Tuesday, May 08, 2007

How To Make Boerewors

Boerewors... Yes, boerewors is definitely one of the South African foods that South African expats miss the most.

In many ways, there's nothing special about boerewors. It's basically spiced, ground meat stuffed into casings. In other ways, there is a lot that is special about it, especially if you can't simply go buy it at the local grocery store!

It becomes part of an age-old South African ritual... the opening of the first beer... the lighting of the fire... the drinking of the second beer while staring nostalgically into the flames... placing the braai (barbeque) grid over the coals, and putting the "boerie" where it was born to be... opening the fourth beer... braai-ing the boerewors to perfection (at least in your mind)... and then that magic flavor... you can taste the coriander and nutmeg in the juices... you wonder, "why has it been so long?"

Some South African expats learn very quickly how to make their own boerewors. Others yearn for it, or try to buy it online. For those who haven't learnt how to do it yet, here's how to make your own boerewors...

You're going to need a meat grinder with a sausage-stuffing attachment. We bought ours at Linens & Things for around $100. It has a metal casing (better quality) and comes with 3 grinding plates. We use the grinding plate with the biggest holes (quarter inch or 6 mm) because you don't want to grind the meat too finely. It also came with two sausage-stuffing attachments. We usually use the bigger one of the two to prevent the meat from becoming too compacted.

Next you're going to need a boerewors recipe. Here is a good boerewors recipe to get you going... Our recipe differs slightly from that one because we used it as a starting point and then modified it each time we made another batch until we got the taste that we love. (We don't add the bacon, and we've increased the amount of coriander by about 20%.)

The recipe calls for beef and pork. We found that trimmed brisket works best for the beef. It's cheap and already contains a lot of fat, so you don't have to add extra fat. Get the trimmed brisket because the untrimmed brisket simply contains too much fat that you end up throwing away anyway. We buy any lean-ish pork we can find.

You're also going to need sausage casings to stuff the meat into. Living in Texas, we buy hog casings at HEB, our local grocery store. That works fine. There are also several places where you can buy casings online.

The spices in the boerewors recipe that I mentioned above, are all available at our local grocery store, so I would imagine yours will have it too. The recipe calls for vinegar. We use a 50/50 mix of malt vinegar and regular white vinegar, but I believe white vinegar alone works fine if you can't find malt vinegar. Mix all your dry spices beforehand and set it aside until later.

At this point you should have everything you're going to need, including a sharp knife. Put all the meat in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Cold meat is much easier to cut than room-temperature meat.

Prepare the casings. Casings packed in salt need to be thoroughly soaked and rinsed. We let ours soak in lukewarm water for about 30 minutes, and then rinse with cold water. We also run water through the casings to rinse the inside.

Now you're ready to go...
  1. Cut all your meat into cubes of about 1 inch by 1 inch.
  2. Mix the beef and pork cubes thoroughly.
  3. Let the meat cubes stand for a while, preferably in a container with holes in the bottom. This allows excess blood to drain away. I sometimes run cold water through the meat to help drain away the last bit.
  4. Mix all the dry spices and vinegar into the meat. We find that it helps to spread the meat out in a large, flat container and then adding the spices and vinegar little by little while mixing it.
  5. Grind all the meat using a large grinding plate to get a coarse grind. We use our quarter inch plate. Cold meat also grinds easier than room-temperature meat, so you may want to put the meat cubes in the refrigerator for a while before grinding. This is not critical though.
  6. Grind all the meat.
  7. Remove the cutting blade and grinding plate from the grinder and fit the sausage-stuffing attachment. Pull one length of casing over the attachment. If it's difficult to slide the casing over the attachment, wet the attachment with a little water. We also sometimes blow in the casing to fill it with air. This removes any kinks in the casing and makes it slide over easier.
  8. Stuff the ground meat into the casing. Be careful not to over-stuff the casing. This will cause the casing to burst while braai-ing, and with that, a lot of flavor is lost. This is a two-person job. One feeds the ground meat into the stuffer, and the other controls the speed with which the casing comes off the attachment.
The next part is critical...

Go light a fire, open a beer, and reward yourself with a freshly-braaied piece of boerewors...