep green as the clear sky was blue. We picked up the following:

Yellow Mustard Greens

Wild Ramps (upon further inspection, they were winter garlics, but still great looking)

Sugar Snap Peas

Red Potatoes (red on the inside and out, organic)

Pea Shoots

Edible Flowers (Nasturtium)

Scapes/Garlic Spears

Mint

Chives

Here’s a helpful tip from me to you if you’re scouting out which farmers to buy stuff from for the most authentic meal: Look for the people manning the stands who have the dirtiest fingernails, or the ones that look the weariest. They’ll smile, because it’s their job and their business to sell you on the product, but they will also be the most knowledgeable of their wares, and chances are, they’re the ones who are digging in the fields for your dinner. Appreciate, acknowledge, and respect their hard work. 

I’ve met so many farmers/bakers/small artisans over the years who work tirelessly during growing season to bring things to the market, anywhere from potatoes to groundcherries, apple fritters, scones, and even homegrown peanuts in the shell. Many of them have been up the night before harvesting, checking and double checking their product, or baking, all so you can enjoy a meal that makes you feel like you’re doing something to support hardworking farmers and local businesses. Give them the respect they have so rightfully earned, and buy as much of their stuff as you can so they can go home and take a nap.

With those in basket, we went on to Menemsha, the tiny fishing village on the remote Northwest shore. My mother, calling during the week, passed along a story to me of her youth.

Suddenly I was struck by the place, only because I have been there before–but I was an INFANT sleeping between my young parents and keeping them warm. They always said I was like a little warm stove. Even though I have no idea where we were, I loved seeing the photos of that place.

In the years since she’s been there, I doubt much has changed. Generally left untouched by the ravages of time and tourism, Menemsha remains a two-lane town, with a small wharf of fishing boats, two fish markets, and a general store. Here are a few pictures.

Main Street

Bait shop/Gas Station

Menemsha Wharf

The best thing about these pictures is that they’re all taken within 50 feet of one another. This town is tiny, and it doesn’t care who knows. What it does need is someone to go into one of their two fish markets and sniff around for some grub for dinner. How fortuitious, then, that we happened upon Menemsha Fish Market. We walked in, saw the lobster tanks (home of Lobsterzilla), and got a few local oysters on the half-shell. I’ll walk the line of defending the West Coast Quilcene oysters straight out of the bay that morning until my last breaths, but these were perfect- Small oysters that tasted of cool seawater and didn’t need a thing to make them taste good.

One great thing that they do is their lobster relief program. They have a handful of females, which for ten dollars, you can purchase and release with a notched tail, allowing them to spawn and lay untouched by the local fishermen. So, you know…we did that.

The swimmer fins are all light and feathery, much like females of any species.

a “V” cut is notched into the tail, alerting lobstermen that this lady is spoken for.

After taking her out to the pier, we have carefully removed the rubber bands of bondage from her claws.

This is what a successful release looks like. Lobster for everyone for YEARS TO COME!

So we left our lady lobster friend under the pier, scuttling off for darker, safer waters. Back inside, We were plied with Lobster rolls and bisque, which we enjoyed on the pots behind the fish market. We wandered back in for a third time, and purchased a hunk of smoked bluefish, and a jawdroppingly gorgeous piece of Striped Bass.

It’s a perfect piece of fish.

Armed to the gunwales with fresh produce and fish, we returned to the house, where we embarked on a magical dinner expedition. The kitchen was aflurry with the chip-chip-chopping of knives. I took some of the fresh chives and a bit of soft cheese (easily procured Laughing Cow Garlic and Herb), and mixed it with the flaked bluefish. The Madre had made some infused oil using fresh dill from her garden, so we drizzled some of that on top, and served it with some water crackers and whole grain kavli toasts for an appetizer.

Part Two…Electric Boogaloo…coming soon.


Chilmark on Dwellable