Sunday, 14 February 2010

Game Meat Charcuterie

For a number of reasons I butcher my own game meat. It's hard work and usually takes me two days to butcher and wrap an elk for the freezer, this is after it has been quartered, skinned bagged and hung. I am  a slow butcher.   One benefit  of hiring a butcher is that they will typically offer to make sausages as part of the order.  Until now, I have not done so for myself.

Aside from the sausages, there are a number of downsides to hiring a butcher. For one thing, it's expensive.  Last time I checked, it would have cost me $250 to have an elk butchered that had already been skinned, quartered, bagged and hung (that price did not include sausages.) For another, there's really no telling whose meat you'll get back.  This is an issue because there is CWD in the deer and elk herd here in SE Wyoming.  Even though there is no known risk to humans, I have my animals tested at the Wyoming state vet lab before eating them.  I only want the meat from my own animal.  Also, and perhaps most importantly, the local butchers never have enough space or time during the rush of hunting season to hang the meat as long as is needed.

Here is my recipe, sort of cobbled together from sources on the internet and an article in Saveur No. 31 (December 1998).

2                           Natural Sausage Casings (about 4' long each)
2 1/2 lbs                Elk (ground)
2 1/2 lbs                Pork shoulder (ground)
1/2 lb                    bacon (ground)
paprika                 cover and mix 4 times
fennel seed            cover and mix 3 times
oregano                 cover and mix 3 times
garlic                     10 cloves (finely chopped)
red-pepper flake   sparsely cover and mix 3 times
black pepper         cover and mix 4 times
                             (coarsely cracked with mortar and pestle)
salt                        cover and mix 4 times
cayenne                 lightly dusted and mixed 1 time (optional)

Some things I did not have were fatback which would have been better than bacon  and I would have used hot paprika instead of the sweet variety, but I was out.  Choose a pork shoulder with as much fat on it as you can find.

The casings come salted and you need to rinse them and then soak them in cold water while you prepare the forcemeat filling.    Grind the meat.   I cook by taste and feel and have specified spices in my recipe very roughly. You obviously can not taste the uncooked forcemeat  but you can fry up a bit to check the spicing as you go. My instructions "cover and mix" mean to evenly cover the meat mixture with the ingredient  (you can see the size of the bowl I was using) and then to mix thoroughly. The Saveur article recommended chopping rather than grinding the meat though I did grind it.  I did not have fatback pork to add and so used bacon.   The fennel seed gives it a distinctive sausage flavor.  The red pepper flakes are potentially hot though mine are not really.  Reading the recipe you might think these sausages turned out overly spicy, but they are not.  Of course that's a matter of personal taste,but for some reference I will say that I have never been a fan of very hot food that so many people seem to like.

Stuffing the casings was a new experience.  You slide the casing onto the stuffing tube and then tie a knot in the end.  I removed the cutters from the grinder and just used it to force the meat into the casings.  As you go you twist them into the length of sausage you want.  It is almost a three handed operation, pushing the meat into the grinder, cranking and holding the casing as it fills.  After the first 4 feet of sausage, I added the cayenne and made a second batch that was hotter.  Packing the second batch I realized the casings were more elastic than I'd thought at first and I packed them more tightly.

In the end I think the sausages  would have been better if I'd had more fat in them, but leaner sausages do tend to be more chorizo like.   When I cook them I usually just slice them open and pour in some olive oil.
The spicier batch is a bit more popular, though the less spicy ones are excellent  for breakfast.

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