LeMen-Sausags-art - 3/25/09
"Le Menagier's Sausages" by Master G. Tacitus Adamantius, OL.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2009 13:53:59 -0400
From: "Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius" <adamantius1 at verizon.net>
Subject: [Sca-cooks] A little article I wrote on Le Menagier's
To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>
Le Menagier's Sausages
by Master Adamantius
Recently I was involved with food service for An Dubhaigeainn's Schola and Dance at The River's Head Inn event. Since it was a schola, and people would be going into and coming out of classes on and off all day, and also to take advantage of an opportunity to use the kitchen as a classroom, we worked slowly, producing one or two dishes at intervals and serving them out to a dayboard which ran from approximately 10 AM to 8 PM, with fewer of the usual dayboard staples and, arguably, more feast-type dishes. One of the more popular items were the pork sausages from Le Menagier de Paris:
"353. To make sausages after killing a pig. Take some meat and chops, first from the part they call the filet and then from another area, and some of the finest fat, as much of one as the other, in the amount for the number of sausages you want. Have this finely ground and chopped by a pastry cook. Then grind fennel and a little fine salt. Next, thoroughly mix the fennel with a quarter as much of powdered spices. Combine well the meat, spices, and fennel. Fill the intestines, that is, the small intestines, with this mixture. Know that the guts of an old pig are better than those of a young pig because they are larger. After this, smoke them for four days or more. To eat them, bring once to a boil in hot water and then grill."
-- "The Good Wife's Guide: Le Menagier de Paris - A Medieval Household Book" Translated by Gina L. Greco & Christine M. Rose, Cornell University Press 2009 ISBN: 978-0-8014-7474-3
LE MENAGIER SAUSAGES
For 5 lbs., ~3.3 lbs dry
4 lbs pork butt / blade roast
1 lb pork belly or other "hard" fat source such as kidney fat, NOT
2 Tbs salt
1 cup ice water
1 Tbs cracked fennel seed
1 tsp fine spice powder - Hippocras Spice Powder*, powder forte,
etc., apple pie spice blend OK
1 tsp Insta-Cure #1, a.k.a. Prague Powder #1
1.25 oz Fermento (optional)
1-2 Tbs liquid smoke flavoring
hog sausage casings
HIPPOCRAS SPICE POWDER*
4 oz Ceylon cinnamon sticks
2 oz powdered cinnamon (cassia)
1.33 oz nutmeg
1.33 oz dry galingale
1 oz dry ginger
1 oz grains of paradise
[* This makes over ten ounces, close to a quart, of Hippocras powder, which was more than enough for a medium-sized SCA feast. We used some in the sausages, some sprinkled on our bunnies in papdele, and some on our cream dish, and there was still more than enough for us to have made hippocras for everyone on site. Unless you have some other use for it -- which we did -- another spice blend in smaller quantities will be fine for sausage.]
For those unfamiliar with Le Menagier de Paris, it is a late 14th century French document -- essentially a household management manual -- written in the form of a letter from a well-to-do older Parisian man, generally believed to be a widowed law clerk, to his new, young bride, with detailed instructions on how he expects his household to be run. It includes recipes for foods, drinks, medicines, various household supplies for cleaning, laundry, etc., instructions for shopping, and even a section on hawking. Recipes for our sausages and the spice blend used to make them are also from that source.
The household described in Le Menagier probably wasn't large by aristocratic or royal standards of the day, and situated within or on the outskirts of a town, certain facilities we might expect to be present, such as a kitchen oven, are very likely absent, which would be compensated for by outsourcing to professional bakers for baking bread, pies and other goods, and in this case, the chopping of the meat and fat for our sausages. Medieval bakeries had the skills, the tools and the manpower for the chopping routinely required for pastry dough and meat pie fillings; we generally use machinery for this today.
As a modern city dweller, I also lack certain kitchen facilities, such as my own smokehouse. Many sausage recipes throughout history speak of hanging sausages in the smoke, either far enough above one's cooking fire to receive a coating of smoke without being cooked by the heat of the fire (see Apicius, for example), or inside the chimney (see Hugh Plat, Kenelm Digby, etc.). I opted to air-dry our sausages after adding some liquid smoke flavoring, which is basically wood smoke filtered through water, and in the end not too different on a molecular level from actual smoking. This drying, combined with the salt, the spices, and small amounts of some chemical additives commonly used in the modern industrial sausage-making process, should produce a reasonable facsimile of the kind of sausage found and eaten in a late 14th-century Parisian suburb, while still conforming to modern safety standards.
Which brings us to a note on the other weird chemical additives: I'd much prefer not to use them. Le Menagier's bride would not have added them. What medieval sausage makers did, however, include in their sausages was relatively unprocessed, mined salt which often includes a miniscule percentage of sodium or potassium nitrate or nitrite, which is an extremely useful inhibitor of potentially deadly botulinum bacteria. They also possessed and employed experience and a discerning eye for detail that we generally lack, and which can sometimes make the difference between a properly preserved and wholesome meat product and something to make several hundred of your best friends violently ill or worse. Since most of us can't look at a piece of meat with that experienced eye that will guarantee the safety of our loved ones, I opted to add a product called Insta-Cure #1, which is basically salt and about 6% sodium nitrite [there is an Insta-Cure #2 which contains sodium nitrate, and which is intended for meats that aren't going to be cooked], to our mix, as well as another product rather embarrassingly known as Fermento. This last is a cultured lactic fermentation substitute. Many long-cured meats have a sourish tang to them; summer sausage, some hams, corned beef, and certain salamis come to mind; this is the result of a harmless lactobacillic fermentation that occurs over a long storage period; the same process found in yogurt, sauerkraut, kim chee and most dill pickles. The acid tang in the finished product is not only considered tasty, but the pH levels produced in our sausage make them that much more impervious to harmful bacteria. In the end, we're only playing it safe by adding chemicals that would almost surely have been in the medieval version in some form anyway. Insta-cure, Fermento, casings and other sausage-making supplies can be ordered online from sites such as http://www.sausagemaker.com .
As this is not really intended as a sausage-making primer, I'll simply say the meat and fat are chopped (keep them cold while you do this!), mixed with the other ingredients, and stuffed into casings, tying them off into links at some reasonably appropriate length. Grinding the meat as coarsely or as fine as you want and finely chopping the fat by hand is probably the best method; it keeps the fat from melting and disintegrating into grease before you want it to.
Once you have raw sausage links, they must be dried in order to preserve them, concentrating their flavor and further discouraging the growth of nasty bugs whose pee and poop are deadly to humans. The goal is for the properly dried sausage to have lost about 1/3 of its raw weight in evaporated moisture. This can be done in a cool smokehouse, which not only adds the flavor and color of smoke to the meat, but also adds valuable antibacterial and insect-repellant qualities to the equation. Since I have no smokehouse and no working fireplace, I went for drying the sausages in a cool, drafty environment. The basic goal is to keep the temperature above freezing -- chemical reactions are slow to nonexistent when the ingredients are frozen -- but cold enough to inhibit bacterial growth. Like your fridge, for example, only draftier and less humid.
In practice, our sausages were first hung out in the January breezes of my apartment balcony in Queens, no doubt to the annoyed confusion of some of my neighbors, but I have to look at their ugly patio furniture, so we're even. After several hours hanging over the back of an oak spindle-back chair outdoors, I became concerned about freezing (it was about 32 degrees F outside, and windy), so I brought them inside and hung them over a tension rod in the shower stall of our unused, smaller bathroom, which we could close off from the rest of our home simply by keeping the door shut, and the window open. Between the constant draft (assisted at times by a small electric fan), a radiator built into the wall which prevented freezing, and periodic temperature checks, it was practically ideal, at a nearly constant 45-50 degrees F.
After an afternoon outdoors in the wind, and a night hanging up to dry in the artificial chilly breeze, the sausage links had deepened dramatically in color to a dark mahogany red shade, and over the next couple of days, as they dried, they began to shrink and change shape slightly.
After six days, they had lost enough moisture weight to be, theoretically, safe from bacterial growth, but I was concerned about a phenomenon that sometimes occurs in meat curing (and elsewhere) known as case-hardening. In the case of sausage or other meat products, this is when the product acquires a hard, jerky-like outer layer that is very dry, which seals in and prevents drying of the inner layers, which can remain moist, soft, and otherwise resembling raw meat, resulting in eventual spoilage. There are various ways to control humidity and prevent that; I simply concluded that the sausages had lost enough weight overall, took them down, cut them into lengths to fit, sealed them in one-gallon plastic zip-lock bags, and placed them in the refrigerator, hoping that the moisture content between the inner and outer layers of meat would equalize under safely chilled conditions, which is exactly what happened.
There are probably other solutions that wouldn't have involved cutting into the casings (for example, starting with smaller links than the giant meter-long sausages I made for the sake of expedience), which would have solved this problem with an additional view to keeping a large batch of sausage for a long time. These had to keep for a relatively short time, and then were all eaten within hours, so I didn't have to worry about some of the long-term repercussions, but if made with care, there's no reason why a large batch of these sausages couldn't be a major protein source for someone attending a camping event without a refrigerator, just as they were for medieval Parisians.
For the Schola and Dance At The River's Head Inn event, we served these sausages in two ways: first as an ingredient in sawgeat, a 14th-century English dish of eggs, sausage, and sage leaves, for which this 14th-century sausage seemed ideal, and then later, poached and grilled as suggested by Le Menagier, along with bread, Lombard honey mustard, and cooked cabbage dressed with salt and extra virgin olive oil.
All in all, I had a lovely time with this project, learned a bit more about 14th-century meat preservation, as well as, I hope, adding to the period ambience of the entire day, and producing some good food for my friends.