Chipotle Tequila Pork Sausages
Ah, love. It’s great. I love being in love. I love being loved back by my lover. Love, love, love, love, love. Love means different things to different people, but one of the things that it means to me is having a fabulous partner who know that for Christmas what I would really want, more than anything else, is something shiny. And made of metal. That grinds meat and stuffs sausages. For Christmas this year, Mike gave me The Porkert, a virtually indestructible, Soviet-style meat grinder with a sausage stuffing attachment. Ah…sigh….love, love, love, love, love.
So excited was I about my new sausage making gear, that immediately on Christmas day I pulled giant hunks of meat out of my freezer to thaw. At 9 am on Boxing Day I was calling around to the local butcher and various grocery stores to see where I could procure a stash of intestines for casing, and by December 27th I was gleefully tucking packages of home made sausages into the freezer for future use. I. Love. Making. Sausages. Seriously, this process tickled me more than anything else that I’ve done in the kitchen, despite the innate gag-factor of grinding meat and handling intestines. Oh, and don’t forget that then there’s the payback: scads of delicious, well seasoned, taste-tailored homemade MEAT PRODUCTS to enjoy for weeks to come!
I think that Mike enjoyed sausage making *almost* as much as I did, particularly when he was chowing his way through the finished product. Of course, that means that while I was riding the meaty high I tried to slip in, “Yes, this WAS fun, wasn’t it? And just imagine how much more fun it will be when we start curing our own-” But that’s where he drew the line. Apparently I’m banned from turning our basement crawl space into a mecca of meat. I suggested that if he didn’t want me curing meat in the (optimal humidity and temperature controlled) basement, that I understood. I could totally just do it in the dining room instead……that didn’t fly, but the look of horror and revulsion on his face was totally worth it.
If you had a yen to begin making your own sausages, I suggest that you start by reading up on rules, hints and tips from a venerable Charcutier or meat-muse. My go-to for all things meat is Michael Ruhlman, and I had read his book Charcuterie from cover to cover, but there are a number of other great guides out there as well. As you start to do research on sausage making, there are a few common themes that you would do well to note.
1. Temperature matters. Keep things cold. Chill your meat and even chill your grinder and blades, if you can. This will make a world of difference to the texture and quality of the finished product.
2. Fat is good. Make friends with fat. If you don’t, you won’t be too pleased with the dried out and flavorless end product.
3. Sinew is bad. We would have saved a lot of time and heartache if we had noticed that underneath the big fat-cap on our pork lay an insidious line of sinew and silverskin….which we later had to remove manually, piece by piece, off of each chunk that we had cut and left to marinate. Anything that would be gristly when the meat cooks (sinew, ligament, silverskin, etc) should not be ground. It ends up wrapping around and tangling on the grinder’s blade, so instead of getting gorgeous spaghetti-like strings of seasoned ground meat, you get a pulpy-mash where the fat and meat are indistinguishable. This is bad. Very, very bad.
4. Don’t leave flavor to chance. Before you go through the effort of stuffing your sausages, fist take a small patty and fry it up to see if you need to correct for seasoning. Does it need more salt and pepper? Garlic? Spice? Anything at all? Now is your chance to find out.
5. Sausages need salt, but there’s no need to be a cowboy. Be moderate with how much salt you add when you’re grinding the meat. You can always add more salt later, but if you’ve over-salted your meat then it’s really hard to correct the problem. You’ll know if it’s under salted when you try a test piece.
Chipotle Tequila Pork Sausages
Makes about 20 5-6″ links
- 5 lb (2.25 kg) boneless pork shoulder *
- 1 lb (450 g) porky back fat
- 2 tbsp chili powder **
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp cumin powder
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 1.5 – 2 tbsp kosher salt ***
- 6 cloves garlic (appx 2 tbsp)
- 2 large chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (about 4 tbsp when chopped)
- 3/4 cup tequila
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 12 – 15 feet of cleaned sheep intestine casings
* You want a nice fatty and flavorful meat, so pork butt or boneless pork rib would be fine to use if you weren’t as interested in the shoulder.
** Try to use a Mexican chili powder, if you have one.
*** Start with 1.5 tbsp, and if you find that it isn’t salty enough (when you fry up a test piece) then add some more.
It could be that I took my first 20 pictures of sausage making without having a card in the camera. That’s just a possibility. However, let’s just pretend that it’s because I know that you don’t really have an interest in watching me cut up and season meat, and we’ll start posting pictures when I realized that I was an idiot I started taking pictures again.
Start but cutting your pork shoulder up into 1.5 – 2″ cubes. The pork back fat can be cut into smaller chunks so that it disperses evenly when you grind it, but since it will all inevitably get mixed in together anyway, that’s not essential. Put the cubed pork and back fat together in a large non-reactive mixing bowl.
Mince the garlic as finely as you can, preferably into a paste, or use a garlic press to make short work of those cloves. Chop the chipotle peppers into a fine mince as well, and mix the garlic together with the chipotles (and their flavorful adobo juice) in a small bowl. Add the chili, cinnamon, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper to the blend, and mix it until you have a nice paste.
Add the spice blend to the meat, and work it together with your hands so that each piece is well coated and rubbed in. Cover the bowl with saran wrap, and leave it to marinate in the refrigerator over night.
Take the meat out of the fridge right before you’re ready to use it the next day. You may want to chill your meat grinder (or just the blade and ‘die’, which is the part with the holes) if you like. Drop the meat into the grinder, and start cranking. The meat will start to come out in long strands which are marbled with meat and fat.
If at any point you notice that the meat is not coming out evenly, or if the strands seem to be less marbled and more…mottled, STOP IMMEDIATELY. You may have what is known as ‘smear‘, which means that the blade is getting stuck or tangled around something that you don’t want – usually gristle or sinew. If this happens, scrape off the meat which has come out, unscrew the head of the grinder, and remove the blade and die. Give these a thorough clean to remove any buildup or sinew which has accumulated before beginning again. Smear not only prevents the meat from grinding properly, but it also ruins the texture of your finished sausage.
When all of the meat is ground you will want to start the ‘primary bind‘. Remember how when you’re making meatballs how you need to work the meat a little bit? It starts to get a bit sticky, much more tender, and it hold together more. Well, the same principle applies to sausage making. Your aim is to mix the meat efficiently using either (a whole lot of) elbow grease or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. If you’re using a mixer, you will want to mix this at medium speed for about 2-4 minutes.
The primary bind is also when the meat will be most amenable to absorbing liquids, which will in turn lead to a juicier sausage. If you wanted to add any water, cream, wine, stock, liquor, or any other liquid to your sausage, now is the time to do it.
For the Chipotle Tequila Pork Sausages, add the tequila to the ground pork before mixing it. I used a stand mixer because, well, I’m lazy and that’s a lot of meat to mix by hand. You will notice that the tequila is absorbed into the meat almost immediately. The primary bind is done when the meat looks sticky and well mixed.
While the meat is mixing, finely chop the cilantro.
Add the cilantro to the mixed meat. You can give it a stir if you like, but I find it easier to work it in with my hands to make sure that it is evenly incorporated through the pork mixture. At this point, take a small portion of the meat and make a mini ball or patty. Fry it up until it’s cooked through, and give it a taste. This is your last chance to adjust seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic, chili, etc) before the stuffing starts.
Chill the meat for at least 1/2 hour (and up to overnight, if you wish). Again, this makes it easier to work with and also produces a superior texture in the final product.
The casings (I prefer calling them that, rather than ‘intestines’) need to be cleaned. If you have fresh casings, which can sometimes smell a bit….funky, you don’t want to miss this step. The casings that we bought looked like they were frozen and possibly freezer burnt, with little ice-shards all collected up top. However, when I opened it up, I realized that we weren’t looking at ice at all – it was salt. And buddy, there was a lot of salt. It is recommended that you soak your casings for at least a half hour (and up to a few hours) before use, changing the water periodically. For these salt-crusted casings I had to change the water 5 times before it was clear.
After the casings have been soaked to clean off the outside, you want to make sure that the inside is cleaned as well. Find one end and open it up under the running water. Let the casing fill with water and you’ll see the water-sausage push itself through from one end to the other. This is actually extremely fun. It’s like making balloon animals, but better…because it’s with sausage casing. If you have more than one length of casing in the mix, which you likely do, make sure to rinse them all out in the same way.
It is important to keep the sausage casings moist, so I kept them soaking in water until they were ready to use. Also, you may want to adjust the interior of your grinder before stuffing the sausages. If you push the meat through as is, it will get ground and fed through the die a second time. This isn’t an awful thing, it just means that your meat will be very well ground and combined, more similar to a hotdog or bratwurst. If you want a coarser texture, take the blade and die out before cranking the sausage through into the stuffing nozzle.
Moisten the stuffer attachment and then slide the entire length of casing onto the nozzle. It’s pretty much like you’re putting fondling a giant condom of sheep intestine, and you’ll use the same technique as you would do in the bedroom. Namely, you form an ‘o’ with your thumb and middle finger and rolling it on evenly all around using small flicks of the wrist. Not that I would know, I mean – that’s just what I heard in Health Class from elementary school and all, but that was with bananas and stuff…..
(Note to my mother: I’m sorry that you had to read that)
Leave a tail of casing a few inches long. Don’t tie this off though, or you will get air pockets in the first sausage. You can just leave it to dangle freely.
When you start cranking the meat out to stuff the sausage, make sure that there is someone there to ‘catch’ it on the other side. This is kind of a tag-team job, where one person pushes in the meat and the other is the receiver who holds the sausage as it comes through and gently turns it into a winding wheel shape. The receiver, who gently holds the sausage as it pushes through, will quickly get a feel for how much pressure to exert. If you just let the sausage crank through unfettered, it likely will not fill the casings enough and you’ll have a lumpy product at the end. By exerting just a teensy bit of pressure as it comes through, just enough that the casing fills before it moves forward, you’ll end up with a more even and attractive sausage.
If your first casing runs out when you still have more meat to stuff, keep a few inches on the end before sliding it down of the nozzle, pinching the end to keep a nice seal on that final sausage. Then you can repeat the casing-condom process and continue stuffing a new round of sausage with the remaining meat.
To form the sausages into links, start by twisting the end on the left and then tying it into a knot. Measure up about 6 inches and pinch it together with your left hand. Measure up another 6 inches and pinch it together with your right hand. It will look like you have a length of sausage between the knot and your left hand and another between your left and right hand. Turn the length between your hands 3-4 times (clockwise) until it forms a sealed link.
Repeat the process, but turn counter-clockwise this time. Basically, you will be twisting off every second length of sausage, and it will be in the opposite direction of the previous twist. Continue this until you’ve run the length of your coil, and then give the end a final twist and tie it if you feel the yen.
Now tell me, raw sheep intestine not withstanding, are these a thing of beauty or what?!
The tequila really comes through in these sausages, followed by the garlic, chipotle and finally the herbal touch of oregano and cilantro. The texture is meaty and moist, perfect for barbecuing and stuffing in a bun with a bit of salsa, shredded lettuce, queso fresco and scallion.
However, in the absence of buns, we chose to eat them served over red rice with greens, a variation of my favorite corn and chayote salad (made with lima beans and frozen corn since this isn’t exactly a seasonal dish), and a rough avocado-tomato salsa.
The only thing that is more fun than making sausages is eating sausages. With the snowy and dismal weather that we’ve had for the past, oh, two months now, a little bit of sunny Mexican flavor was exactly what the doctor ordered.
And there we have it! Sausage making is not a daunting process, you just need to have the right equipment and a bit of enthusiasm. The pay off is also well worth it, because I just keep looking at these little links with awe, going, “We made these! They’re our own sausages!!!” Wheeeeee!