Forcemeat is a combination of meat, fat, seasonings and other ingredients that are blended together through grinding or puréeing to form an emulsion.
Forcemeat is used as the main ingredient in making sausages, pâtés, terrines, galantines and other charcuterie items. Basically, it's the filling. And it's named because in making sausages, the filling is forced into the casing.
If you're thinking this sounds like a lot of effort, remember that sausages were invented with two primary purposes in mind:
- Use up every last scrap of edible material from the carcass of the pig
- Transform this edible material into a form that will allow it to last for a long time, with no refrigeration
Sausages and other charcuterie items are part of a culinary field known as garde manger, which concerns itself with the art of preparing and preserving foods using techniques as varied as pickling, smoking, salting or air-drying.
Why Make Forcemeat?
To understand why this works, remember that food spoilage (as well as food poisoning) is caused by tiny organisms called bacteria. In addition to food, these bacteria need water and oxygen, as well as a certain favorable range of acidity (pH level). Food preservation, then, comes down to controlling one or more of those factors to ensure that the bacteria can't survive.
Sausage-making, for instance, often involves smoking or air-drying, both of which deprive bacteria of air or water.
Additionally, sausage-making always uses salt, which itself deprives bacteria of water through a process known as osmosis. (You can read more about the six factors that contribute to the growth of the bacteria that cause food spoilage.)
In any case, just as it is possible to preserve strips of meat by drying it to make jerky, forcemeat is the emulsion created by grinding or pureeing meat, fat and other ingredients along with preservatives like salt, sugar, and sodium nitrite, to make sausage.
Grinding into forcemeat thus helps expose more of the ingredients to whatever the preservative happens to be in use, whether it's salt or smoke or air.
Types of Forcemeat
Traditional or straight forcemeat is made with pork meat and pork fat, along with a primary meat such as fish, seafood, veal, poultry or game.
Country-style forcemeat has a coarser texture and traditionally includes pork liver along with some garnish of nuts or vegetables. It usually uses some sort of binder, called a panada, such as cubes of bread soaked in egg and milk.
Mousseline forcemeat has the lightest texture, and is usually made with heavy cream rather than pork fat. Mousseline forcemeats are typically forced through a sieve to produce a very fine consistency. They're good to use as fillings or stuffings, for instance, in ravioli or tortelloni.
Gratin forcemeat is made by briefly searing the primary meat, developing flavor and color, before cooling and grinding it as in a straight forcemeat.
Also see: Garde Manger