Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sausage Casings 101: Collagen Casings

Hi there sausage makers, and welcome to the first installment in our series on sausage casings!

Casings, as you well know, are pretty important. They're what keep all those carefully chosen, delicious ingredients in the shape you want and they lend vital texture to the experience of eating the sausage. You've heard sausage bigwigs and connoisseurs talk about the ideal sausage having just the right "snap" when you bite into it—that's due to the casing. Think of the casing as the vessel that delivers the meaty fruits of your labor directly to your stomach.

Choosing your casing is a matter of practicality and personal preference. Tradition dictates that certain types of sausages should be stuffed into certain types of casings. We encourage you to break the rules and experiment as you see fit, but keep in mind that traditions often exist for a reason.

In this first foray into the world of casings, we'll introduce you to the versatile collagen casing. Should you decide this is the casing for your next batch, we've got plenty to choose from at the Sausage Maker.

What are collagen casings made of?

Collagen casings are made from the underside of cattle hide which is high in collagen content.

Are collagen casings edible?

Yes and no. Strand collagen casings are edible. Strand collagen are the type that look like "accordioned" tubes that usually need to be loosened before applying to a stuffing tube. These casings do not need to be soaked in water to soften for use and ARE EDIBLE. Flat collagen casings should be peeled and discarded after cooking. They are NOT EDIBLE because they are a thicker collagen material than strand casings and can cause upset stomach. They also need to be soaked in water for a few minutes prior to use to help meat adhering when stuffed and help elasticity.

Can I smoke with collagen casings?

All flat collagen casings can be smoked. They are permeable and allow smoke to penetrate to give your sausage a great smoky flavor. There are two different kinds of strand collagen casings. One is called fresh collagenthis refers to the optimal usage recipes for this casing, which are fresh sausages. Fresh sausages are those that are typically stuffed and remain raw, so need to be either cooked then eaten, or frozen in short order. Fresh collagen are thinner material and therefore cannot withstand the hanging pressure in a smokehouse. These casings will split and break easier under pressure, but are tender when eating. Then there are smoked collagen casings, which are thicker, dyed casings made for the smoking process. These casings are also edible, but some people prefer to peel them after heavy smoking if they dry.

How do I prepare and store a collagen casing?

There is no preparation for strand collagen casings. Simply take them out of the packing and put them right onto the stuffing horn/tube. There is no rinsing or soaking. Flat collagen casings should be soaked in water for no more than 3 minutes or simply wetted prior to applying to stuffing tube. It is recommended to keep any collagen casings in the refrigerator when not in use. If casings are stored in the refrigerator at 33-41°F in plastic wrap or zipper-top bags, they can last up to two years.

My collagen casings became dry. Is there anything I can do?

Dip the casing in tap water for a few seconds. This should bring them around. DO NOT SOAK! If they are still dry and brittle, then, unfortunately, they cannot be used.

Can I link sausage made with collagen casings?

Not well. Collagen casings are usually tied off as they may break or tear if linked. To link sausages made with fresh or smoked strand collagen casings, it is recommended to stuff casings to about 3/4 full and use cotton twine to tie into segmented links. Natural casings are better for making twist-linked sausage, and we'll cover those next time! Stay tuned!