by Jennifer Sartell
Photos by author
Making your own chicken sausage can be an interesting project, and a healthy alternative to store-bought meat. Especially when the process starts in your own backyard!
I made this recipe a few years ago after we processed chickens for the first time. That year we owned 15 roosters and it was getting difficult to keep them all. (For more about this, read my post Keeping Roosters Together.)
It was getting late in the year (for some of them, their second year), and the roosters had long since matured. They started crowing and had developed into the big, boxy fellas they were meant to be. At this point the roosters were still bordering on “pet” status. I say bordering because since we made the decision to start hatching our own breeds, rather than buying sexed chickens from a hatchery, I knew that too many roosters might lead to a processing day. I tried to find homes, and succeeded with a couple, but you can only re-home so many roosters. After some long talks and a teary-eyed commitment, we decided to have our roosters processed.
By this time, however, we faced a few obstacles. The first being the fact that we had waited too long hemming and hawing, and all of the local processing companies had stopped butchering for the season. We also had breeds that weren’t necessarily bred for meat, we hadn’t been feeding them grower, and the roosters were a bit old and probably pretty tough.
The processors wouldn’t be opening again until spring, and I didn’t want to keep the roosters over another winter, beating up our hens, and getting tougher by the day. So we talked to several people who had processed chickens, we read articles (like this one from Mother Earth News, Processing Your Backyard Chickens by Mary Lou Shaw), watched many … uh … interesting “how-to” videos, and gave it our all.
We set up a table on our deck, and covered it with sheets of clean plastic. We cut the top off of a large vinegar bottle, and nailed it to a nearby tree, inverted. This would hold the chicken’s head in place while the “deed” was done. We had a 5-gallon bucket to collect the blood, and we boiled a gigantic pot of water for dipping the chickens (to loosen the feather pores). Zach did the killing and dipping, and I did the plucking, rinsing and butchering. I learned a lot about chicken anatomy that day and about the life that is connected to the food we eat. I also learned a lot about myself.
After it was all done and over with, I felt different than I thought I would. I thought I would feel guilty or sad, or swear off meat for good and become a vegetarian … but it was different. I felt content. Our roos had lived a great life … much longer than most meat chickens. We had researched the most humane way to kill a chicken, and they had died peacefully. I felt great respect for these animals that gave us food. And I felt proud that we had carried through with a difficult decision, and now had a freezer full of meat that I could be at peace with.
The sausage making part came several days later …
The first meal we ate from our newly processed chickens was a simple dish. I roasted it in the oven with some mild seasoning to let the meat flavor really shine through. And flavorful it was! The meat tasted rich and delicious, it was almost caramelized with chicken flavor. But tough … Oh MAN was it tough, and rather lacking in breast meat … (Roosters are not abundant in this area.)
Disappointed and desperate to find a delicious way to eat our chickens, I started thinking of recipes that kept as much moisture in the meat as possible. After boiling, frying and even a rotisserie, we decided that the issue wasn’t necessarily a lack of “juiciness,” but more of a texture problem.
One night we were making pork sausage. Zach was working the hand crank meat grinder and I was slicing a bit of silver skin off of the pork, and it dawned on me. If we ground the chicken up, texture would no longer be an issue.
So we thawed out the remaining chickens, de-boned them, and made Sweet Italian Chicken Sausage. It was wonderful! I’d like to share our sausage making experience with you starting with the de-boning process, then to sausage making, and eventually smoking the links. Even if you don’t raise your own meat chickens, organic, store-bought or farmers market chickens would work just fine! You can tailor the recipe to your specific tastes, leaving out unnecessary additives like nitrates and preservatives that are commonly found in commercially made sausages. So follow along with me over the next couple posts. Even if you don’t have sausage-making equipment, you can still participate in homemade sausage making. I hope you give it a try!
For more fun with sausage making, read my other posts:
DIY Chicken Sausage, Part 1: De-boning the Chicken
DIY Chicken Sausage, Part 2: Making the Links
DIY Chicken Sausage, Part 3: Smoked to Deliciousness!