“I should start drinking at noon more often,” reflected the apron-clad man who wishes to be known as Babe the Blue Ox. His associate, Red Dragon, noted, “I should probably wash my hands after smoking.”
There were four coolers full of frozen deer meat, three six-packs of beer, two KitchenAids with meat-grinder attachments, and two men who chose to be named after their KitchenAids, one blue, the other red. The two machines faced each other on the counter, meat-expeller attachments poised en garde, so it seemed, for a swordfight.
The contents of the coolers were collected from freezers around town, trimmings from last year’s hunt that were too full of sinew to cut into steaks or stew chunks, and too full of meat to throw away. With hunting season now in full swing again, last year’s scraps are about to be buried beneath another layer of fresh shwag. That’s where the Boys of Sausage come in. Here at Sausage Central, they turn the shank, the side, and other nameless frozen scraps into sausage: sweet and spicy Italian and kielbasa.
Babe the Blue Ox was rubbing his hands together, not in excitement, but because they were so cold after hours of handling half-frozen meat. “It’s good to have it partially frozen,” he said. “Makes it easier to cut through the sinew.” As he held his hands under the warm water of the faucet he predicted, “this is gonna hurt.”
All their recipes require grinding the meat twice. The first grind mixes the meat with side pork (ask your butcher)—and in the case of the kielbasa, bacon as well. Then spices are mixed in and the mixture is ground again. Finally, the sausage-stuffer attachments are placed on the KitchenAids, and the ground meat, fat and spices are stuffed into real pig intestines, or hog casings.
The Boys of Sausage bought the salted hog casings at Diamond Bar Meats, enough to stuff 100 pounds of sausage. As the hog casings soaked half an hour in water to remove the salt, they looked like soggy fettuccini noodles. Red Dragon measured and snipped off a 6-foot length, which looked like a 6-foot booger. He held the hog casing under the faucet, running water through it to rinse the inside. Then he carried the soggy length of casing to his red KitchenAid and slipped it onto the sausage-expeller attachment, which he had already lubed with non-trans fat shortening. Watching him lube that meat expeller would surely have sent Freud running to mommy.
With 6 feet of hog casing bunched onto the shaft of the meat expeller, Red Dragon tied off the end of the casing, flicked on the machine, and while Babe the Blue Ox pressed the spiced sausage into the intake, Red Dragon gingerly held the expanding sausage with one hand, with his other hand he regulated the tension on the unfilled casing, releasing slack evenly until the sausage was 6 feet long.
Days later, under Halloween skies, we cooked the sausage. Each 6-foot length was twisted several times at 8-inch intervals into eight links per length and coiled onto the grill. When they were browned on both sides and ready to burst, the kielbasas were snipped apart and placed in a vat of hot sauerkraut. The sweet and spicy Italian sausages went on buns or directly into the mouth. With or without mustard and pickled product, it was a true autumn delicacy.
For their sweet Italian sausage, the Boys of Sausage used four parts deer to one part side pork. For 10 pounds deer and pork, ground together, they mixed in 5 tablespoons of salt, 2 1/2 tablespoons black pepper, 2 1/2 tablespoons fennel seeds and 5 tablespoons chopped parsley. This was my favorite of their sausages.
For their spicy Italian, use the same deer/pork mix. For 10 pounds, mix 2 ounces salt, 2 ounces paprika, 1 ounce cayenne, 1/2 ounce black pepper, 1/2 ounce sage, 1/2 ounce fennel seed and 1/2 ounce oregano. This was good, but a bit spicy.
For kielbasa they mix 10 pounds deer, 1 1/4 pound side pork and 1 1/4 pound bacon. Grind once, then add 20 cloves of minced garlic, 10 teaspoons salt, 10 teaspoons dried marjoram, 5 teaspoons allspice, 5 teaspoons sugar, 5 teaspoons black pepper and 2 1/2 cups bitter ale. The flavor was perfect, but a little dry.
I took what I had learned and observed to the sausage master of Missoula, Uncle Bill of Uncle Bill’s sausages, located inside the Joint Effort on 1918 Brooks St. in Holiday Plaza, across the parking lot from Osco Drug. Uncle Bill sells 18 kinds of sausage, all guaranteed to contain no “noses, toses, hoses, or roses.”
“I like bay leaves and juniper berries in deer sausage. Something about juniper berries and wild game really works,” he said. “You want 50/50 deer to pig, otherwise it’s too dry. Use 100 grams of salt for every 15 pounds of meat. The rest is art.”