The Meat Club
For the past couple of years I’ve been periodically getting together with a group of friends known as “The Meat Club” to make charcuterie: pates, terrines, and various types of sausage. We haven’t gotten together for about a year, since the great boudin blanc making episode, but re-assembled at my house on Sunday to make Laotian sausage. During a previous get-together we made Thai sausage, which was a big hit, and we were exited to try a recipe which contained many of the same seasonings.
Having learned that our limiting factor was the space required to chill the ingredients, we set the maximum number of attendees to eight, down from eleven for boudin blanc; this way my normal-size fridge could accommodate the chilling meat instead of relying on every surface in my kitchen being covered by nested bowls of ice and meat as was necessary for the boudin blanc.
One of the joys of the Meat Club is that it lets me tackle projects that I’d be scared to do on my own; plus, about half the members are food industry professionals so I get to take advantage of their expertise. For Lao Sausage our participants included Sean Timberlake of Punk Domestics; Susie Wyshak author of Good Food, Great Business; Carrie Sullivan, Culinary Programs coordinator for CUESA; Frankie Whitman, Slow Food leader; Dana Velden, author of the upcoming book, Finding Yourself in the Kitchen and blogger at The Kitchn; myself and Jeanne Brophy.
The other advantage of tackling this type of project with a group of friends is that intense periods of work (cutting, chopping, stuffing) alternate with waiting around – for something to cook, for something to chill – and it’s nice to have friends to hang out with while waiting. Of course we had snacks: homemade pickles and duck breast prosciutto from Sean, pesto from Susie, artisan cheese from the Ferry Building and a couple of bottles of rose, since it’s that time of year. After a couple of glasses of rose we decided that “galangal” sounded like the name of a superhero.
We adapted Ryan Farr’s recipe from Sausage Making: The Definitive Guide so that we could make it in one day, instead of two.
Makes about 3 pounds (we multiplied by 8)
- 1-3/4 lbs boneless pork should, diced into 1-inch cubes
- 13 oz. boneless pork loin, diced into 1-inch cubes
- 1/3 cup bacon, diced into 1/2″ pieces
- 2-1/4 tsp fine sea salt, plus more as needed
- 1 Tbsp plus 3/4 tsp ice water
- 1-1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh mint
- 1-1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh basil
- 1-1/2 tsp mince lemongrass from the bottom 3 inches of stalk
- 1-1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 1-1/2 tsp peeled and minced galangal
- 1-1/2 tsp minced shallot
- 1-1/2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 3/4 tsp minced Makrut (kaffir) lime leaves
- 3/4 tsp minced Thai chile
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Hog casings (about 8 feet)
Equipment: meat grinder
Optional equipment: sausage stuffer (or sausage stuffing attachment for the Kitchen Aid); heavy duty mixer with paddle attachment
1. Place diced pork and bacon on a rimmed baking sheet and chill in the freezer until crunchy on the exterior but not frozen solid. Although the recipe said this would take 1-1/2 hours, we found that by spreading the pork in a single layer freezing time only took about 45 minutes.
2. In a medium bowl mix together salt, ice water, mint, basil, lemongrass, cilatro, galangal, shallot, garlic, fish sauce, lime leaf, and Thai chile.
3. Grind the pork and bacon into a bowl using the small die of the meat grinder. The recipe calls for nesting the bowl in a larger bowl of ice and water to keep the meat cold while grinding. Because of the large quantity of meat that we were using we eliminated the bowl of ice since we were grinding the meat in batches and refrigerating it while grinding the rest of it.
4. Add the spice mixture to the ground pork and stir with your hands until well incorporated.
5. Make a small patty of the sausage mixture and cook. Taste the sausage and add additional seasonings to the mixture if desired. Make another test patty if you’ve adjusted the seasoning. Our group found the original recipe milder than last year’s version and had a split opinion: some liked it as-is, some wanted more seasoning. So we kept one bowl of meat mixture unchanged, and added more herbs, fish sauce, and spices to the other bowl.
6. Press a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap on the surface of the meat to prevent oxidation, then cover with another piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. We eliminated this step in order to complete the recipe in a day, instead deciding to let the flavors meld after stuffing, rather than before.
7. Using the paddle attachment of the Kitchen Aid mixer, beat the meat mixture to bind it. Here’s another place where we diverged from the recipe, using a machine to bind the mixture instead of our hands, because of the quantity of meat we were using. But if you are doing a single recipe (instead of our 8X) you can use your hands to mix the meat until it binds together.
8. Stuffing: If you know how to stuff sausage here’s where you do it. Or, you could form sausage patties by hand, or just leave the meat as-is and form it as you use it.
9. Refrigerate for a couple of days prior to using or freezing. Since we didn’t let the meat mixture rest for a day prior to stuffing we are letting the flavors develop after stuffing.
10. To cook, cut links if you’ve formed them. Add a little oil to the pan and cook until they reach 145 degrees inside when tested with a meat thermometer. If you are using un-cased sausage meat you don’t need to add oil to the pan.
For more tips on expert sausage-making, click here for an interview that Dana did with Ryan Farr.
How to serve:
-In a sandwich, Banh Mi style, with pickled daikon, onions, and/or carrots; thinly sliced cucumber and cilantro sprigs; plus mayo (preferably homemade)
-In a Vietnamese lettuce wrap, with mint leaves, and rice noodles, and nuac cham sauce. This would also be a great use of un-stuffed sausage since you could use little sausage meatballs.Shareby