Taking the plunge: Simple Soppressata

A little while back, I made fresh sausages to familiarize myself with the sausage making process so I would have a smoother transition to making salami. It was definitely a bit of a process from beginning to end, and I gained a huge amount of experience. A detailed write-up of my sausage making experience can be found here. I’ve been aching for a chance (and some free time) to try out making actual dried salami after my brief bit of success making fresh sausages. The past weekend was fraught with rain and bad weather, so what a perfect time to try it out!

First, some background. Salami (some, if not all) needs to be fermented to allow the stuffed meat within the casing to become slightly acidic. This acidity will stop the bad bacteria from growing within the ground meat, which is very important considering the host of illnesses that can stem from these bacteria. In order to kick start the fermentation process, we need to add a bacterial starter culture to the meat mix, and leave the stuffed sausage in a controlled environment in which it can ferment properly. Making normal, fresh sausages is a great practice for making salami because the two processes are the same outside of 3 steps; adding the bacterial starter, fermenting the salami, and drying.

Before we get on with making any kind of salami and sausage, we need to make sure that EVERYTHING is very clean and ice cold. This means sanitizing all work surfaces, equipment, and tools as well as sticking the meat grinder, plates, handles, everything, into the freezer, the night before if possible, to get it as cold as possible. Ice cold equipment means that the fat in the meat does not smear, which lends to a better texture in the final product.

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I started with 1.5kg of pork shoulder. Pork shoulder is a cheaper cut of meat that has an excellent mix of fat and lean meat, perfect for salami making. By looking at the profile of the shoulder, you can estimate the proportion of fat to lean meat. This will help you gauge how much fat to add in order to get a nice mixture of lean to fat. I went for a 20-25% fat ratio, with the additional 5-10% made up of cubed back fat. This brings my final lean to fat ratio to 30/70.

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A lot of flavour is in the fat of the pig. I personally love the texture of having larger chunks of fat in my salami, so I opted to cube my back fat to slightly larger chunks, but feel free to play around with the sizing that you like. I cut the back fat into 1-2cm chunks, which will be added to the ground meat during the sausage stuffing later. If you want to modify the lean to fat ratio in the ground meat, add the back fat during the grounding process instead of during the stuffing process.

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For the actual pork shoulder, I cubed them into inch, inch and a half cubes…

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… and added the herbs over the meat cubes. For this soppressata, I opted for a simple flavour combination of black pepper, garlic, red chilli flakes, and fennel. The salt was at 2.5% weight of meat, and curing salt is 0.25% weight of meat. I added the salt, curing salt, and fennel to the cubes before grinding to make sure that that the salt doesn’t draw out too much water from the meat (which might freeze as I chill the meat), and to use the grinding process to help mix the salt thoroughly into the meat.

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At this point, after adding fennel and the salts, chill the meat until it is just frozen on the surface. A good way to tell whether the meat is ready is to stick your hands in there and mix. If your hand starts hurting from the cold, the meat is ready. This might take a little bit of time, so feel free to use this time to work on other projects.

About two hours later, I took all the meat out of the freezer, and prepared for some grinding action!

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I used my old school tinned Weston#10 manual meat grinder, because I enjoy manual labour (a.k.a. I am cheap and do not want to shell out a large amount of money for an electric device). I ground the meat slowly by feeding the meat into the top and cranking the handles. I found it worked best when I cranked slowly but steadily, which of course isn’t an issue when you have an electric grinder. This was a rather difficult process as I also needed to take photos at the same time.

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Crank that handle and get your grind on!

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I added the garlic, chilli flakes, and pepper at this point with a splash of red wine and the fermentation bacteria. It’s important to add a little bit of moisture to the ground meat to help mix the bacteria and to start releasing the myosin. It doesn’t have to be red wine either, feel free to use whiskey, water, beer, whatever you want! For the fermentation bacteria, I used Mondostart 2M bacteria. It is kind of hard to get the classic Bactoferm bacterial starter up here in Canada, as the cultures need to be frozen the entire time during shipment, so I went ahead with a locally available option. Make sure to thoroughly mix the meat mixture to get the myosin to release and bind the meat together.

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Look how the meat structure changes! The meat is ready-ish when you clump it into a patty and it stays together. Now put everything back into the freezer for the second chill. This might take a little bit of time as well, so use this break to wash your meat grinder, and chill everything for the stuffing process. With everything washed and cleaned, it’s now time to take a well deserved break. Have a beer while waiting for everything to cool down to the correct temp!

After a couple of hours, wash the casing that the sausage will be stuffed into with warm running water. Mine came packed in brine, so it’s important to wash out the extra salt and also to detect any holes that may exist in the casing. After washing, thread the casing onto the sausage stuffing attachment.

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Pinch the end of the casing as you start stuffing the sausage, as you will get air bubbles within the casing when you first start stuffing. Once you’ve finished stuffing maybe 6-8 inches, squeeze the air out of the front of the sausage, and tie a knot. After that point, feel free to stuff at your own pace, keeping a firm hand on the stuffing spout, controlling the speed at which the meat comes out of the stuffer. Try not to over stuff, keeping in mind that the sausages have to be twisted later into links. You really don’t want the meat to explode out of the casing.

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After the stuffing, squeeze the sausage from beginning to end to even the diameter of the soppressata out. Start twisting from the beginning, rotating the links in opposite direction such that as you twist the next link, the previous twist gets tighter instead of looser. That might be a little confusing… the simple way I used to make sure I was twisting in the right direction is one link twist away from me, one link twist towards me, etc. Alternatively, you can tie butcher’s twine around every link you want to separate. That is definitely a less complicated solution, though it might be a tad more time consuming.

I went for longer links, around 7-8 inches. The reasons behind this is that I wanted links that are long, but not long enough to drag on the bottom of either my fermentation chamber or my drying chamber.

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Once all the links are finished, I tie the last knot onto the casing, after squeezing out as much air as possible. Afterwards, I string butcher’s twine into the twists so I can hang them easily. Take a pin and heat it on top of a flame or your stove top for sanitation. Then, poke holes in the casing where you see air bubbles to let the trapped air out. Your goal should be to have as few air pockets in the sausage as possible to reduce the chance of bacterial growth.

The next step after stuffing the soppressata is to activate the fermentation bacteria that we added earlier. This means keeping the salami in a moist and warm place for 3-4 days, while the bacteria starts dropping the pH of the meat mixture (making it more acidic). It is of utmost importance that the fermentation is done properly. The way I maintained the package suggested environment of 70°F at 70% RH is by putting the links into my oven, leaving the oven light on, and putting a tray of hot, steaming water in the bottom. The water had to be changed every morning and evening to make sure that the conditions are maintained. It is potentially wise to save a bit of the meat mixture (whatever is left from the stuffing is a perfect candidate), and put it into the oven at the same time. Then, after the suggested fermentation period has passed, you can use a litmus paper test to determine the pH of the mixture, extending the period if necessary. I didn’t have the foresight to do this, so I added an extra day on top of the suggested period.

After the initial fermentation, the soppressata can be put into your normal drying chamber, which for me is maintained at 60°F and 60%RH. Since the diameter of this soppressata is very small, it doesn’t take all that long for the 30% weight loss to happen. I reached the required weight loss in about 2.5-3 weeks, after which I broke into some of the soppressata, while leaving the others to continue hanging.

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The slice I ate looked pretty spectacular. In the cross section you can clearly see the fennel seeds, the chunks of hand cut fat, and the marbling of the pork shoulder mix. I would say that the taste just about matched the looks; one bite gets you a bit of that fennel aroma, which combined nicely with the fattiness imparted by the chunks of back fat. The garlic was a pleasant afterthought, as it comes through after the initial fennel aroma fades. I think using fennel seeds instead of ground fennel was a good call, as it adds an additional fennel pop when you bite into a seed. All throughout the flavour profile was a bit of tang, imparted by the increased acidity in the soppressata from the fermentation bacteria. The one bit of disappointment I had was with the red chilli flakes. I don’t think the amount I put in was enough for the spice to come out. I will have to amend this amount for the next batch.

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Altogether, I have to say this was a great success. The flavours were balanced well, and the process wasn’t nearly as complicated as I thought it was going to be. At the time of writing, I am still botulism free, so that is a bonus as well.

Until next time,

-K

 

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