If you make – or want to make - sausages at home, it is best to know about casings and their different varieties, characteristics and uses. While your favorite butcher may be friendly and truthful to you about casings, he may not know more than what he traditionally uses, or overlook some facts about them. At any rate, the better informed you are, the more appropriate casing you use to fit your sausage filler, so the tastier your sausage would be (knock on wood is required).
Casings are categorized into two general divisions: natural and artificial. Natural casings are also divided into two: those from the intestines, and the collagen casings. More details on them later. The artificial casings are made of plastic or cellulose, and are usually removed from the product prior to cooking or eating.
Casings from intestines are from pigs, cows or sheep, (also termed porcine, bovine and ovine). To make it, the inside of the intestine – the mucosa lining - is scraped off as well as the fat. What remains is the sub mucosa central membrane consisting mostly of collagen. Natural casings may be toughened and made less penetrable by drying and smoking, which may give them the appropriate color as well.
Collagen casings are made from the protein in pigs or cattle hide by processing it into a dough-like mass. This mass is then extruded to the desired thickness and diameter, then dried and shirred as needed. This type of casing is gaining greater popularity because of its tenderness, less cost, better control in terms of size and weight, and convenience in use compared to natural casings. Collagen casings are penetrable by smoke and moisture and generally edible, although a type used for salami and large sausages is removed from the sausage prior to consumption.
|On the other hand, cellulose casings are made the same general way: made into doughy mass and extruded. They come usually from cotton linters, but may also be mixed with wood pulp for larger casing needs such as those for bologna, smoked ham or salami. Most cellulose casings are permeable, flat or shirred, pre-treated with flavors, or may also be clear in color when used for making franks and wieners. In this last case, the casing is normally removed after cooking, so the franks or wieners are skinless.|
The truly artificial plastic casing is made just like any other kind of plastic, first formed into a solution then extruded flat or shirred. Because plastic is not permeable, it retains more moisture and is used mostly as mold for making skinless sausages or those that need not be smoked. Its advantage is mainly being less expensive and gives better yield in terms of volume because of its capability to retain moisture.
All in all, pork casings are the best for making home sausages as they are more forgiving of mistakes in production. Lamb casings are usually thinner and prone to breaking than those from pork. Pork casings are also more appropriate for Polish-style sausages and those for breakfast, being digestible. But remember to soak all salted casings in water for about 30 minutes though no longer than four hours to dissolve the encrusted salt and reduce the salty taste. Flush out the insides as well in running water for the same purpose. Any left-over natural casing may be salted heavily and frozen for future use.
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