Published in The Vancouver Observer.
If I had a dollar for every sausage that I ate, I would have a lot of coin. Sadly the amount of low quality “tubes of meat” I’ve had in my life is nothing to be proud of. As a child I ate Johnsonville breakfast sausages almost weekly for Sunday breakfasts. At that point I was less concerned about what as I was eating as I was about how deliciously salty and sweet they were (my dad liked the maple kind). As I grew up and went through my teenage years I decided that sausages were disgusting and consisted nothing of a bunch of miscellaneous meat ends shoved in a casing of fatty skin. I avoided them like the plague, opting for butcher cuts of bacon or ham to accompany my French toast or eggs.
At one point I decided that I would give the notoriously unhealthy sausages a second chance. Finding that Olympic makes good yogurt, I assumed that the Olympic pork sausages would be good as well; I looked at them, and quickly changed my mind. I then decided to try Lilydale daystarters, which are nitrate and MSG free. Although better than others I had tried, I was still unsure as to the source of the meat and what was actually in them. Thinking that I was making a healthier choice I dropped breakfast sausages all together and switched to Freybe turkey and chicken dinner sausages. I felt I was on the right track as they tasted much better and were turkey and chicken rather than pork, but then I read the ingredients. I was okay with the water, salt, tequila, cilantro and potassium phosphate, but when the list continued to sodium nitrate, and sodium erythorbate I was a little concerned. First of all, I didn’t know what either of these were, and second of all, I wondered if they were really necessary and what harm they could be doing my body.
Go to many countries in Europe, or to Montreal, and you will find specialty stores from butchers and charcuteries, to boulangeries and fromageries. There you can find reliably sourced products with no hidden surprises in ingredients. Many shops actually showcase the slabs of meat in the counter case prior to giving you your desired cut. We seem to have the desire in Vancouver, so why aren’t there more of these specialty stores scattered throughout town?
After a bit of sleuthing I found a shop in North Vancouver, called 3P Natural and Exotic Meats. The name itself drew me in and when I found out they were offering an Ethical Deal for a sausage making class I was fully entrenched in the idea that I could prove my self-sufficiency in the form of making a sausage. Maybe those little tubes of meat could in fact be tasty and healthy.
At the time of my visit there were four employees, Paul, the owner, Wendy, who was helping to teach the class that day, a guy named Dennis and another part-time girl. At that point, they were firing out four sausage-making classes a day to accommodate the 200 plus people that bought the Ethical Deal. Classes were allotted 2-2.5 hours but our class ended slightly early. Paul suggested it was because we were “super-stars”, claiming that we “made it look so easy.”
Although I thought men would be grabbing at the opportunity to get their hands wrist-deep in meat, and enjoy the take home of 2.5lbs of sausages, the majority (75%) of participants were female. My class was a great example as you saw from the photo there were five women, including myself, and one man. The reason? “Young woman, in particular, seem to be quite concerned with the source of the meat they are eating, which is why I think they showed so much interest in making their own. Many women also bought the deal for the men in their lives; we’ve had a few show up totally oblivious to what they were there to do. They end up enjoying it but are somewhat shocked at the fact that they’re there to make their own sausages.”
Paul enjoys the fact that there has been so much interest in self-sufficiency from those that attended the classes, and he has fun aiding people in the progress towards that lifestyle. The sausage-making class was originally started specifically for the Ethical Deal but now Paul is considering incorporating monthly classes in to their service. This goes hand in hand with how they’ve developed their business; they continuously expand their products based on customer demand. Some examples of more exotic meat they sell are: buffalo, ostrich, elk, venison, rabbit, musk ox, guinea fowl, duck, goose, pheasant, quail, alligator and kangaroo. They vary in cuts from meatballs, steaks, and kebobs to hearts and livers, and even deli meats, terrine (seasonal), bacon and jerky. They even have a sister store that sells natural pet food.
But we were there that day to make sausages. After a brief introduction of the store, their products and the basics of sausage making it was time to get down to business. Paul joked that we would “grow some forearms that day” from the mixing of the meat and from turning the cog on the chamber when filling the casing. Before arriving everyone had e-mailed Paul their meat of choice, with the options being lamb, chicken, pork or beef. He had them portioned out in bins for us, ready to be seasoned, mixed and cased. We were given a tutorial of the steps required in making sausages and then were pretty much left to do it ourselves with Paul and Wendy within voice range, had we needed any assistance.
To start we had to detangle the casing that was sitting salted in a bucket.
After doing that we were told to let it soak in a bucket of water and flush it clean of all the salt. The salt is used for natural casings to help preserve them, usually prolonging their shelf life for up to one year. Since the casings should soak for a minimum one-hour (but ideally overnight) he had some pre-soaked for us to separate and detangle. We were then told to find the opening of the casing and put it on the chamber’s nozzle or tube that had been watered to prevent sticking. A similar technique you would use if putting a water balloon on a hose, sliding the casing along until you’ve reached the end.
Once the casing was ready to go it was time to spice the meat. Looking at the list of recommended spice combinations I was overwhelmed by choices and caught between mint or garlic herb for my lamb sausage. That was until Paul mentioned another option…Guinness and Onion. A no brainer for me I decided to make my papa proud and opted for a little beer in my sausage. I used lots of garlic and onion to complement the thick stout, as he said there was no rule for how much of those ingredients we could or should use. But really the extra onion was just to soak up the heavy amount of Guinness that my generous hand poured.
After the dried onion soaked up the liquid – water in most, Guinness in mine – it was time to add it to the meat. We put on some latex gloves and like kneading dough we really worked the spices in to the meat. Although hand mixing is known to be harder it produces a different texture of the end product so is the ideal way to make sausages when making them in small batches. We did this for about five minutes until the consistency was just right and the seasoning dispersed throughout the bucket of meat.
Then it was time to load the meat in to the chamber. Before packing the meat in, it was important to water the inside of the stuffing chamber, as well as the plunger. Paul also stressed the importance of packing the meat in tight so as to ensure that there would be no air pockets in our sausages once we started filling the casing. I chucked the meat in and used my fist to pack it as tight as I could, to no avail as I found later I failed to remove all the air. Luckily it wasn’t an issue and a simple puncture in the casing resolved the problem. As we wound the plunger we stopped once it touched the meat. Since the casing is open on both ends we then tied a knot in it to form the end of the final link and pulled it snug against the end of the tube. It was then a chance to challenge our rhythmic skills and attempt to create a consistent width as we wound the plunger and filled the casing with sausage. With one hand on the machine and the other supporting the sausage the class successfully filled their sausages and were ready to create the links.
We were given two options for link styles, the simple single link or the English triple link. After a demonstration of both options by Paul, I opted for the easier route and made single links. However, a couple people in the class did create English triple links to the surprise of both the others in the class and myself. I think Paul was even a little surprised at their perseverance and intrepid nature.
But the end result was less about the link type as it was about the meat inside and I was dying to have a taste. Just in time for lunch, the bits that didn’t make it in to the sausages I flattened like a burger patty and nuked it in the microwave until cooked leaving it medium rare, just the way I like it. Although it would ideally be grilled on the BBQ, the meat was delicious, especially knowing that I made it myself.
During the class we learned a lot about sausages and how they are made both at 3P and similar “butcher boutiques” compared to those that are mass-produced for supermarkets. Commonly put in sausages are certain “fillers” and “binders” such as breadcrumbs, dry milk powder, whey protein isolate, potato starch, dextrose (sugar), and corn syrup. The reason companies do this is partly for flavor and holding the meat together, but it seems less out of necessity as it is for profit. When using these fillers they can turn 20lbs of meat, in to 30lbs of sausage. What this does is make the sausages more fatty and unhealthier while contributing to the bad reputation they’ve gained. Even places like Whole Foods, who are known for their natural and organic products have been known to use them, as well as opting for dried garlic rather than fresh garlic. It seems like a minor difference but it’s like comparing fresh lime juice in your guacamole to bottled lime juice or fresh mint in your mojito to mint syrup; it’s a shortcut that inevitably changes the end result.
This is another factor that puts 3P in a more “elite” category. In their products they always use freshly minced garlic and they are proud to never add any chemical preservatives, like nitrates, to their meats. Their sausages are always wheat, binder and preservative free and are made using only natural casings which are derived from the intestinal tract of farmed animals versus collagen, or plastic casing.
Paul mentioned that a previous employee had worked as a chef in the past, and he liked to create unique concoctions like honey lavender. That combination is not something you’d expect to taste notes of in a sausage but it was a great way of catering to the more adventurous.
Some delicious combinations on their menu that stood out to me were:
- Beef Sage & Onion
- Buffalo Jalapeno
- Chicken Double Mushroom
- Chicken Honey & Garlic
- Chicken Pesto & Sundried Tomato
- Duck Apple Bratwurst
- Elk Cabernet & Plum
- Elk Sour Cherry & Sherry
- Game Meatballs
- Kangeroo Mango
- Lamb Guiness & Onion
- Pork Ale & Onion
- Turkey Apple & Sage
- Turkey Apricot
- Venison Apple & Cranberry
- Venison Blueberry
Random facts about sausages:
- 20% minimum fat needed for sausages, usually in the form of pork butt and pork fat or chuck beef.
- To reduce fat you can boil the sausages before cooking. You will notice the fat residue in the pot and in the water afterwards.
- If the sausage gets too sloppy when making it you can let it sit in the fridge for a while. i.e. if you put too much liquid in it.
- Recommended 1 tbsp of salt and pepper per 5lbs of sausage. You can put anything in it but ALWAYS add salt.
- Casing: 1) Artificial (collagen) – crispy texture when cooked i.e. olympic & breakfast sausages 2) Natural – less noticeable
- Not much markup on meat maybe 45% compared to other groceries we buy in Vancouver.
Random Facts about 3P Natural and Exotic Meats
- Used to buy local lamb but one place dropped their federal inspection policy and another got lazy in separating organic from non organic so now they import their lamb from Australia.
- Debbie and Paul Benson opened 3P Natural and Exotic Meats in 1996 to provide a full range of products gathered from the organic and non-medicated side of distribution.
- Paul worked at Safeway but after 26 years decided that he wasn’t happy with how it was ran and its lack of progression/moving with the times.
- They are proud to have a trained and certified meat cutter always on site available for questions or special requests.
- They have a pricing policy that is comparable to a chain store non-natural product.
For full photo set click here.
Find out more on their site: www.3pnaturalandexoticmeats.