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Homemade Sausage

First try, so a lot of inconsistency. But still, a ton of fun!

First try, so a lot of inconsistency. But still, a ton of fun!

Kickoff to the Super Bowl XLVII is 5 hours away. That means I have 5 hours until I endure 3 hours of unbearable frustration followed by months of bitter disappointment. On the bright side, I made my own sausage!

(CORRECTION: SEAHAWKS WIN IN A ROUT. ALL GOOD HERE!)

With the help of my soon-to-be-10-year-old, we made two really delicious types of sausage.  And I can share, and enthusiastically vouch for the recipes.

The bad news is that I’m still definitely an amateur when it comes to filling the sausage casings. So let’s just say my sausages ended up looking a bit like a “variety pack” when it comes to size and shape. I’m hoping Russell Wilson will be more consistent in today’s game than my sausage stuffing.

First, a note from one beginner to another:

I admit I was a little freaked out by casings. Even though I grew up in “Porkopolis” in the Midwest, then lived both in Wisconsin and Missouri for a while, and therefore have eaten more sausages than the average person (and by that, I mean, have eaten 3,000 times more sausages than the average person), nothing really prepared me for the slimy, tape-worm like ickiness of holding 100 yards worth of intestine in my hands. I’d say “I should have known,” but instead I’ll say ignorance is bliss.

So, I just closed my eyes, and imagined a big, fat, steaming polish sausage covered in mustard and kraut, and those bad feelings just went right away.  So I recommend that. Denial is a beautiful thing when handled correctly.

I will say this though: Sausage casings are REALLY slimy.  I read that two things that seemed to help. One was letting them soak in water for about 30 minutes, draining occasionally. And second, to employ a paper towel when handling them, not unlike the way you do pulling a membrane from a rack of ribs. The paper towel will give you a good grip.

Finally, I was concerned with how hard it would be to find and open a passageway into the casing.  This wasn’t difficult at all. I had a scissors nearby to make a clean cut, then I simply pulled at the sides of the cut, and the casing stretched out, making the opening quite obvious and easy to slip over the casing stuffer.

Last but not least, loved the casing stuffer I bought per my last post.  Can recommend!

The recipes.

I did my usual research. I spent minutes – MINUTES, I tell you – scouring the Web looking at what goes into polish sausages, brats, smoked sausages, and so on. My conclusion was that there were basically two fundamentals out there: Sausages featuring fennel, and sausages featuring marjoram.   So, what the heck, we decided to make both.

Featuring marjoram: This recipe was most often associated with “Polish Sausages,” as far as I could tell. If this is wrong, please feel free to drop a comment and set us straight:

  • In each recipe, I used about 1 ¼ pound of coarsely ground pork butt.
  • 2 tsp mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 1 Tbs, plus 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 ¼ tsp ground black pepper

Featuring fennel: This recipe seemed most often associated with “Brats” and “Italian Sausages.”  I added smoked salt though, because I really like smoked salt.

  • In each recipe, I used about 1 ¼ pound of coarsely ground pork butt.
  • 2 tsp mustard
  • 1 ½ tsp smoked salt
  • 1 ½ tsp fennel seed
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

We sampled both recipes, and honestly, both are really, really good.

As for stuffing the sausage, just watch this dude:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTUib22Dtew

Finally, one more tip

I only wanted about 2 to 3 pounds of sausage. So, I bought a 7 pound pork butt, cut 1/3 of it away and slow cooked the rest of the pork butt as usual.  At 4 pounds, that would be the smallest pork butt I’ve ever barbecued, plus, there was the big cut away side of the meat exposed to the heat.

It was, of course, really good. But I noticed that it came out a notably drier than usual.  I think if I did this again, I would buy a 10 to 12 pound pork butt, and make sure there was a good, hefty shoulder to barbecue after I cut away what I needed for the sausage.

Either that, or make 50 sausages.  Hmmm…..

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Smoked Mussels

Now, upon which crackers shall I eat these?

Now, upon which crackers shall I eat these?

Blue State BBQ’s 9 year old, who won’t eat a carrot, apple, or cherry pie, declaring them disgusting, would eat a barrel full of slimy mussels. Even with her older sister nearby pointing out “you’re eating guts, you know,” she can’t be swayed. The kid loves a good bivalve.

So, I figure, you know what’s even better than a barrel full of mussels? A barrel full of smoked mussels.

There’s no particular trick to smoking mussels.  The instructions are basically… cook the mussels, then smoke them.

So, with the help of a few handfuls of wet mesquite chips, I put about three pounds of mussels (already cooked for 7 minutes in boiling butter, dry white wine, mixed with shallots,  garlic, parsley, salt and pepper) on the smoker over indirect heat.  The temperature was at about 175, and I let the mussels smoke for about 20 minutes.

As expected, they came off the barbecue with an orange-ish color.  Then I popped them in the refrigerator, because I happen to love smoked seafood cold.

So how did they taste?

Smoky! And my 9-year-old is pleased.

Apparently, you can cook and smoke the mussels at the same time. And I suppose that’s probably easier overall.  But even so, this has to be one of the all-time simple things to cook on a Kamado.

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It’s been a while since I’ve used one of these. But I’m on an extended road trip, and what? I’m supposed to use an oven? Broil? No, no I will not.

In my day, we used old tin cans and fish hooks, and WE LIKED IT. Kids these days….

I picked this little beauty up at the local Ralph’s for just over $14, it took about 15 minutes to assemble, and about 15 minutes to light. Last time I used anything like this, I was probably skipping class, drinking a warm can of Wisconsin beer, and over-cooking a boneless chicken breast I peeled off some slimy Styro-foam tray from the local grocery store. 

I seem to recall using a lot of Open Pit barbecue sauce, too.  Oy. 

I have to say, mini grills have come a long way since my college days. It had two lower air vents, an upper vent, a hinge, and charcoal grate. I was really impressed.

Anyway, we grilled Kalbi over hot lump charcoal, and it was excellent.

Here’s the marinade, in which we soaked flattened flank overnight. You’re supposed to use short ribs, but the flank costs less than half as much, and I was feeling thrifty, given the piece-of-crap grill I just purchased.

  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup mirin (rice wine)
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 small Asian pear, peeled and finely grated
  • 4 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced (optional)

Fresh off the tiny little grill.

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Cold Turkey

In my last post, I described my smoked turkey as good, but nothing special. But two things compelled me to write this additional note. 

First, that I ate all the turkey. Seriously, all of it. I had sandwiches, ate it plain, made chili, and still had a couple of legs left over to munch on, which I did. So, perhaps I was a bit too harsh in my earlier criticism.

The thing is, the turkey was a lot better cold than hot. The smoke flavor was much more intense when cold. Maybe there’s some science to that, I don’t know.

Second, because I did get some tips post-turkey devouring that I thought I’d share. Apparently, one only wants to smoke the turkey directly half the time. I learned that some folks will then put the bird in a foil pan with butter, and tent the thing for the last few hours, so it doesn’t dry out quite as much. Makes sense, and when is butter ever a bad thing?

All this means … alas … there’s yet another turkey in my future.

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Don’t worry, I’ll eat it.

The first time I tried to smoke a turkey, I ran into a snag. I cooked a nasty tasting, freezer burned, paste-gray bird. We only had to take a few bites, then we threw the whole thing away.  Blech. But I’ve been wanting to try again ever since.

This time, I did everything right. I got a small, fresh, locally grown turkey. I used a mix of applewood and mesquite to create a super smoky oven that you could smell from a block away. I lightly coated my turkey with a simple rub of salt, pepper, paprika and a few other things.  Then I cooked it at an even 225 degrees for roughly 35 minutes per pound.  It was all by the book.

And…..

Meh.

It was fine. I’ll have a few turkey sandwiches, and I might make a soup or chili out of it.  But honestly, I don’t think it’s worth 8 hours of my time to make a turkey this way. It’s really not better than a paper bag roasted turkey out of the oven, in my humble opinion. 

BTW: Applewood smells really great when smoking.

If I’m going to spend that much time cooking something, it should be fantastic. This was ok, but certainly a long, long way from fantastic.  If any readers have a trick to amazing turkey, let me know. Otherwise, I’m going to suggest folks use those 8 hours to cook something else.

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In the Pacific Northwest, the Gray Jay is often called a Whiskey Jack. They’re rugged, fearless birds, that will steal your lunch right out of your hands. Not kidding. So, I believe we’ll be calling this Whiskey Jack Sauce. I hope you like the name.

Here’s the recipe at last. Next challenge, learning how to bottle the sauce, not the botulism.

By the way, those who know me also know I’m not much of a drinker. I’m good for about half a beer. And you better make that a light beer. So, I’m no expert when it comes to spirits.

But I did learn today that some people don’t consider Jack Daniels to be bourbon, technically speaking, because it’s made in Tennessee. I’m told connoisseurs claim real bourbon can only be from Kentucky — something about the water. Well, I’ve been to Kentucky. Many times. Beautiful country. But I have to say, the water tastes pretty much like the water in Ohio. And Missouri. And Washington.  So, I’m not buying it. However, next time I make the sauce, I do plan on trying to cook with an official Kentucky bourbon. Let me know if you have any suggestions on which one.

 The recipe

Makes roughly 12 to 14 ounces of sauce:

In advance: Boil down 1 cup of apple cider vinegar to 1/2 cup, and set aside.

Melt over low heat:

  • 1/3 cup of unsalted butter
  • 1/4 Teaspoon of onion powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of cayenne pepper (people who like a very spicy sauce will want to add more. For those unsure, don’t worry, you can always add more later.)

Then Add…

  • 1 cup Jack Daniels whiskey
  • 1 Tbs of vegetable oil

Bring to a boil over medium heat, then boil down, stirring for 6 minutes

Remove from heat, let rest for 5 minutes.  Then add

  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ cup Apple Cider Vinegar (boiled down from 1 cup)
  • 1/3 cup molasses  (or a little extra for a sweeter sauce)
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • Not quite ¼ teaspoon of Hickory style liquid smoke
  • A pinch of smoked salt (e.g. http://chefshop.com/Alderwood-Smoked-Sea-Salt-P6636.aspx )
  • Now is a good time to add more cayenne if you’d like the sauce extra spicy.

Reheat to a simmer. Boil down for a thicker consistency, but note, this is a thinner sauce.

Notes: Tastes strongly of whiskey, so save some ketchup for the kids. Also, the sauce is thin. There are ways to artificially thicken the sauce, but that didn’t appeal to me. I assume you can boil it down some more after adding all the ingredients.

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After 20 years of loyalty to my favorite barbecue sauce, I’ve decided to invent make my own for two reasons. First, for a little variety. And second, because I secretly just want to make up an amusing name and design a label.

Going into it, I gave myself only a couple of guidelines.

I want something with a bit of heat, because my usual sauce is sweet and smoky. And because Ms. BlueState BBQ likes her the little brown jug (insert hiccup sound here), I promised my recipe will include some bourbon.

People who know me know I’m a man of data, so that’s where I started.  I collected 25 5-star recipes for barbecue sauce, weighting the list a bit with those that had bourbon in the ingredients, and then dissected the recipes so I could get a better understanding of what’s inside great sauces.  This exercise revealed more than 40 ingredients a sauce designer might choose from.

Here are a few of my observations:

1)      Most recipes are mostly ketchup. I knew that my particular favorite sauce was ketchup based. But I had no idea that SO MANY sauces start with ketchup, and lots of it.

2)      Cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and fresh onion are the next most common ingredients.  But, it’s not automatic. Pairings matter — for example, molasses appears to match up better with Bourbon than brown sugar. And texture matters — onions tend to be included in sauces that have other crunchable items in them, which I have to say, doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest.

3)      Surprising, and surprisingly common, were butter, garlic and liquid smoke seasoning.  Many recipes start with melting butter, and softening up some garlic, onions or both.

4)      Then there’s a fairly long list of customary, but apparently not must-have ingredients, such as dry mustard, honey, cayenne pepper, salt, tabasco and chili powder.

5)      Finally, there were some head-scratchers like thyme, coriander and oregano.  But hey, to each their own.

So, my plan is to hit the lab asap.  The only problem is, I don’t have any bourbon and it’s Easter Sunday.  Darn it, Easter Bunny, why didn’t you bring me any? Or maybe you just drank it all.

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