Saturday, May 2, 2009


Friday we made sausage in class. We covered the basic techniques of establishing the fat to lean ratios, spice mix, grinding and stuffing. I explained the fact that sausage can be a complex combination of textures and spices. It can be like baking in that the texture of a sausage can be altered by over- working the mix or processing at the wrong temperature. Sausage,especially a fine emulsion type, can break like a Hollandaise sauce, if it is over worked and heats up. The result is a dry fatty taste that will not be detected until the customer bites into it.
If you have ever watched a great bread baker they know about the texture of their dough. They know exactly when it is ready and how long to bake to make that perfect crusty exterior. A great sausage maker has a similar feel. They know, from doing it over and over, when a sausage texture is ideal. I once watched a "wurstmacher"preparing an emulsion sausage at Schaller and Weber's in NYC. He was processing a 250 lb batch of Knackwurst. His machine was like a giant buffalo chopper and he turned it on, waited a few seconds, then added some ingredients, then at another moment some ice etc until the batch was smooth and creamy. The end result was a perfect sausage. I asked him "How do you know when to add the ice etc?" He just shrugged and said "I just know".
In class we followed a recipe for basic breakfast sausage. It was a simple recipe of pork, salt, white pepper and Bell's Poultry Seasoning. I showed everyone the process and at the end it came time to mix it. It was ground correctly and all of the proper amount of ice water was added. Mixing it is the final step to get the sausage to stick together and bind the proteins. How long did I mix it? Could it be over-mixed? It is one of those baker/sausage maker things. I just mixed it until it was tacky and stuck to my hands upside down.. but not more. I could have said 35 seconds but that would have been me mixing it and not someone else.
While we were starting to clean up there was about 18 lbs of trim left over. I quickly measured out some salt and threw in the white pepper and poultry seasoning to make up a quick batch. I wasn't really measuring and I didn't let the students know. I ground it with some ice and quickly mixed it up. We threw a sample in the pan and it tasted exactly like the other batches we had made. I've made thousands of batches of this type of sausage over the years so it was simple.
I didn't intend to brag and I'm certainly not suggesting recipes don't need to be followed. I believe great recipes can inspire chefs. But recipes are one person's idea and procedure as they see it. Great cooks and chefs can look at a recipe and get the procedure but after they do it a few hundred times they know the recipe and they may have also unknowingly changed that recipe to their own liking. Thats what makes our work great. It can be repetitive and become drudgery but it is human and it changes sometimes. Changing recipes for the sake of change is foolish but changing a recipe slightly or changing a procedure in that recipe because it works better happens when a chef truly understands the food. As with all recipes, doing it over a few times makes it easy and doing it a thousand times makes it simple...but really good!