In this post I thought we could take a rather crude look into the realm of sausages to identify some of the characteristics you can look for when selecting which product to take home. As far as quality goes, sausages often fall into something of a ‘grey’ area. I think there may be one key reason for this – the lure of the mincer. The fine grade settings on a commercial mincer mean that practically any part of the animal can be processed to an almost creamed consistency, barely recognisable from its previous form. While the notion of nose-to-tail consumption certainly accommodates this strategy somewhere in its manifesto, the downside is that sausages made predominantly with cartilage, fat, sinew and tendon offer far less nutritional value and flavour than using a combination of prime and cheap cuts.
For the purposes of this exercise lets just start with the extremes. On the left is an example of what is likely to be a good sausage and on the right, quite the opposite. The good snag has been made with a pre-determined ratio of flesh to fat volume that is in accordance with the style of sausage being made, in this case, a traditional Italian pork sausage. The bad snag has been ground so finely that you can barely tell the difference between one ingredient and the one adjacent. While the good snag will no doubt have a carefully measured selection of herbs and/or spices to bring out the flavour of the pork, any undesirable flavours resulting from the various parts of offal in the bad snag will be covered up by the main flavouring agent, salt. The sausage mix of good snag has been stuffed into natural casings (typically cleaned intestines), while the commercial snag uses artificial casings likely made from processed collagen. Why natural casings? Well besides being natural, which is always a good thing, they cook better and have a far better eating texture, natural casings give you that subtle ‘snap’ when you bite into them. The colour difference certainly paints a contrasting story, the good snag clearly contains more meat while the bad one, well.. who knows!
So, now for the taste test, always something I’m happy to volunteer for! Interestingly, the non-descript content of the bad snag meant that it simply lay flat in the pan for the duration of cooking while the various densities, textures and irregularities of the good snag caused it to curl slightly during the early stages, then straighten out somewhat towards the end. I think the end product more or less speaks for itself. The depth of flavour and texture of the good snag embodied the sense of tradition and pride that characterises the dedicated sausage maker, leaving the other for dead; a lifeless bit of salty sponge that no one really cares about.
Sausage making is something that I’ve always enjoyed, it’s hands-on, creative and above all a social event. If you’re interested in making your own sausages, by all means let me know and we can arrange a pork party and get our hands dirty. In the meantime, make sure you familiarise yourself with some of the tricks of some of the great sausage makers out there.