A couple weeks ago I began my first experiment with fermented, dry-cured sausages. I figured it would be best to start small, with something reasonably easy. The big problem was setting up a curing chamber for this. Until I was sure it would work I wasn't going to risk a large sausage going bad on me. So salami was out.
Chorizo, on the other hand, is something I really love to cook with. That tangy, garlicky, slightly spicy flavor is great with so many dishes, and I like the neon-red color it brings to things. So I figured I'd make a round of it, and have it hanging downstairs ready whenever I needed it.
As long as I was getting the equipment out and, importantly, ordering expensive bacteria cultures, I figured I'd do another kind of sausage as well. I'm a huge fan of Landjaegers, and I liked the idea of having a stockpile ready that would provide snacks for a whole Summer's worth of hikes. Fermented, smoked, and air-dried, these sausages will last for a very long time, happily unrefrigerated and hanging down in the basement. Historically, Landjaegers were often in the rations of European soldiers and I like to think of the armies of Napoleon, Wellington, and certainly Blücher snacking on them during breaks in the action at Waterloo.
The Spanish Chorizo recipe was the one in Ruhlman's Charcuterie, with some minor changes.
- 5 lbs of Pork Shoulder
- 50 gm Kosher Salt
- 6 gm Insta Cure #2
- 10 gm Dextrose
- 8 gm Bactoferm F-LC (Ruhlman calls for 20 grams, which is most of the $15 packet. Nope, not doing it. Reasons explained later.)
- 60 ml distilled water
- 2 T Smoked Paprika
- 2 T Ancho Chile Powder
- 1 1/2 t Nambe Pueblo Chile Powder
- 1 T minced garlic + 1 t garlic powder.
The Landjaeger recipe was basically the one from Len Poli's amazing sausage page. After a few changes here's what I put in:
- 2 1/2 lbs Pork Shoulder
- 2 1/2 lbs Beefalo
- 50 gm kosher salt
- 2 t Liquid Smoke
- 12 gm Dextrose
- 12 gm White Pepper
- 7 gm Insta Cure #2
- 1 1/2 t Caraway Seeds
- 3/4 t Mace
- 3/4 t Powdered Garlic
- 8 gm Bactoferm F-LC
Grinding and Stuffing
The first step was ordering some things from Butcher & Packer. First up was curing salt. I've got plenty of Insta Cure #1, sodium nitrite, but for this I'd need Cure #2, sodium nitrate. Nitrites preserve sausages, keeping bad critters like botulism from growing, as well protecting the color and providing that 'cured' taste. Over time the nitrites will be used up, however. So for long term fermented sausages, you need to use sodium nitrate. The nitrate will break down into sodium nitrite and cause a slow-release of the chemical, protecting the sausage for much, much longer.
The next thing I needed was a bacterial starter culture. Bacteria! But you just said the nitrites stop bacteria. What gives? Well, certain bacteria are useful in sausage making in that they can consume sugars and produce lactic acid, which lowers the pH of the sausage and prevents harmful critters from growing. Another line of defense, as it were. They are also helpful in getting the nitrates to break down, and they give the sausage a nice lactic tang.
Ok, time to shout into the void. Bacteria Culture industry! Listen up. A 25 gm packet of Bactoferm runs $15 and is enough for 220 lbs of sausage. I am not going to make that much sausage in years of work, maybe ever. But the packet goes bad fairly quickly once you open it. Also, the bacteria are suspended in a media of some kind, so that you have to use at least 1/4 of the packet to insure that enough live bacteria make it in. So I had to put in enough to do 50 lbs of meat in order to make 5 lbs of sausage. It's not going to hurt anything to put too much bacteria in, there's only so much dextrose to eat, but it's still expensive and annoying. Take a hint from the homebrew world and make 5 gm packets for us home hobbyists making 5 lbs at a time! Sheesh. Ok, end rant. I ended up using 1/3 of the packet for each of the batches, so I've still got 1/3 left over for something else in the near future.
One of the really great things I ordered in was this 25 lb meat lug. Food grade, fairly strong, very useful. So I diced up 7.5 lbs of pork shoulder and the 2.5 lbs of beefalo, then put the lid on and set it outside. It was about 40 out, so I figured that would keep it cool enough while I got the grinder set up.
I ran 5 lbs of the pork through the largest die for my Chorizo. It's supposed to be chunky and rustic after all. Then switched out for the 3/16" die, combined the remaining pork and beefalo, and ran it through for the Landjaegers. Spices were added and both recipes were mixed in up in my KitchenAid.
I stuffed the sausages into what I believe are 29 mm hog casings. They are really pretty small casings, but unfortunately I have a lot of them (had to buy a full butcher's pack) so until they're gone all my sausages will be a bit on the skinny side. C'est la vie.
Here are the Landjaegers on the right, all in links.
For the Chorizo I needed to make individual servings. So I stuffed them out in about 12-16" lengths, pulled the casing forward about 4", then stuffed another link. When I was done I went back, cut the links and tied up the sausages with kitchen twine. These were then hung in my kitchen for a while to air-dry and to get out of my way while I worked on the Landjaegers. You can see one is a bit off colored. It had the last of the Landjaeger still in the tube, so it's a half-and half-Landrizo.
The sausages needed to be fermented, and the bacteria really like a nice warm, humid spot. Something a bit hard to find in Seattle in the Winter. Also, the Landjaegers needed to be pressed, which helps them dry out later. The solution came to me thanks to my new meat lug.
I put the Landjaegers on the bottom, arranged in a single layer. Then I put a cookie sheet over the top of them. They need about 5 lbs of weight pressing them. Guess what, my chorizos weighed about 5 lbs! A match made in heaven. So I put them on top, and put in a bowl of water to keep the humidity up. Then on went the lid and into the oven they went.
But turning it onto the 'Warm' setting for a few minutes every now and then, I was able to keep the whole mess surprisingly, ridiculously, impressively close to 85 degrees for two days straight. At that point, I took the chorizos off and gave the landjaegers a break from the pressing. By now they had become somewhat rectangular, and though not as regular as ones pressed in a mold, they had a nice shape. Chorizos went back in and they all got a third day at 85. The whole kitchen smelled garlicky and fermenty.
Landjaegers are cold smoked, which apart from flavor gives them another layer of protection from mold. This presents a problem for me, as I only have a hot smoker. But I've been able to jury rig a solution using my Weber Smokey Mountain. By putting six lit coals in the bottom, and piling the smoke wood around them, I've been able to do a fairly good job of keeping the temp around or below 90 degrees. I say fairly good job because it is by no means perfect, but it works well enough.
After three days of fermenting I took the landjaegers out and hung them to air-dry for a few hours. They'd taken on a nice color, were somewhat rectangular now, and smelled really quite good already. I fired up the smoker and they went on for four hours. For wood I used hickory, maple, and alder. I also put some cheese on because, hey, smoked cheddar is tasty too and the fire was already going.
Careful drying is the really tricky part in making dry-cured sausages. Too hot and you encourage spoilage bacteria. Too humid and you encourage bad molds. Too dry and you get what's called Case Hardening. The outside casing of the sausage dries too fast, creating a hard barrier that prevents the inside of the sausage from drying properly. Since it never really dries out, something eventually starts growing and the inside of the sausage rots. Not good eats. I wasn't really worried because my sausages were so darn skinny, but still, this was uncharted territory.
I suspected that my basement cellar, where my wines, mead, cider, etc. were all aging away, would also work pretty well as a curing chamber. My experience has shown that it maintains a pretty close 60 degrees in the winter. On the hottest day ever recorded in Seattle it was only 74 in there. It's totally dark, so light won't spoil the fat in the sausages. It seemed reasonably humid, but I also put a bowl of saltwater in there just to help it out. Finally you need a bit of air circulation to help dry off the casings. I had a small fan from my old beer fermenting chamber back in Miami, so I plugged it in and aimed it near but not at the sausages to get some air moving.
I hammered some finishing nails into one of the beams and used pliers to bend them into a J shape. Then hung the chorizos off the hooks. The Landjaegers were in long chains, so I hung these off some hooks in the back of the closet. All in all I was pretty happy with the setup.
The basement smells really interesting now.
The chorizo gave a sort of tart, cured smell while the landjaegers gave a smokiness. That small room now smells delicious. Hopefully the airlocks will do their jobs and my wine won't end up smelling like sausages.
I figured it would be three weeks before the sausages were properly dried, but due to their skinny casings they were pretty much ready after about two weeks. I cut a chorizo open after day 10, just to watch its progress and check for case hardening. Still a bit mushy in the middle, but almost there. And no hardening to report. A couple days into it I did notice a few small mold spots on a couple of the chorizos. This was easily dealt with by wiping them down with a little white wine vinegar. Didn't come back.
The Big Moment
I'm very happy with how both sausages came out.
The chorizo has a really rustic appearance, and a great dark red color. As you can see it has a nice definition, with large white chunks of fat standing out against the red background. It has a good tangy flavor, garlic and chile are there too, with just a hint of smoke. It cooks up nicely, producing vibrant bright orange grease, but it's good raw too. This one went excellently in some scrambled eggs for breakfast. My only complaint is that it's not spicy enough. I need to ditch my older chile powders I guess. Next time I may put some cumin and Mexican oregano in as well.
The Landjaegers are excellent. Nice texture, good level of smoke, excellent spicing. I regret not adding all the Caraway just a bit, biting into one is a mini-flavor explosion. The sausage has a nice definition, small chunks of fat and a good distribution of spices. The smaller grind gives them a good texture, dry but not tough. Like beef jerky, but in sausage form. They're still weeping a bit of oil, I'm hoping that will stop eventually and isn't a bad thing. But I'm quite happy with them, and they have already made a good snack on an outing. And there are about two dozen more hanging downstairs. Summer is set.