Friday, 30 July 2010

Knitting with Meat

Peggy my butchery teacher is still recovering from her cleaved thumb. But life goes on around her which means pigs are ready for the chop, and customers want chops at the ready - so to speak. She had a small pig hung in her chiller to fill an order for a wedding next week. There are always unskilled tasks to do, so I offered my help again and spent 5 hours butchering and making sausages with Peggy today.

No wonder Peggy has so many loyal customers. Her sausages are made of the best pork cuts, plus rusk, seasonings, and a bit of water just to bind the mix. That's it. She gave me sections to de-bone and break down so she could mince them. My job was to remove bones, rind (skin), any veins, glands, excess fat, or bruised meat. Peggy won't have any of that nonsense in her sausages.

It sounds a horrible job, but it really isn't. If you've ever had any interest in anatomy it's fascinating from that angle alone. While I cut, she gives me tips on how to hold my knife better (and safer), or where I can seam a joint to make it easier to remove fat. As I get more comfortable with the knife, I can break down the joints quicker. I'm still miles off Peggy's speed though, even with her thumb in traction.

Peggy asked had I ever made sausages before. I had not. I had seen sausages hanging in a butcher's window before and that was the sum total of my experience, besides eating them of course.

Sausages are linked in groups of three, strung together like Christmas lights-

This looked like skilled labor to me. We had over 50 pounds of sausages to make for the wedding and for customers' orders so I needed to get skilled - fast.

I rinsed the natural casings out, which are preserved in brine. Washing them removes the excess salt. Peggy filled them, then demonstrated the technique: pinch and twist, make another, twist and push through the first two, pull up, pinch in half, twist that pair and start again. Easy, right?

Yeah. It made that much sense to me too.

But as I watched her, I realised it was no different than making a basic chain stitch, a common stitch used in knitting and embroidery. It's the basic stitch on your sewing machine -

Apparently it's also a great way to link your sausages.

Here's a case where a skill learned in one discipline translates directly to another. Who'd have thought there would be an obvious link between knitting and butchery. (Hey, maybe that's where the term "link sausages" derives from?). Of course you don't need needles to knit sausages, and my knitting wool doesn't burst out of its casing when I'm making a sweater, but you can see where I'm going with the comparison.

Once I got the hang of chain stitching sausages, I made 100 chipolata sausages (little ones) and too many big sausages to count. Customers were buying them as quickly as Peggy and I could make them. Peggy sold them with the caveat "They haven't had 24 hours to dry in the chiller, so don't eat them right away. Leave them in your fridge overnight. And don't put anything heavy on them in the car!" She puts a lot of care into her meat and a split, wet sausage is unacceptable. It doesn't do justice to her work or the pig's.

I must have passed the test (she didn't see me re-twist and titivate a few that loosened in the chiller) as she's asked me to come on a more regular basis to help in the butchery. For money. An actual job! Supplementary to my gamekeeper's wife job working dogs, cooking for the staff, and vermin control. But like knitting and butchery, the two jobs have shared skill sets. Though I'm not sure the words "unskilled" and "butchery" sound good in a job title .

I know where I will be spending my first paycheck. If Peggy hasn't run out of sausages by then.


Paula said...

Cool post. What's rusk? This is an incredibly useful skill you're learning, and I'm envious the know-how. And now you have a paying job (well, another one). You're going to build muscle on yourself, too!

Kate said...

Love the title! Be careful with those knives! Charcuterie was part of my training way back when in culinary school. But I haven't really made sausage since then. I would love to do it again, and kinda got close this past winter when I got as far as buying casings. But then it got warm again, and there was the garden to deal with. I'll need to learn everything from scratch again, but I think I've been bitten by the curing bug, so there may be some saucisson sec in my future.

Jennifer Montero said...

Paula - rusk is like hard bread crumbs. Wheat based. I thought it was a filler but I've tried 100% meat sausages and they're too heavy. It's a necessary part of the recipe. Unlike gross bits of a pig.

A friend went to see beef sausages being made commercially and they were mostly comprised of cows' udders. It's why sausages get a bad rap in the UK.

It's as knackering working over that butcher's block as it is chainsawing. I'll have to wrap my wrist this morning before I get on with heavy chores. But it is a great skill to learn, and as you said the money all helps.

Jennifer Montero said...

Kate - Charcuterie is about ten skill levels higher than where I am. I'm missing the culinary training that you and Hank (HAGC) have. My home-grown stuff gets turned into peasant dishes and crazy leftover concoctions. You do your produce justice and I love reading about it.

Break out those casings and give us a post about saucisson - when the garden is under control of course.

I'm grateful that you put recipes on your blogs, so I can have a stab at it.

Speaking of which, Peggy is very strict on safe use of knives so I'm being very careful, I promise.

martha in mobile said...

My DH makes sausages with our little Kitchenaid (it has a sausage attachment). They are delish, but I can't help but shudder at the bowl of casing that seems to have taken up permanent residence in our fridge -- it looks like condoms for a snake orgy. Or something.

Jennifer Montero said...

Martha - What happens in the fridge, stays in the fridge...

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Damn! Every time I'm so proud of myself for learning something new, I come here and find out that you've learned something better.

This is a great post -- I love finding the unlikely links.


How often do you get a learning experience like this one? Very cool!