I frequently hear from people that they struggle making their own sausages, regardless if they process and grind their own wild game or get ground meat from a processor. The chief complaint is the meat is gamey or dry/poor texture. I can empathize. My sausage making has been a ‘want to do/failure/sometimes okay/randomly good’ cycle. Some seasons I haven’t even wanted to try and we just order it from our processor. Although it is pretty good from the processor it isn’t quite right, for one it is usually on the very salty side and two it’s a break in the forest to table in our home.
Like growing your own vegetables there is a huge connection to your food when you hunt and process it yourself. It just seems to taste better when the work has been invested by your own ten little thumbs. Last year I processed nearly 50 pounds of bulk venison sausage. That’s a whole lot of sausage, it became sausage immersion. Apparently I learn best by immersion, if I were an actor I’d have to be a method actor. Be the sausage…the balls to the walls, 24/7, work hard, play hard method is where I find my mojo. And last year, 50 pounds of sausage got my sausage making mojo on.
I do have to confess that at times I almost wanted to cry because the meat grinding, seasoning, mixing and packing never seemed to end. I had to resort to desperate measures and put a straw in my wine because my hands were constantly covered in meat goo. All my processing led me to accomplishing the perfect mixture for a tender and moist venison sausage while still keeping it lean. Since I had that down, this year hasn’t been as crazy and I am a bit smarter about making sausage.
First of all, venison, like most meats, grinds better when it’s partially frozen. Do you realize what that means? It means I can trim and cube the venison then bag it and freeze it. When I’m ready to make sausage I can take it out and partially thaw it and grind it at my leisure. That means I can take all year to make it if I wanted too. Bonus, I can drink wine during sausage making time without having to use a straw. Secondly the secret to making a good venison sausage is the same as making a good regular sausage: pork and fat. Yum, pork fat. For simplicity and to save labor, I purchase ground pork…cheap ground pork, 73% lean ground pork.
I mix a 1:1 ratio of ground venison to ground pork. With a 73% ground pork and a nearly 100% lean ground venison the mixture comes out to approximately an 86% lean meat combination. Lean enough to not feel guilty and fat enough to have good flavor and great consistency. The other reason I like to use already ground pork, the fat content is controlled. For example, if you buy pork butt the fat varies and therefore the consistency also varies. You could just add fat back but I found that just adding fat to the venison I still had some texture issues and frankly it just doesn’t taste as good as adding succulent pork meat. Simply put, it just doesn’t get any easier nor do you have more control than mixing with pre-ground pork.
My inspiration for flavor came from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn Charcuterie cookbook, their breakfast sausage called for fresh grated ginger. After one batch I knew that I would never be able to go back to a breakfast sausage without fresh grated ginger in it! In Michaels and Brian’s words its “Da Bomb” I’m inclined to agree, as a matter of fact it’s the “bomb-diggity”. I haven’t mastered the link method of sausage making yet (consistency in linking is still a problem for me) and I am quite lazy so I do bulk sausages, we also find them the most versatile. It seems like when I have uncured link sausages, I more often than not, take them out of their casings. Although I do not link mine, you certainly can with this recipe. I do like to make a log so that I can slice discs for easy portioning and cooking.
It may seem strange to add liquid to the sausage, but do not skip this ingredient, it’s essential to the binding of the meats and the seasonings. When you add the liquid it will seem like the liquid will not incorporate, be patient and keep mixing, it will happen, I promise. If you plan on linking the sausage use ice cold water, the colder the meat, the easier it is to work with, just like a pie crust. If the sausage meat gets to warm put it in the refrigerator or even the freezer to cool it down (but don’t freeze it). Because this recipe makes 6 pounds of sausage at a time you may even want to take out half and refrigerate half if you plan on linking the sausage.
I like to package my sausage in one pound portions; it seems to work well for the three of us, if you have a large family consider doing 1 ½ to 2 pound packages and if it’s just one or two people, package in half pound portions. That’s another added benefit to processing your own meats, you can custom package them to your needs and not someone else’s idea of what it should be.
- 3 pounds venison, trimmed and cubed, partially frozen
- 3 pounds, 73% lean ground pork
- 2 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
- 3 tablespoons dried sage
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon ground black peper
- 1 cup ice water
- Grind the venison on a course grind, re-grind on a fine grind. In a large mixing bowl add all the ingredients and mix with the paddle of a mixer or by hand until well combined.
- Make a small patty and fry on medium low until cooked throughly. Taste for seasoning and adjust.
- Fill natural casings (about 25 feet), vacuum seal or make logs and tightly wrap in plastic wrap.
- To cook: thaw and gently saute to an internal temperature of 150°F.
- Yields 6 pounds