Some sausage is made with –as Sir Terry Pratchett put it ‘named meat’. Um. I’d take that with a pinch of salt. And ketchup or the sauce-of-disguise of your choice. Like meat pies (especially the infamous floater (as in surrounded by pea-gravy) either eaten with gusto (another kind of sauce) at 2 AM… or approached with some caution, because even the names of the named bits can be… dodgy. The effects of the dodgier ones — as I can testify — can be catastrophic.

Which is why the fact that I always think of writing a novel and making sausage as remarkably alike should alarm you. I make sausages (mostly with ‘named meat’, I promise. Mostly.) The whole process is pretty gross – but at least mine are good eating. And here is the important part – they’re better eating than the various raw ingredients cooked separately. And they’re different (to the barely recognizable extent in some cases) from the original materials.

Almost sausage requires a casing. These days that’s quite likely to be an artificial product, but originally that was a piece of cleaned out intestine. (I’ve done this. Trust me on this one – the process is definitely TMI). Like most things it depends on what you do with it, and how well you clean it and salt it. The casing of a novel too.

Now when preparing to fill sausages… the whole process requires lot of prep. It’s no use sitting down with a piece of pork shoulder and a casing. The pork needs to minced (to the right consistency) and then mixed with the flavorings. And then chilled. Making sausages well equals cold hands. At its most basic sausage is meat… and salt, and approximately 20% fat, and iced water. You can add ‘rusk’ (basically dry bread crumbs) or substitute the water with wine, or stout, or port or sherry (or even stock, if you cut the salt), and add anything from garlic to pineapple, and herbs and spices from chili to sage.

But the sausage is always meat-salt-fat-liquid. And the proportions are just about always the same – at least if the sausage is nice to eat. Which translates well into writing. The meat is the action and plot, the salt the characters, and the fat… well fat, just as water is the stuff that makes it flow into that casing, and affects the cooking making what happens inside the casing actually steaming rather than frying or roasting (if you’ve used wine or port or brandy it may flavor the sausage as well, but that is not its primary purpose.) It’s the prose, grammar, sentence structure, Flesch index (the author’s stylistic voice is wine or port instead of water – it’s still mostly really water.)

Meat is meat – chicken to bear-meat – it all makes good sausage if the salt, fat and water are right. Likewise the meat of your story might be a romance plot or a fast-moving action thriller. That’s not what makes it a good book. It’s the figurative salt, fat, and water. You can add finest ‘spices’ and ‘herbs’ and unless you have the salt, fat and water right – it won’t work.

Fat is odd stuff. Without it sausages are dry and horrible (as the water steams out), and because fats take up flavors more effectively than most other things, it’s where much of the taste comes from. Too much, on the other hand, is just vile, to greasily inedible, if you go too far. To me ‘fat’ in a novel is ‘the stuff you think you could leave out that no-one would notice’ It’s the dialogue, the scenes in show small interactions, the introspection and the setting. I naturally tend to make my ‘sausage’ a bit too lean. Misty Lackey I always thought added too much. Working together was ‘fun’. But seriously, it is a balancing act, and unlike sausage (where if you go under 20% or over 30% you’re not doing it right) different readers tolerate or like quite a range of amounts. I still think lean is better…

Salt: the characters. And once again too much –or too little and the sausage is ruined.

Now whenever I mix up a batch of sausage, while the casings are soaking off their salt, and I’ve weighed and measured in my essentials, added the herbs and spices, mixed and frozen my hands… I always fry up a bit and taste it, and get other to taste. Sometimes I end up hastily adding a bit more salt – or on one occasion more meat and fat and water to dilute the chili. I ended up selling those to a Nuclear plant… seriously, it’s something I’d recommend any writer try with a new story.

And then after the interesting inverse of putting on a condom, putting the casing onto the nozzle, comes making sausage – putting all that mixture into the casing – and keeping the casing moving off the nozzle at just the right speed so it doesn’t burst or end so tight you can’t make links. And keeping the air out. Just like writing. Especially the part about the air.

Then the sausage needs to hang and cure…

And then grill or fry.

At which point you finally find out if it’s good sausage, or the wurst.


    1. Isaac Asimov, who regularly inserted puns in his stories, always maintained that the pun is “the noblest form of humor.”

  1. And here I’d always assumed that “bloater” was named as a warning and description of effects, not for other reasons…

    I’d argue that the sausage formula also works for narrative non-fiction. Too much meat and too little fat and salt, and you have one of those “oh Clio save me” dull monographs that grad students get awards for actually reading (instead of skimming, or fleeing grad school entirely). Too much fat and water and you get the pop-histories that leave you wondering where that two hours went and how could you read 200+ pages and not learn anything.

  2. If you make Dayton or Cincinnati-style bratwurst, it does not need to cure, because it is fully cooked at the time of making. (Thus the distinctive gray appearance of such all-pork bratwurst.) But there is still salt and some curing ingredients. The downside is that they have to be eaten quickly or refrigerated\frozen.

    Aldi’s has some very nice bratwurst from Germany right now, that is of this style. You can get Oktoberfest brats with herbs (very much the East Dayton Sausage Company style, if they were just longer and wider! Marjoram is apparently the secret ingredient that Kahn’s does not use.), Oktoberfest brats with cheese, regular Bavarian brats, and some kind of bratwurst I don’t remember. Nuremberg, maybe?

    Anyway, it is not Wisconsin-style, so you don’t have to boil it in weird potions. (Unless you want to. But the flavor is more subtle, so don’t go overboard.)

    Yes, I just had bratwurst for breakfast. I feel so decadent. Thank you, Dave Freer. 😉

    1. Actually, the Aldi US website has a nice recipe for roast potatoes served with brats simmered in a nice creamy mustard/broth sauce. I think I am going to try it. (Mustard and/or horseradish both work great with our local style of brats, so it seems like a good plan.)

    2. Bratwurst is hard to make. Each recipe is completely different and they all have lots and lots of ingredients. I have yet to find one that’s enough better than Johnsonville to make it worth doing. Breakfast sausage, on the other hand, is really easy.

        1. I give you Granzins in New Braunfels, Texas. I don’t even bother trying to make my own,after sampling theirs.

          I say no more, other than they are the main provider for the community Wurst-fest bash. Out of towners go to the New Braunfest Smokehouse. Locals and those in the know go to Granzins. We load up once a month on what we need from them, and keep it vacuum-sealed in the deep freezer.

      1. Didn’t really seem too difficult when we had the sausage-making class here in January. I made about six pounds of bratwurst. Of course, I did have a family member of a local company, who was giving the class helping. Plus, he had a sausage press that, if I looked up the right one, costs in the mid four figures to do the pressing with.

        What I was impressed with was the information he gave about how salt is used to draw out the proteins to make the sausage bind together – he would use approximately 1/10th of the meat mixed with ALL of the salt that the recipe called for, plus water, to create the bind, then mix it back in after all the water had been thickened by the collagen. That was the first I had known about creating the bind in the sausage.

    3. …I miss bratwurst. The ones I had in East Berlin. Boiled in salty water, I felt it never needed anything but that dark rye bun that would soften from the juices, and butter. Biting into the things, and juices dripped down your chin.

      …Goddamnit I want some now. *stomach grumble*

    1. Oddly (to me anyway) there are ‘caseless’ sausages. I think they should be called sausage meat burger patties myself. But there are always exceptions, even if not ‘real’

        1. but sausage needs biscuits…

          ehh, i’ve tried explaining American biscuits to Aussies before, not trying again.

            1. lol thanks, i was trying to explain ham biscuits to an Aussie friend a few years ago…

          1. Mmm. Biscuits. One of the reasons why I was very sad to see Popeye’s Chicken fail in the Philippines (the production of the chicken got worse, it stopped being awesomely delicious, because the company doing the franchise got cheap.)

            1. Biscuits are VERY easy to make. A couple cups of flour, 2-4 ounces of butter (depending on how you like them – I use a lot of butter), 1-2 tsp baking powder, and enough water to make a soft dough, but not sticky. You can roll it out and cut it into rounds or squares, or scoop it with a spoon onto a greased pan, then bake. Once you’re used to the process, takes about 30 minutes altogether.

                  1. That looks like a good recipe. I would substitute butter for shortening, for the flavor.

                    If you use very cold butter or shortening, and cut it into small cubes, then mix it into the flour mixture so that it doesn’t completely distribute into the flour, the biscuits will turn out softer overall.

                1. Popeyes does something extra with their biscuits. I suspect it’s something with the amount of butter they use. Cut them round and brush with butter might get you close.

            1. Other people involved in the discussion were like “no, they aren’t like scones” sooo…..

      1. Watching a Townsend and Son video a few weeks back, they had one where they made “sausage” by dicing up meat very fine and just pressing it into links with their hands.

    2. What they haven’t said outright is that you make little sandwiches, with the sausage patties between the split halves of the biscuit. Thus the breakfast sausage and biscuit sandwich.

      You don’t have to mold the patties by hand. You can buy it in a plastic roll, like JC Potters, and cut off slices to fry.

      There’s another common breakfast sausage that isn’t that far off from your skinless longganisa. Those are often a side dish, like bacon. Back when I could eat at Denny’s, I’d have their french toast. French toast made with thick bread, fluffy butter, powdered sugar, maple syrup, and two pieces of bacon and two of sausage. IIRC.

      When you buy frozen bulk raw sausage material, instead of patties, you can chop it up in bits as you fry it. Then you can mix it with grits (aka polenta), rice, noodles, etc.

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