Tasty traditionGRAND FORKS — For Jason Laumb, making sausage from the deer and other wild game he shoots every fall is the ultimate way to cap off a successful hunting season.
By: Brad Dokken, The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — For Jason Laumb, making sausage from the deer and other wild game he shoots every fall is the ultimate way to cap off a successful hunting season.
It’s been a family tradition since he was about 10 years old.
“This is a good time,” Laumb, 37, said. “I brought it in (to a meat processor) a few times, especially when I was a poor college student, but the cost of processing has gotten so high now. For quite a few years, I was shooting four or five deer a year, and that in a lot of cases would be a $1,000 processing bill. You can buy a lot of processing equipment for $1,000.”
On a recent early December weekend, the kitchen of Laumb’s Grand Forks home took on the appearance of a small-scale butcher shop as he ground and mixed and stuffed and smoked his way through about 100 pounds of sausage. Venison from the whitetail buck he shot this fall dominated the mixture, but sandhill cranes, ducks and geese also found their way into the recipe.
Laumb rounds out his recipes with ground pork, following a formula of 80 percent meat and 20 percent fat. The pork comprises anywhere from one-third to one-half of the meat in a given recipe.
“It just depends,” he said. “Sometimes, to make the numbers work, I add more pork. If it’s too dry, add more pork. A lot of times, I’ll have the frying pan sitting right next to the operation and try the recipes as I’m making them.
“It’s not difficult by any means,” he added. “There are some basic rules to follow, and everyone has different tastes of what they want.”
In Laumb’s case, that also means garlic and lots of it. This sausage isn’t for the faint of heart. He buys the pork and natural sausage casings from a local meat shop; all of the spices are readily available at any grocery store.
“I’ve done as many as three deer in one weekend, which was well in excess of 100 pounds of venison, and then with the pork added, it was probably 140 pounds of sausage.
“That was a lot of sausage.”
As she does every fall, Laumb’s wife, Margaret, willingly turned over the kitchen for the annual sausage-making weekend. The smell of garlic and other spices mingled with the mesquite smoke that occasionally drifted into the kitchen from the two smokers on the back deck to produce a pleasing aroma.
Smoking takes more work and prolongs the process, Laumb said, but it’s worth the effort.
“If you have fresh sausage, you can grind it and mix it in one night, stuff it the next morning and you can be done in just a few hours,” he said. “The smoking process is going to take four to five hours in itself. So, if you’re smoking the sausage, which I prefer to do, it’s going to take a lot longer.
“I pencil in a whole weekend.”
Following the steps
A senior research manager at the University of North Dakota Energy and Environmental Research Center, Laumb approaches the sausage-making process the same way he tackles a research project. He takes a few liberties with the recipes he uses, but follows the meticulous approach of a scientist when mixing and handling the ingredients.
That includes using a digital scale to ensure he’s adding just the right amount of meat. Too much wild game and not enough pork, for example, will affect the taste.
“A scale is essential,” he said. “You have to have a good scale, whether it’s digital or a spring scale. You can’t guess on the amount of meat you’re putting in.”
Laumb says being precise with the amount of meat also ensures adding the correct amount of curing salt, a crucial ingredient for sausage that is smoked.
“When it comes to smoking sausage, don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t need a cure,” Laumb said. “You don’t want botulism.
“Especially when you’re smoking, the amount of cure you add is pretty important.”
A typical sausage-making weekend starts with grinding the venison, waterfowl and pork into separate bowls. Laumb this year got a new, more powerful grinder that chews through about 6 pounds of meat in a minute, a fraction of what it used to take with his previous small grinder.
He’ll then mix the meat and spices, letting them sit overnight in a cold porch to more fully absorb the flavor.
There’s no such thing as overmixing the ingredients, Laumb said.
“When you think you have it mixed good enough, mix about another five minutes and you should be good,” he said. “Nobody wants chunks of spices, nobody wants meat without spice on it, and it is even more important to get that cure mixed all the way through.
“When you see the streaks of pork go away, and it looks like one continuous blob of meat, you should be pretty good to go.”
Laumb this year made Cajun sausage and another recipe called “King of Venison Sausage” that both required smoking, and an Italian sausage that wasn’t smoked. He uses a cast-iron stuffer that’s been in the family for years, turning a crank to force the sausage through a chute and into the casings. Errors, such as sausage that breaks through the casing wall, end up in the frying pan for sampling; that also is part of the fun.
“When I stop enjoying doing this, I’m going to stop hunting,” Laumb said. “And I don’t see that happening.”