Thursday, 30 April 2015

Bill's Best Birthday Present: Sausage Making!

Brits don't seem to make much of their birthdays, not like Americans do. So most years Bill is fairly stuck for what to ask for. As it happened, about this time his cousin Mike and Mike's wife Chris had posted on Facebook how much they enjoyed doing this class. So this is how we came to do this.

Apparently Bill's son, Simon, used to like to get on this tractor...

The Northumberland Sausage Company holds the classes in a portacabin in the car park of the Brockbushes Farm Shop, near Corbridge (which you already know is a wonderful place). We arrived early enough to browse the farm shop, which was much as I expected: full of wonderful, tempting stuff that we consider over-priced and thus can live without. However, I expect I'll come back when I start my Christmas shopping as there are some interesting and unexpected items on offer. For example, who knew that 'mango vinegar' was a cordial? Me neither. 

This is what a horseradish looks like when it's not in a small jar...

The man who greeted us (quite pleasantly considering we interrupted his lunch) turned out to be the tutor. As most people do, he asked about my accent, how long I'd been here, etc. He went on to ask if I had a sense of humour ('Sometimes' was my reply), warning me that the course was rather smutty and full of innuendo. I told him I would pretend not to understand if it got too offensive. 

Warning: If you're planning to go on this sausage-making course, you may wish to stop here so that you can enjoy the surprise of it all!!

When we began he introduced himself as "Timothy Sausage" and his wife / assistant as Christine (I think she probably kept her maiden name). He began by telling the history of the business - which is all of five years old - and how he came to be associated with it. He began by saying that when he met Chris his profession was "one in which one rests a lot". However, as he was getting married he couldn't just be on the dole, he needed to find a real job. So he got training in adult teaching. I gather he'd done that for a while before meeting up with his present employment. 

Step 1: Grind up 750g pork shoulder

Sometime later the opportunity presented for me to suggest he'd also gotten acting lessons, such was his teaching style. Now I thought he had just told us he'd been unemployed most his life until a woman kicked him up the backside, but Bill understood the 'resting a lot' profession indicated he had been an actor in his previous life. Mr. Sausage readily admitting to having been such and even pulled out a picture of himself in younger days. We both remarked how much age changes one in unexpected ways. 

Step 2: Add (secret) seasoning, rusk (breadcrumbs) and chosen additions; mix with hands.

As a sausage teacher, he is now a local celebrity, perhaps even more so than when he graced the stage. I have to say he is what makes the day so fun, though getting to play with noisy machines and squishy food also adds to the hilarity. The rude jokes were almost superfluous for me, but I'm sure they added their own spice for those with the national sense of humour. 

Step 3: Put rude red attachment on grinding machine.

So, what did I learn about sausage making? We started with 750 g of pork shoulder and fed it to the meat grinder. The spiral metal blade inside is called a 'worm'. We were of course warned to keep our fingers away from our worms. I'll not bore you with any more 'Carry On' humour. After grinding the meat we added 70g of rusk. I believe Timothy said this was a plant based product, but at one time this was just breadcrumbs used as a binding agent. Then we added 20g of 'seasoning' - the secret ingredients of course. He told us it would of course included salt and pepper but one of the surprise ingredients was nutmeg. I'm pretty sure there was garlic in there as well. Then that was all kneaded together until it resembled a 'brain'. Appetizing, eh? Since this was Bill's birthday present, he got to do the messy stuff.

Mr. Sausage kept wanting to tell us he only had 4 skins left. 

Then 150g of water (which equals 150mls, something new I learned) was also kneaded into the mix. After that we were told we could add up to 200g of other stuff: spices, vegetables, sauces, herbs, jams, you name it - all off the shelves in the portacabin. We were warned that 'less is more' and to 'keep it simple'. Bill chose honey and orange-and-lemon-marmalade. Hey, it was his birthday, right? 

Then came the skins, which were pig intestines. They looked fairly gross and smelled a bit farm-y, but even wet the texture wasn't unpleasant - more like wet muslin than the slime I expected. Getting them onto the cone shaped attachment to the grinder was a challenge, they were so un-slippery. Then I gently shoveled the meat mix into the grinder again whilst Bill handled the stuffed intestine as it came out the other end. That completed, he had to twist (3 times, each in alternating direction) the stuffed intestine into sausages after gently squeezing. That done, we put them in a plastic bag which was placed in the large refrigerator.

Steps 4 &5: Slide all of pig intestine onto red attachment then send the sausage mixture back through the grinder into the skin. 

The second batch Bill flavoured with chunks of red onion and a squirt of BBQ sauce. We sailed right through. At the end, we were instructed how to break down the sausage machines and to extract the remaining ground sausage. The links were to be refrigerated overnight to let them dry a bit; the ground sausage could be had - and was - for dinner. We ended up taking home about 2 kg / 4 pounds of mixed sausage meat.

Step 6: Twist the stuffed skin at intervals to form sausages.

Other bits that come to mind are that Timothy's is not a beer belly, but the much more distinguished claret belly. However is his favourite word. However much he likes wine, he wouldn't cook sausage with wine, nor would he grill it. If we wanted to be 'chefy' we could pan fry it and finish it off in the oven so as not to dry it out.  Beer or cider would work well with pork.

The pork shoulder is only about 20% fat. If making sausage with beef the recipe would be much the same, but if using chicken or turkey it would be completely different. Venison sausage works well using the same recipe, though he would use a shiraz wine with that and he would put in bacon to add fat to the venison. Made sense to me.

He referred to the leading commercial brands of sausage collectively as The Bandits and said they were only required to have as much as 35% of meat-product in their sausages to call them such. I've long known that hot dogs and baloney are made up of mechanically reclaimed bits that most of us would call garbage. They still taste good, but I don't tend to buy those things here in Britain. Mad cow disease made me stick with big lumps of nearly identifiable animal, though I may have eaten horse now and then. I agreed in principle with Timothy when he said he didn't mind eating horse, he just wanted to know when he was doing it. 

He said something about legally being obliged to include preservatives and something to ward off some kind of fungus that likes pork. He mentioned green bacon, which is apparently due to this fungus. I think he said that it's safe to eat if cooked, but don't quote me on that. I don't see me ever cooking green bacon; for one, bacon doesn't stay in the fridge long enough for a fungus to find it and for two I'm not a fan of green meat and would put it in the trash. Sausage being thicker than bacon, the health and safety minders feel green sausage wouldn't be safe or something like that.

Timothy spits before he refers to the French, all in good humour of course. However, I think he was fairly serious when he denied that the Americans have any culture and of course it's our fault that Brits have become so lazy in the way that they eat so many ready meals. For the latter, guilty as charged. 

However I did attempt to tell him about the wonders of Jimmy Dean sausage and about Big Bad John, a pop hit in 1961. I had a terrible crush on Jimmy Dean/Big Bad John when I was a child (not to the mention the sausage). That was even before I knew my family history included generations of miners, including at least one hero who died rescuing others. What more could one ask? History, heritage, music, food, philosophy... I think the Southern US has plenty culture! 

I would go back and listen to Timothy Sausage any day, although I can't say I much love the sausages we made. Even with BBQ sauce and onions I felt they were rather bland. I'm sure that this is because when I think Jimmy Dean and drool; what can I say? I'm not a native Brit.

We don't eat a lot of red meat in this house (though we do indulge when we are out), however I can see me pulling out Grandma and Grandpa's meat grinder and trying out one of these recipes:

Jimmy Dean Copycats

Top Secret Jimmy Dean

An Expat Cooks Jimmy Dean

(Looks like I'm not the only one who misses this flavour.)

1 comment:

Gam Kau said...

What a great day out and a perfect way to spend a birthday as far as I'm concerned! I would love to do something like that. I make my own sausage meat, but don't stuff it in casings. And, because I don't have a meat grinder, I end up using ready made mince which is really a not a good substitute.