The Sausage Files

Posted on February 26, 2012

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Grinding Texture

L.F.C. Universal Food Grinder

The Kit:

Landers, Frary & Clark # 2 Universal Food Grinder.

My mother sent me this grinder just before the holidays.  (She had inherited from an older generation.) I haven’t been able to date it, precisely, but the history of the company and the grinder’s basic design is pretty interesting. The company made a wide range of metal items over its lifetime (from bull nose-rings to kitchen scales and ice-skates) which lasted from the mid nineteenth-century to 1965. It adopted the “Universal” brand in the 1890s, and introduced products that revolutionized the home kitchen, including a bread maker, a coffee percolator, and the food grinder. Grinders were common enough, but apparently their new design made it possible to process meat and vegetables into hashes. As I understand it, the rotating action of the screw generated a horizontal pushing force on food different than what you would get with a grinder that used gravity and roller blades. The screw pushes food through a series of holes, and a rotating star-blade chops the extruded food into a well-ground texture. This would have the benefit of cutting fibrous vegetables into small bits, when other designs may not have been able to deal with their stringiness. This same model was still being produced at least until the 1950s, so they’re not exactly antique worthy. From the success of these early products, L.F. & C. expanded into the early market for electric doodads and gizmos. Karen Hudkins from the New Britain Industrial Museum told us that the Corona Corn mill and the Universal Food Choppers were sold throughout South America and are still widely used. Both devices are associated with the Great Depression, when families turned to them in order to keep food costs low by doing more of the processing work in the home. After all, you can fire up the old Universal Food Chopper even when the power is shut off during hard times.   Check out here and here for more history.

Grinding

Grinding in Process

If you look around on the net for videos of the Universal Food Chopper in action, you will find a range of videos. Sometimes the operator knows what they’re doing, sometimes they are trying out an old fashioned gizmo they found and are struggling. We’re here to set the record straight and to let you know the pros and cons to getting early-industrial on your sausage.

Pros:

The L.F.C. Chopper looks cool, runs quiet, and you can toss the whole thing in the freezer very easily. It is important to keep the sausage cool when you’re working with it so that the fat doesn’t separate from the meat. The result of our first batch was the best sausage we’ve ever eaten. The best ingredients handled with care, mixed with innovation.

Cons:

I haven’t used any other kind of grinder, but I do know that “smear” is a problem for all home sausage making. This happens when the meat’s sinew gets clogged on both sides of the grinder, and the meat gets pulled into a mush rather than ground. I’m not certain how much better of a job I could do in avoiding sinew when piecing a pork shoulder, but I’ll keep trying because it is worth it not to stop as often. You need to watch carefully and clear out the sinew several times as you go. This will take time, which is the main drawback. My hunch is that the Universal Food Chopper is more susceptible to this problem than modern devices. It could come down to the star blade, which hasn’t been sharpened in decades if ever on our grinder. (Newer versions of hand-crank grinders have internal blades that look very sharp.) However, we speculate that the result is a really great texture when you do it right, and that newer machines might not be able to deliver the same result if they slice / power through a certain degree of sinew. (When people struggle in the videos I mentioned before, it is because their meat isn’t cubed in small enough pieces or their sausage is smearing.) Be patient, clean out the sinew, and carry on.

Tip: Because the Universal Food Chopper’s action involves metal-on-metal contact, make sure to use vegetable oil to keep the rust away once you’ve cleaned up.

Conclusion: I am not interested in an electric grinder, but I would like to try a newer hand-cranked model in order to compare it to the Universal in terms of difficulty. If anyone has this experience, I’d be pleased to hear about it in the comments.

Chorizo Variation

Chorizo Variation

If you go to the trouble of making sausage, you should probably make a lot of them. This time, we started with a 5lb pork shoulder butt, cut off the bone and cubed. We followed the Charcuterie bible by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, doing half batches each of their breakfast sausage with ginger and sage and their Mexican chorizo recipes. If ginger sounds strange, let me tell you that it is the iconic flavor of breakfast sausages. And the chorizo. Please! It called for a shot of tequila, but a rum substitute worked a charm. Hands down the best two sausages I’ve ever eaten. We bought the pork from Cow-A-Hen Farm, because, among other reasons, Bill Callahan rocks.  He has always been kind in answering questions, even way back when we didn’t know that the butt comes from the front of the hog.

I used a little bit of the loose sausage to make patties for breakfast. The rest went into casings. Everyone in the universe seems to have a stuffing attachment for their electric hoozits. Then I found a snippet video on the net, which upon further research turned out to be part of an Anthony Bourdain tv show. Jump to 7.09 in the video to see some quick hand stuffing in action. I was a lot slower in my first attempt, but I know it is possible now. The dream is alive. Check back in ten years.

Tips:

1. Use natural casing. Grossed out? Don’t eat sausage.

2. When machine stuffing, you would put a whole length of casing on the spout and fill it as the meat flows forth. This is impractical when hand stuffing. I learned the hard way that if you try to fill multiple sausages from one end by working the meat down its length you’ll end up with tears and blowouts. The people in the video have them pre-cut to length, and that’s what worked for me.

Finished Sausages

Finished Sausages

Making sausage takes a lot of time, but like anything it will go quicker with more experience and skill. After you cut the pork, it rests in its seasonings overnight. Then comes the grinding, then the stuffing. You could easily buy this number of sausages from the store for a much cheaper price. The flavor of homemade sausage is superior, and when you have only ever bought sausage you simply can’t have a good sense of what they really are as food.

Sausage should be the centerpiece of a meal, on par with a nice cut of steak or pork chop. I would say that that a fair price for great sausage would start around $10/lb, about double or triple its cost at the store, which would begin to pay a good price to the farmer and the sausagemaker. They should be savored rather than scarfed, and this price would be offset by using a it in meals with lots of grains and lentils for balance. The nine sausages we made were put away in the freezer and have since become the anchor for great pasta dishes, breakfast tacos, and a Bauernsuppe.

The only problem is that I can’t bear to follow any recipe that begins “remove the sausage from casing.” I guess I’ll put some away loose next time!

– Dustin

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Posted in: kitchen