If you're a lover of hunting or game meats, you'll know that much of deer meat is flavorful but too tough for quick cooking. Making slow-braised venison dishes provides one solution to the problem. Another is grinding the venison and combining it with pork fat to make a flavorful sausage. Sausage patties can simply be fried or grilled, while sausages in casings are more versatile. For example they can be baked, though good technique is required to keep them moist and juicy.
It's not an immediately obvious comparison, but sausages are rather like mayonnaise. Each is an emulsion, a mixture of very different substances that ordinarily remain in suspension. With mayonnaise it's the oil, eggs and vinegar, and with your sausage it's the venison, pork fat and flavoring ingredients. If you heat mayonnaise, the eggs and fat separate and leave a curdled, unappetizing mess. If you overcook your lovingly-prepared venison sausage, the fat renders out and leaves behind a dry, mealy mouthful of ground venison. Avoiding this dire result requires a knowledge of a few basic techniques.
Preparing Your Sausages
If your sausage is in individual links, cut enough links for your meal. If it's in a larger casing, cut a long enough piece from the coil to provide four to eight ounces per diner. Use a toothpick or the tip of a skewer to puncture the casing every two to three inches, providing an outlet for steam. This keeps the sausage from bursting its casing, which looks unattractive and can cause it to lose moisture as it cooks. Arrange the sausages in a heatproof dish. Adding a small amount of sauerkraut, or a cooking liquid such as red wine or beef broth, can help prevent the sausages from drying as they cook.
Baking Your Sausages
It's important to cook your sausages gently, because high temperatures can burst your casings, cook out too much fat and cause the proteins in the venison to contract and toughen. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil, to trap the steam from the sausages and any cooking liquid you've added. Bake the sausages at 300 to 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 35 minutes, depending on their size, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle shows an internal temperature of 160 F. At this point they're food safe, but should still be moist and juicy.
Slow oven baking preserves the texture and flavor of your venison sausages, but it won't brown the casings. If you're a fan of the rich, savory flavors created by browning, you have the option of browning them either before or after cooking. In either case, sear the sausages quickly at high temperature in a skillet or on your grill. Searing them quickly browns the casings and adds flavor, but won't overcook the sausage inside. Browning them before baking is easiest for the cook, because the casings are more fragile after baking and you're more likely to tear one.
- On Food and Cooking; Harold McGee
- Garde Manger; Culinary Institute of America
- Cooking Wild in Kate's Kitchen; Kate Fiduccia
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