Not until my brother-in-law showed up last Thanksgiving with a holiday plate full of something called salmon sausage did I think about doing some of the same. Frankly speaking, I didn’t like the way they were rolled them into little dooly balls, wrapped in foil and parboiled into something that resembled a poached egg delight. I craved a manlier version. Something to be grilled over hot coals and washed down with Guinness stout.
I confess to being a connoisseur of sausage having eaten everything from Wisconsin’s finest bratwurst to Jimmy Dean’s grocery store patties. But what I savor most is sausage made from wild game such as venison or duck to the point I beg for freezer-burned packages from friends that kill Bambi and Daffy at great frequency.
Armed with a recipe from the Internet and having 20 pounds of salmon in the deep freeze, the next step was to find a supply of casing to stuff with meat. Casing is a flattering word for animal gut, typically pig or sheep. It’s the smooth elastic tissue that lower digestive tracts are made of. Think colonoscopy.
Figuring on making a party-sized pile of salmon weiners, I located a butcher shop that sold animal casing. A 1-lb bag cost $30. Unfortunately, it was frozen solid providing no clue of what I had to work with. “How many feet are there in the package?” I asked.
“Enough to make 125 lbs of sausage”, the butcher said.
The only advice offered before I walked out the door was from the shop girl who pointed to a stack of plump frankfurters languishing in the meat case. “We use the same casing to make these.”
I examined the little bundle of frozen gut as soon as I got home. It resembled a pile of spider webbing. How might one possibly stuff ground meat into such tiny little strands of silly putty? I could barely stretch the casing over the end of a pencil.
Spreading tiny gut apart by hand was not a job for someone with poor eyesight and fat fingers, but I managed to shove bits of salmon mixture into the ¼ inch opening using well-coordinated movement of thumb and forefinger. Worked patiently in this manner for over an hour, I constructed one 3-inch long link. One thought was that size does matter. Another thought was that the first batch would not be packed into links until midnight on day two. So I quit and watched football until my wife got home.
“Did you ever think of looking for instructions in a cookbook?”
The implication hurt, but my pride was merely wounded. Jacques Pepin and his classic culinary book La Technique saved me by devoting six pages on how to make sausage. Most important was a photo demonstrating how to fit the casing to a water spigot in order to rinse and expand it. Think water balloon. My quest for fish sausage took on renewed faith.
All that remained was getting the mashed up salmon mixture into the casing. This part took ingenuity, having given the old meat grinder away years ago. First, I filled a plastic funnel used to change the oil on my vintage Austin Healey with salmon meat. Then I stretched the end of the casing over the tip of the funnel. Finally, using a wooden dowel as a piston, I forced the salmon mixture into the expanded casing. Eventually, I manufactured a string of respectable-sized links.
Don’t expect the skin-popping, juice-on-the-lip flavor of a frankfurter when you chomp into a salmon sausage. Chinook salmon don’t have much fat after a 200-mile swim up the Columbia River. Nonetheless, my version competes favorably with venison jerky, smoked steelhead and other holiday fare created by amateur chefs who pursue the sporting life.