The secret to French sausages, says charcutier Romeo Baudouin, is a gentle touch and plenty of good fat.
French sausages commonly incorporate the traditional flavours of their respective regions. Sausages from Normandy might feature cider, for example, while in the south-west it could be Cognac. The beautiful pork sausages you see here are made by Romeo Baudouin, charcutier and head chef at Sydney butcher Victor Churchill. In true French style, Baudouin has flavoured his sausages with Muscadet, a wine produced near his home region of Brittany.
Baudouin begins with pork shoulder and the fat from the shoulder, known as back-fat. This fat can be heated to a high temperature without melting and hence keeps its shape well, unlike the flare fat from around the kidneys, which is better suited to making lard and confit because its melting point is lower.
The mixture of meat and fat needs to sit for 24 hours with salt, which draws out some of the moisture and intensifies the flavour. It's then cut to size by hand. When you're handling the meat, says Baudouin, it's important to keep the temperature around 10C to 12C, both for hygiene and for ease of cutting. "You need to work quickly," he explains, adding that hand-cutting produces less friction heat than a mincer and allows you to "see pieces of good-quality meat and fat" in the sausage. "Fat to the charcutier is like flour to a baker: without flour you can't make bread," and fat, he says, contributes not only juiciness but also flavour. Baudouin suggests using 20-30 per cent fat in the meat mixture.
Once the seasonings have been added, it's time to form the sausage, using either natural or synthetic casing. Baudouin prefers the natural kind, which turns transparent as the sausage dries. Natural casing is made from animal intestines: the smaller pork intestine is used for sausages, while larger beef intestine is used for salami. The casing is sold salted or brined, so it needs soaking for 20 minutes in warm water, and rinsing inside and out. To rinse inside the casing, open one end between two fingers to let the water run through the length of the intestine. Wetting the casing also makes it easier to feed onto the nozzle of the piping bag. The nozzle should be about 2cm in diameter, or large enough for the meat to pass through.
Working in batches, spoon the sausage mixture into the piping bag, then gently push almost all the length of the casing onto the nozzle, leaving only a few centimetres hanging off. Gently squeeze the piping bag, holding the casing between thumb and forefinger and monitoring the pressure to create a consistent flow. It's important that no large air pockets form, but also that the casing is not too tightly packed, or it will burst. If it does burst, simply tie off the casing and start again.
To form individual sausages, pinch the casing into the lengths you want (about 10-12cm), pushing the meat to both sides of the pinch-points, then gently twist the casing a couple of times. Move along to the next length and twist in the opposite direction, forming firm sausages. Repeat until all sausages are formed, then tie a knot at the end of the casing.
The sausages are then ready to hang in the refrigerator to dry. "Hanging them for up to 24 hours removes the excess liquid from the casing and the inside," says Baudouin. This helps produce a deep flavour and a golden, crisp skin when cooked.
Regardless of the cooking method you use, it's best to use no more than a medium heat so the sausages don't colour too much before cooking through. And resting the sausages for a few minutes after cooking is a must, as is resting all meats.