Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Missing Link

Now that we have the requisite sausage pun out of the way, let's settle into the matter at hand. Recently I was asked to get involved in boning out, cutting up and turning into sausage five 14 kilo turkeys that had been in the freezer for a while. I agreed that this seemed to be a worthwhile project to get involved in and we set up a time to meet in the kitchen.

Sausages are a bit of a mixed thing, really. They can be badly made, full of filler, nitrate ridden disasters. Or they can be juicy, flavourful and redolent of whatever they came from, be it pork, lamb or poultry. I have even made wonderful seafood sausages. These seafood bangers were laden with cream and studded with bits of shrimp and scallop, flavoured with tarragon, white wine and shallot. Very good but very rich.

Which brings us to the first essential of a good sausage - you need a bit of fat. The usual cut for pork sausage is the shoulder because it has a good balance of lean to fat. (About 2:1 lean to fat) For the turkey sausages I ground skin, fat and all so the ratio was more like 1 1/2 :1.

Another way to keep sausages moist is with liquid. The last time I made turkey sausages I froze one litre of apple cider into a slushy like state and mixed that into the meat. I also added diced sauteed apple and dried cranberries - the result was excellent.

The second factor in making great sausages is they need to be highly flavoured and made of high quality ingredients. Fresh herbs, good quality spices, and excellent meat are all the cornerstones of a good sausage making.

For the casings I prefer natural hog casings. Collagen casings taste nasty and have a tendency to break. You can buy natural casings from any decent butcher.

Now that you have made or bought some excellent sausages - what to do with them? One of my favourites is a really good potato salad with sliced cooked sausages folded in. Coleslaw is also excellent with a good sausage. The sausages can also be used for pizza toppings, in pasta or simply on a bun with good mustard and sauerkraut. I am also a huge fan of toad in the hole. This involves cooking sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter with caramelised onions, mashed potatoes and gravy. Not exactly spa cuisine but fits with my culinary motto:"Wretched excess is only the beginning."

Back to the Garden

For many chefs, there can be a disconnect between the produce we use in the kitchen and the farm, ocean, or forest it comes from. This was brought home to me last weekend, as I spent some time in my friend Heather's garden. She has a verdant green thumb and is as passionate about gardening as I am about cooking. I helped her dig her garlic harvest: huge beautiful bulbs fragrant, white and firm. Heather has been cultivating her garlic for about 4 years. Each year she singles out the largest bulbs and propagates them for the next crop. We dug about six rows and they yielded about 150 heads of garlic. It certainly wasn't difficult work and any time spent outside is relaxing and actually quite therapeutic after a busy week in the kitchen.

It did make me think, though, of the amount of work that goes into the food we use in our kitchens. And it made me think yet again that we need to treat all of the food that comes through our doors with respect and celebration. Even an everyday item such as garlic can be used in wonderful and creative ways. Roasting a whole head can be a sensual pleasure, both in the fragrance it throws around the kitchen and the rich, mellow flavour spread on warm bread with soft goat cheese.

To roast garlic just take 3 heads of garlic and cut off the top 1/4 inch to expose the top of the buds. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the garlic in an ovenproof baking dish and drizzle with about 1/2 cup of good olive oil. If you wish you can place some herbs like rosemary and thyme in the oil along with about 12-14 whole black peppercorns. Cover the garlic loosely with tinfoil and place in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until the garlic is soft and lightly browned. Remove from the oven, cool the garlic and squeeze the heads. The garlic will slip out and you can use it for all sorts of things. Reserve the oil for cooking as it will impart a lovely light garlic essence to whatever you are cooking.

I firmly believe that any chef or apprentice should spend time every growing season on a farm helping and seeing the work that goes into the production of their food. I also think it would be a good thing for farmers to spend a day in the kitchen to see what happens with the fruits of their labours.

My friend Ian at Mariposa Farm in Ontario has worked closely with chefs to raise cattle, pigs and vegetables. This experience gives young chefs an awareness that every part of the animal should be utilised and that it often takes more skill to make an off cut edible. Anyone can fling a filet mignon on the BBQ and it will be tender. But to take cross ribs and braise them properly with deep complex flavours and coax tenderness out of them until they are falling off the bone, now that takes some chops.

So I'm heading back outside to set the garlic to cure and go for a swim in the ocean. Does life really get better than this?