Blind Butcher chef and meat mastermind Oliver Sitrin knows a thing or two about sausage. On any given day, the meat case at the Lower Greenville bar/restaurant is stocked with at least half-a-dozen different kinds of sausage, from duck-foie gras and jalapeno-cheddar brisket to curry chicken with golden raisins. The chef utilizes a classic hand-cranked sausage stuffer, firmly believing that old-school methods are an important part of the craft. "People have been making sausage for a very long time, and you lose some of the love when you use an industrial machine to do it," he says. "That's part of the artisanal process — actually making it by hand. I wouldn't personally do it any other way."
Prep chef Phillip Halff II (front) and sous chef Brendan "Canada" McCaughey grinding beef.
Grinding eye of round.
Coming up with new sausage varieties is a collaborative process between Sitrin and his kitchen staff. When devising a new sausage, they'll cook up a small patty of the stuffing mixture and let everyone taste it before proceeding through the laborious process of stuffing it into the casings. Sitrin explains, "We have a master ratio of meat to fat that we generally fall back on to make a good sausage. It's different for poultry and beef, of course. If I'm using brisket, I just cut the whole brisket up because it's already a great proportion of fat to meat. Same with pork butt."
The Blind Butcher of course utilizes natural pork casings, and as with any natural product there can be inconsistencies; they're sometimes so delicate that the membrane busts during the stuffing process. "We're pretty excited if we can get a good 15 feet or so of continuous sausage," he says. Another important thing to take into consideration: "Cold, cold, cold," says Sitrin. He and his crew work over a plastic-wrapped sheet pan of ice to keep the product chilled. What happens if it gets too warm? "I wouldn't know because I always keep my stuff cold," he grins. (Common sausage-making wisdom says if it gets too warm, the fat will begin to melt out.)
Once the sausage is stuffed, it's twisted into individual links, reversing directions every other link so they don't come apart. After that it's off to the walk-in for a few hours of drying time, which will help the casing to form around the outside of the sausages.
Sitrin is firmly committed to the nose-to-tail mantra of utilizing the whole animal, and sausage plays an important role in that. When making chicken sausage, for example, Sitrin starts with whole chickens, deboning the birds and using every bit of it to make sausage, even using the fat from the bird rather than adding in pork fat as many sausage-makers would do. "We grind the whole frickin' bird minus the bones," he says. "That honestly makes an awesome sausage, and nothing goes to waste." (The leftover carcasses are then used for stock.)
The chef offers a few tips on cooking sausages at home: Sear and then roast. Brown them in a cast iron pan on the stove before popping them in the oven to finish cooking, and use a thermometer to determine doneness without overcooking. "It's fail-safe," he says. Alternatively, if you're grilling outside, you can grill sausages for a few minutes before transferring them to a simmering pot of beer, then return to the grill for the last few minutes.
Blind Butcher caters to sausage-lovers seven days a week starting at 4 p.m.; besides the permanent fixtures on the menu, they're also currently featuring the curry chicken with golden raisins variety shown above and lamb merguez.
The fully stocked meat case is a thing of beauty.