Procedure for Preparing Natural Casings

1. Carefully remove the casings, one at a time, from the salt pack and unravel them. Because a single casing may be 12 feet (4 meters) long, it is easiest to do this on a large workbench. Separate the individual lengths and keep them separate in their own little stacks on the bench. When unraveling them, do not pull hard, because this may cause knotting.

Unravel slightly more casing than you think you will need. It is easier to return unused casings to the salt pack than it is to separate and flush additional casings when you run out before you have stuffed your whole batch of meat.

2. Partially fill a large bowl with clean water and set it in a sink under the faucet. Take hold of the end of one casing and drop the rest of it into the bowl of water. Open the end of the casing and run cold water into it, enough to fill about 12 inches (30 cm) of it. Holding the casing at both ends of this "water sausage," allow the water to flush through the casing from one end to the other.

This accomplishes two purposes. It rinses out the inside of the casing, and it identifies any holes that might be present. Pinpoint-size holes are no problem, but if a large hole is found, simply cut the casing in two at that point. Short pieces may be discarded for the sake of efficiency.

3. If you are making a small quantity of sausages and stuffing them immediately, each casing can be put on the stuffing horn as it is rinsed. If this is not the case, the casing must be stored for later use. Select a container with a cover and fill it about three-fourths full of cold water. Drop in the casing and let one end hang over the edge.

Repeat with remaining casings. Fill the container to the top with cold water, cover, and refrigerate until needed. By letting the ends of the casings hang over the edge, you can remove one at a time from the container without tangling them. If the end of the casing dries out, simply cut it off.

Because the supply of natural casings is not nearly large enough to accommodate all the sausages produced, other types of casings have come into wide use. Collagen casings are molded from animal materials and are completely edible, like natural casings. Unlike natural casings,they are uniform in size,making portion control easier.Var-ious types are manufactured for different uses. Some are used only for fresh sausages, as they are not strong enough to hold the weight of the sausages if they are hung for smoking. Other types are stronger and intended to be used for smoked sausages. Most collagen casings must be refrigerated to keep them from becoming dry and brittle.To use, dip them in water for a few seconds to soften them if they are dry, then put them on the sausage stuffing nozzle.

Synthetic fibrous casings are made from a plastic material and are not edible.They are widely used for salamis and luncheon meats, and the casing is peeled off before or after slicing.These casings are nonperishable and need no refrigeration.They must be soaked in water before using to make them flexible. Soaking time varies, and the manufacturer should specify the recommended time.

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