This week is the summer's biggest grilling weekend. As a result, I am sharing with you some of our notes from last week's employee Meat and Sausage Training. Yes, regardless of how hard we work, I try to make sure the staff has a good time and learns something. So last Tuesday Adam Lambert and I cooked up a storm for 14 folks at my house and gave them a crash course on meats. I'm very proud of some of the side dishes we made last week, so see below the recipes.
Fresh Fork Market's Sausage Collection
As with all of our products, we start with the highest quality, pasture raised Berkshire pork, grassfed beef, and pasture raised chicken. We never use MSG or sodium nitrate.
Fresh: a sausage that is raw meat. It has not been smoked like a ham or bacon is. Fresh sausages include Italian sausage, bratwursts, and chorizo.
Smoked: Smoked sausages are sausages like hot dogs, kielbasa, and andouille that have been put in the smokehouse to slowly cook and add the smoked flavor. Smoked sausages usually go through a "cure" or salt brine first. This helps the meat hold together and protects against dangerous bacteria formation when the product is being smoked and the meat slowly rises through the "danger zone," between 40 and 140 degrees. This is usually where you will see sodium nitrate. We do what is consider an "uncured product" with no added nitrates.
Uncured: As you will notice on our bacon, kielbasa, and andouille, the products are labeled "uncured." This means we use no added sodium nitrate. Instead, the brine has natural nitrates occurring from celery powder and sea salt.
Italian Sausage Links: This is our most versatile sausage. Salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes add a slight zing to this fresh sausage. 4 big links in a package, 1.25# per package. $7. Great roasted in oven, stuffed in peppers, or grilled. If grilling, use slow, indirect heat. See notes below about fresh sausage cooking.
Kielbasa: A garlic forward, smoked link. 4 links per pack, 1.25# per package. $8. This sausage is great braised with cabbage or kraut, seared on a skillet and finished in the oven, or great grilled over indirect heat.
Andouille: A fine textured, smokey and slightly spicy Spanish sausage. 4 smoked links per package, 1.25# per package. $8. This is one of my favorite grillers. It is hard to dry out, it bursts with flavor, and has a great crunch.
Green Onion Bratwursts: 4 big, fresh links per package. 1.25# per package. $7. These mild brats have a slight onion flavor that is the prefect compliment to some mustard and a side of potato salad.
Beer Bratwursts, made with Market Garden Brewery Wee Heavy Wallace Tavern Ale: 4 big links, 1.25# per package. $8. This is juicy sausage features a heavy beer from Market Garden Brewery. This adds a sweet, malty note to the sausage. We are almost out of these sausages until our next batch later this summer.
Chicken Italian Links: 4 sausages per pack, 1#. $7. This fresh sausage is lean but bursting with flavor. We added some more fennel and red pepper to make them pop. If grilled, we do suggest poaching first or cooking slowly over indirect heat.
Proper Sausage Cooking
Sausages are easily damaged. There are several ways to get good results. Here are some ideas:
Ideal World: If you have a circulator and can poach your sausage sous-vide (under vacuum seal) to a perfect 160 degrees, then you'd be all set. But that's probably only applicable to restaurants. At home, you can also poach your sausages before grilling. If you have a vacuum sealer and can seal the sausages, you can poach them in almost simmering water until they "set up" to a firmer texture. Then you are ready to grill. If you don't want to do that, you can also poach softly in just gently simmering water until the sausages are setting up.
The Reality: You want to eat and eat soon. You don't have time to get a pot of water boiling to poach a fresh sausage. Instead, you want to grill. It's summer time. You can still get good results without poaching. Start the grill high and sear the sausages to get some nice grill marks. Then, lower the heat and just cook the sausages over indirect heat and cook them at medium heat (like 325 to 375). When you remove them from the grill, let them rest, tented in foil, for 5 minutes.
A Great Burger
It has taken me years to cook a burger well - and I still fail regularly because I'm not paying attention. Here are some tips to forming, seasoning, and grilling a great burger.
Forming a great burger
Chefs and meat heads everywhere argue about forming the best burger. The argument stems from tenderness. We all agree we want tenderness. The problem is some consider tenderness the ability for the burger to break apart in your mouth. I, on the other hand, believe tenderness is related to moisture retention and a slightly chewy burger can give a better mouth feel due to better moisture retention.
Chef Parker, Adam, Galen (the butcher), and I like to think of a burger as a ground beef sausage. An important part of sausage making is the myosin extraction. Myosin is a protein that will bind the fat and meat together and retain water between it. The texture will be more "emulsified" but the final product is moister.
There are a couple ways to form myosin. The first is to take your ground beef, cold, and work it by hand in a cold bowl. Literally knead it, pound it, roll it, squeeze it...you get the picture. This takes a few minutes depending on your strength. You will know when the burger is done based on a tacky feeling it has on the outside. Think like a meatball. Or you can form a ball, stretch it apart and let it dangle. It should hold together. Another way to do this is to put your meat in the kitchen-aid mixer until a film forms on the side of the bowl. This is a tad faster but you have to get out the mixer.
You can also chemically extract myosin with salt. See below.
An easy trick for forming a burger. One method is to form a ball and throw it on the counter to flatten out. Use the palm of your hand and push out from the middle. Pick up and form the edges.
Another more civilized approach is to take a lid, like the lid from a peanut butter jar or a large mason jar lid. Line it with plastic wrap and press your meat into the lid with another piece of plastic wrap over top. Pull the burger out by tugging on the bottom piece of plastic wrap. You'll have consistent, perfect burgers.
Seasoning a Burger
Traditional French culinary techniques suggest seasoning throughout. There is a fine line with burgers. You can work salt and pepper into the ground meat when you are working it, just like you would a sausage. The salt will also help the myosin formation. However, you risk overworking it and getting a burger that is spongy. The proper amount of salt is about a teaspoon of kosher salt per lb of ground beef. I then season the exterior of the burger as well.
Grilling the Burger
Start your grill as hot as you can with the lid shut. Open the grill, scrape and clean the grates. Turn the heat down to medium or medium high (depending on your grill, you have to know your grill). Season the grill by rubbing oil on the grill grates.
Add the burger to the grill. The meat should be cold still, not room temperature. Close the lid and let the burger start to cook. The hot grates will sear the meat and keep it from sticking to the grate. Cook the burger for approx 4 to 5 minutes until the meat releases easily from the grill grate. You should not have to scrape it off. Flip the burger and cook for another 3 or so minutes depending on the size of your burger, heat of your grill, etc. Use common sense. Remove the burger, cover in foil, and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. This is a great chance now to clean your grill and toast your buns.
A Great Burger and Sausage Condiment. Have you ever stared at the bright orange mason jars on the table at the back of the truck and wondered what it is? That's pepper butter. It's essentially the best homemade mustard you'll ever taste (without mustard). It is emulsified hot Hungarian peppers, vinegar, honey, and spices. It is a tolerable hot with a nice sweet note. Add it to burgers and sausages, serve it with eggs, or simply dip cheese in it. It is probably the most popular product among my employees.
Pepper butter comes in pints at $7 and half pints at $5.