Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ferment This! Northeastern Thai Sour Sausage

A few weeks ago I stumbled over a post about fermented pork ribs at the Thai Home Cooking blog SheSimmers. I was impressed enough by the quality of the writing and photography -to say nothing of my chargrin when I realized that I knew almost nothing about Thai cuisine-  to briefly post about the this example of Thai "charcuterie," here. Then in what feels like a few nanoseconds, I became a virtual collaborator in a couple of fermented food projects with Leela, the author of the blog. One of these is described in this neat article about another form on fermented Thai food, a sausage known as Sai Krok Isan. Please welcome Leela to A Hunger Artist and be sure to scoot over to her blog at for more of her carefully executed and informative posts about Thai cooking.  Bob dG

One of the many misconceptions foreign visitors often have about Thailand is that the best foods it has to offer are found primarily on the sidewalks, that the shoddier a food stall the more ‘authentic’ its food, and that anything that comes via street carts is always made in a more ‘artisanal’ manner than what one would find at a supermarket or a sit-down eatery. Exceptions exist, of course, but, in my opinion, such a notion is misguided. Take for example this Northeastern Thai sour sausage (Sai Krok Isan). It is a good example of food products that are often slaughtered by street vendors yet mastered by nationally-recognized manufacturers and restaurants whose expertise is in Northeastern cuisine.

Though not all sour sausages found on the streets are unacceptable, many make you heave a sigh of disappointment after a first bite. Inside the glistening, perfectly-charred casing is very little meat and lots of garlicky rice, still in whole kernels. Some rather disturbing versions contain abundant cooked rice that tastes strangely of artificial limeade – a telltale sign that the vendor has added citric acid, or something similar, to the paste to create instant sourness without having to ferment the sausage naturally. Getting this type of sausage when you expect a well-made one is akin to being handed a cup of milk which has been curdled with bottled lemon juice when you expect natural yogurt.

Great sour sausages as made by premium brand names and respectable vendors have one thing in common: the emphasis is on the meat as opposed to the rice. It makes a lot of sense as cooked rice – a basic household ingredient in Southeast Asia – is traditionally used to promote the growth of lactic bacteria; its primary function is to act as the catalyst for fermentation. In other words, we’re souring the meat with the rice in order to get the taste of soured meat; we’re not aiming for a rice-filled sausage that tastes of rice wine.

Most Sai Krok Isan recipes follow the traditional method, i.e. they don’t call for any additives. However, in consulting with Bob, I have learned that it is best to use a pure bacterial culture as the curing agent. ­­This method can get the pH of the paste to drop through fermentation to the generally-accepted ideal range of 4.5-5.0 in roughly 48 hours as opposed to 4-5 days in a warm climate as directed by the recipe.  The whole process would be just as natural. Tinted Curing Mixture #1 (Pink Salt / TCM #/DC#1) is also added for safety reasons.

For ease of sourcing and use, Bob has recommended Bactoferm LHP (Pediococcus acidilactici & Pediococcus pentosaceus) as the bacterial culture for this particular application.  This freeze-dried culture only needs to be diluted with water before being added to the paste and spurred into action by regular table sugar (in addition to the catabolism of carbohydrates via cooked rice in the recipe).
We then played around with different formulae until the Goldilocks of Sai Krok Isan was achieved.  After precisely 48 hours of fermentation at approximately 65°-70°F, we have a traditional Northeastern Thai sausage that is not too salty, perfectly soured; it has just the right texture and level of moisture retention.  In other words, it is perfect.

Northeastern Thai Sour Sausage (Sai Krok Isan)

3.5 pounds/1590 grams pork shoulder, ground
1 pound/460 grams skinless pork belly, ground
1 pound/460 grams cooked long grain rice, ground to a coarse paste
4 ounces/112 grams peeled garlic, puréed to a paste (Note: the original recipe calls for half the amount of garlic. This is because the garlic cultivar that is commonly used in Thailand is much stronger than that commonly used in the US.  If you use Thai garlic, reduce the amount by half.)
1 ounce/30 grams kosher salt
0.7 ounce/20 grams granulated sugar
0.7 ounce/20 grams Bactoferm LHP, dissolved in 4 ounces/112 grams water
0.17 ounce/5 grams ground white peppercorns
0.17 ounce/5 grams Curing Salt #1
 8 ounces/227 grams hog casings

1.      Mix all ground pork shoulder, ground pork belly, rice paste, and garlic paste together.
2.      Sprinkle the remaining ingredients all over the surface of the meat paste; mix very well.
3.      Fill the paste into the hog casings; follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your sausage stuffer.
4.      The filled sausage should be approximately 1.5 inches in diameter. Twist the filled sausage at 6-inch intervals or 2.5-inch intervals. 
5.      Hang the sausage links to dry and ferment in a well-ventilated area for 48 hours.  Alternatively, the sausage links can be arranged in a single layer on a cooling rack with a tight grid; make sure you allow at least 2 inches of space between the countertop and the bottom of the rack.
6.      The sausage is ready to be cooked after 48 hours of fermentation. The most ideal cooking method is to grill it over low coals.  The 6-inch links can be separated into individual pieces and grilled on a stick; the 2.5-inch links can be grilled in a large coil and cut into individual balls when served.

Yield: Approximately 5.5 pounds/2.5 kilograms of cooked sausage.


dp said...

Great post! These are my favorite sausages of all time. We used to get them from an auntie who owned a Thai-Lao restaurant.

I make a version of these sausages with lemongrass, and sometimes kaffir lime leaves and galangal, in addition to copious amounts of garlic. I've only recently begun experimenting with fermenting them though. I didn't use a starter culture but I did use pink salt, and found that 6 days at 60F produced a nice flavor, although, it could have been more sour.

Scotty said...

Starting tomorrow! I likey this. Good timing to - Thai tonight for dinner.

J.A. said...

Does this really need 20 g of Bactoferm LHP? That seems like a lot.

Bob del Grosso said...

JA No and yes. The manufacturer specifies a rate of 10g per batch if the weight of the meat is less than 100 pounds. I suppose this is to assure adequate dispersal but really I don't know. In any case, 20g is not a typo. I'm sure that if you are used to using the stuff you can reduce the amount by 3/4 and be ok.

John Snediker said...

Wow these sausages look amazing, this is something I have wanted to learn how to do this for a while. Thanks for the awesome post.

David said...

What is the TCM# and DC# in the curing salt #1

Bob del Grosso said...

David, Please restate the question, I'm not sure of your meaning.

Scotty said...

BDG, I think the poster may be confusing alternate names for Pink Salt #1 as ingredients in PS#1. Don't forget Instacure #1. I am a homer.

beast666 said...

I am surprised that this recipe (and several other I have found like it) has so little in it that we would consider "Thai" - other than the sticky rice (which is ground to pulp) its just a pork and garlic sausage. This leaves me longing to add the usual suspects - galangal, lemon grass and lime leaf. Any reason not to?

Oh, anyone know anything about the rumor that you can use cultured buttermilk as a started instead of the Bactotherm?

Bob delGrosso said...

I thought I responded to your questions already but done't see my comments. Sorry, I'm not sure what happened.

The bacteria in buttermilk are not the same as those that are used to ferment meat and won't grow with out adding milk or milk sugar to the recipe.
And I cannot think of a reason not to add lemon grass or any other traditionally Thai seasoning that you may think is complementary.

Admin said...

Beast666 - As Bob said, you can certainly add whatever herbs you like to the sausage. However, from my experience, I've never had a single one of the classic Sai Krok Isan that has such herbs in it. There are, on the other hand, the Northern sausage (sai ua) and some Lao sausages that contain them. These sausages are not cured. They're made fresh and cooked right away.

I'll let Bob verify this, but my thinking is that when you introduce fresh leafy herbs to the sausage meat, it increases the risk during fermentation, especially when the fermentation is done the traditional way, i.e. without nitrite.


Bob delGrosso said...

My initial response was similar to yours in that I could not imagine that adding seasonings found in other Thai dishes would make these more authentically Thai. It's like adding oregano to pasta dough to make spaghetti more Italian. However, I don't see any reason not to change the seasoning scheme.
You are correct that some herbs have antimicrobial properties and can interfere with fermentation. But I don't know if that is true of the types that Beast666 has proposed using.

beast666 said...

THe metric/ounce equivalents don't work out. 5 grams is .18 oz, not .12, and going the other way, .12 oz would be 3.4 gr not 5. That's a pretty significant descrepency, for something as critical as cure.

Using the old ROT of 1/4 tsp cure for each lb of meat, the recipe would require 1-1/8 tsp, or a tad under 7 gr.

Bob delGrosso said...

Duly noted, I will fix it.

Shantihhh said...

I have been making various Thai sausages since I first began learning in Thailand beginning in the mid to late 80's. I use coconut palm sugar in place of Whie granulated sugar in my Thai cooking.

The most interesting sausage I have learned is an amazing crab and pork filled into dried tofu casings.

I use Bai Magroot leaves slivered, lemongrass, galangal and Karachais with seafood sausages.

One of the most unique ingredients are the whole small smoked shrimp from the market in Phuket City. I have used ground in sausages. Might have to refresh my stock as my daughter tossed it from freezer :-( not knowing about this treasure.

DatASIA said...

Big thanks to you and Leela for sharing this delicious secret (and to you for refining her article into a detailed recipe). It makes my mouth water just thinking about grilling these babies up!

My wife from Kalasin of course laughs at me for wanting to include extras (pink salt and Bactoferm) for added convenience and safety, but I'm staying the course. In your recipe for a 6 lb. batch, you say

"20 grams Bactoferm LHP"

At they sell a 42 gr pack for $46(!!!). They say "Usage: 42g for 225kg(500 lbs)" At they sell the same pack for $23 (!!) citing the same yield. So the math says you need .084 grams per pound...a minuscule .5 gram for this 6 lb. batch. It doesn't help that your mix calls for $12-22 worth of this exotic stuff, i.e. as much as the pork, or more. (-:

For a 10 lb. batch, their PDF instructions call for "1/2 tsp" without explaining the weight or how many tsps. there are in a 42 gram bag.

I read your reply to J.A. above and infer that, yes, the amount you call for can ferment 3 lbs of meat...or 100 lbs of meat (actually 20 grams will do 238 lbs according to their formula).

You say "if you're used to using the stuff you can reduce the amount by 3/4"...but even 5 grams is still *10X* the amount using their calculations.

The culture has to disperse in distilled water to activate. So should we infer that is there some unmentioned factor requiring a certain minimum concentration of this stuff to have it wake up?

I hope you can go into more detail. It would also be good to hear from others who have done this with smaller amounts. Why double the cost of each batch of sausage to keep the bacteria growers in business? (-: Thanks again for a terrific article!

DatASIA said...

PS - Continuing my quest to become a certified Thai biochemist I found a detailed PDF Bactoferm Meat Starter Culture Table at The bottom line is they recommend at least 10 grams to fire this stuff up, regardless of batch size:

"LHP is a culture well suited for all fermented sausages where a extra fast acidification is desired. The culture is recommended for the production of fermented, dry sausages with a sourly flavor note, such as American Pepperoni and Summer Sausage."

"Bactoferm™ LHP - Fast: 5.0 pH drop in 2 days) LHP is a freeze-dried culture well suited for all fermented sausages where extra fast acidification is desired. This culture is recommended for the production of fermented, dry sausages with a pronounced sourly flavor note needing about 3 weeks or less to complete.. Each 42-gram packet of LHP will do 500 pounds (225 kilo) of meat. You can use half of the packet in 100 pounds of meat, and refreeze remaining culture. ***Use at least 1/4 of the packet in any production under 100 pounds of meat.***"

Well at least we've got the bacteria ranchers down to only a $5 profit per batch. Hey, if this turns out as good as I hope...there won't be any more small batches. (-: Thanks again.

Tim said...

I am looking for a Canadian supplier of bactoferm, none in my hometown of Winnipeg. What millimeter size of hog casing do you use?

Bob del Grosso said...

These were made with 32mm casings.

Tim said...

I have the hard to get ingredients now, just going to pick up some sausage casings,wonder if collagen casings would be fine.

Our weekend project. Best sour sausgage I had wasn't in the north, it was a small seller on Koh Tao.

Any idea approximately how many cups of thai long grain rice is needed to make a pound of cooked?

Love that you use weights instead of volume measures. Something that North American cookbooks need to learn.

Admin said...

Tim - A cup of raw long grain rice would do.

Regarding the best sour sausage on Ko Tao, interesting. Can you list some of the reputable sour sausage places in the Northeast you've visited that you say can't compete with this seller?