How to Properly Cook a Sausage?
I've just recently bought a bunch of grass-fed, organically raised meat straight from the ranch, and there are some beautiful fresh sausages in the lot. Someone had recently mentioned to me that sausages should NEVER be pan cooked, ONLY baked in an oven to get the best flavor. I'm not sure if I should trust my source; what do you all have to say about it? How should I cook them to get the best flavor out of them?
Thanks in advance!
Poaching in beer (simmering beer) and grilled - OMG heavenly. Just gotta keep the heat down (medium/low) and turn them often so the skins don't break open.
I do the beer treatment and then grill them slowly in my cast iron pan when the weather says I should not be standing in front of the outdoor grill.
I wouldn't bake them, unless they were sliced and combined with a veg/potato or similar combination that I might brush with oil and bake together as a main dish for dinner.
Thanks loads. I did end up simmering them in just water, because I wanted to get the full flavor of the grass-fed pork (which is much stronger and meatier than conventional meat). They turned out beautifully, although they did take a good while to cook. Went beautifully with my rotini with black chard pesto (another great recipe!).
Next time, I'll get adventurous and try the beer!
I always pan fry my sausage, but with a twist. Pan fry it until you have it nice and browned. Then, reduce heat to medium. Add a couple tbs of water, cover and cook until done. If you don't add the water, the sausage won't cook all the way through, and you'll end up with sausage burnt on the outside and raw on the inside.
Of course, with all that brown goodness at the bottom, you're pretty much obliged to make a sauce. If it's breakfast sausage, I do sawmill gravy. If it's dinner sausage, I'll toss in some olive oil and some frozen corn to make a very tasty side.
Interesting because I was told to add the water when you put the raw sausages in the pan, cover and simmer until the water evaporates and then turn up the heat and brown... I guess either way, you're doing the same thing. But what I have noticed is that the sausages kind of balloon up and when you pierce them, they geyser!!!
Easy trick. I add about 1/2" water plus a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and then simmer on medium. The water will evaporate and then you are left will a little oil to coat the sausages and brown nicely. 1 pan easy, they steam and simmer and then nicely brown. You can use beer as well for this which I do often. I never bake unless I am doing a casserole. This way they can brown and done but not dry. I use the beer and grill method too.
The "geyser" affect is one of the more wonderful experiences in eating sausage. If they're fully cooked and the skins are intact (OMG it'd be a sin to break the skin in the cooking process) the juices will squirt with the first touch of the eating utensil. Now THAT'S a properly cooked sausage.
I do it the opposite way. Place sausage(s) in the pan with a little water, turn the heat up and place the lid on. I've always assumed that having the lid on lets the sausage cook more evenly from bottom to top. Maybe it's an unecessary step. Let cook for a few minutes, then remove lid and allow water to evaporate. Towards the end, when the water disappears, the sausage will get nice and brown.
I like kchurch's addition of oil. I'll try that next time.
I usually do Italian Sweet Sausages in the oven, but other thick sausages like Brats get a quick par-boil on the stovepot before I pan-fry them. Breakfast sausages, I skip the par-boil and just keep turning them as I pan-fry.
Whatever sausage I cook, I never pierce them...I want juicy sausages, otherwise what's the point?
For a new style of sausage I'd be trying for the first time, I'd try cooking them both ways and see for myself which is best.
When we get sausages (italian hot, italian sweet, kielbasa, etc.) in our meat share from the farm, we always just grill them. I never even parboil them first. I do prick them a couple of times with a fork though. I know that's sacrelige to some, but they stay very juicy and don't explode. I especially like this recipe with the balsalmic peppers and onions (does not overwhelm the sausage flavor at all).
There are all different ways of cooking sausages. Most sausages grill nicely, if you've got access to a grill, which I don't these days. I think that carmelizing the skin brings out a good flavor from most sausages, though in some contexts, I could imagine just boiling or baking.
Italian and similar raw pork sausages I tend to poach in a pan with water, and if they're fatty, I do prick them so some of the fat cooks out, pour off the water, then brown in the pan with a little olive oil if necessary or under the broiler.
Some sausages are precooked, like most bratwurst, frankfurters, knackwurst, a lot of the specialty sausages from Aidell's and the like that come packed in plastic like hot dogs, and they can just be grilled, broiled or pan fried.
Kiełbasa, fresh and smoked, is good grilled, but a nice way to broil it is to score it deeply in a criss-cross pattern, so there's more surface to brown. See if you can find it from a good Polish butcher, who might sell ten, twenty or even more types of kiełbasa and smoked hams, and avoid the supermarket stuff that's loaded with corn syrup.
And then some sausages I use in other things, so they may get poached, cut, sauteed, stewed, baked or whatever the dish demands.
re: David A. Goldfarb
My parents get organic, grass-fed pork and sheep sausages from a meat CSA they belong to, and whenever I come by (I looove a good sausage) they'll throw one on the grill for dinner. Even in the dead of winter in upstate NY - my dad loves his grill about as much as I love those sausages. Man, those things are good. At home in NYC I usually pan fry as above in cast iron, but only for lack of a backyard.
I would agree that pan frying a raw sausage is not the best way, but grilling a raw sausage is not so good either. They will tend to be overcooked on the outside and undercooked in the middle (or just overcooked all the way through). Baking is fine, but I prefer to poach the sausages at around 180-190F for about 30 minutes, then pan fry or grill. If you don't have a thermometer, bring the water up to a simmer, then back off a tad so you don't see any bubbles. This way you get even cooking and a crisp exterior
One other idea: Smoke the sausage. Even on a Weber Kettle grill, put fuel on one side (charcoal/wood), sausage away from the fire. Cover. About 60 min with one flip in the middle. They take on a whole different flavor than grilled or simmered in liquid.
So there is really only 1 way to do this. Poaching, in my opinion, is not the way to go. I find that the water sucks a lot of the fat from the sausage, and you end up with a dryer less flavorful sausage when all is said and done.
The way I do it is to roast the sausage, covered, in an oven at 350 for 15 minutes on a bed of sliced onions and red peppers. The onions and peppers will keep the sausage from direct contact with the roasting pan and the water released from the vegetables will gently steam the sausage so you don't loose as much of the flavor. Remember to season the onions with Salt and Pepper before roasting. You can even microwave the onions (only the onions) for 3-4 minutes before starting to speed things up a bit and put a little oil to help it brown.
After 20 minutes, remove the sausage and red pepper and put the onions back into the oven, uncovered. Watch them and stir them occasionally until you end up with a nice golden brown color.
Now move the sausage and peppers to the grill. on medium heat place the peppers and sausage on the grill and STAY THERE!! Watch them closely and turn them often to make sure they don't get too charred.
Some people think that sausage is quick to prepare but it is not. Sausages are fragile and should be cooked slowly and gently.
It may be just me but I prefer pan fried over the other methods of cooking sausage. Put a little oil or butter (or both or even crisco) into the pan, when sizzling add the sausages, brown on both sides, put the lid on the pan and turn the heat down to low and cook till done.
The sausages always come out perfectly cooked, juicy and tasty. I never have problems with burnt or undercooked sausages unless I forget to watch the pan.
My grandmother and mother used to add a little water but I always felt that it absorbed the flavor away from the sausage so I never do it.
I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all answer for you. The world of sausages is vast and diverse. I'd ask the people who made your sausage.
I go a little OTT with raw meat sausages: vacuum seal them, sometimes with some herbs or spices to complement the flavours (e.g. a sausage made with sage and some onion will get some sage; and Italian sausage with fennel will get some fennel or tarragon), then throw them into a pot of water at temperature (I use a lab grade immersion circulator I picked up cheaply at auction and cleaned up) for around 25mins; I find 70C works well. I have yet to try, but I will, putting some beer into the bag with the sausages, and essentially poaching them like that - some time under vacuum could have an interesting effect on the sausage.
For me, this leaves wonderfully cooked meat, the casing intact and no fat or flavour gets leached out into the water. Cool the bag thoroughly, remove the sausages into a hot pan with a small amount of oil, and brown, until nicely caramelised. It allows me to prepare them in advance and then heat when needed. If we have people round for a BBQ (a rare treat here in the UK) there is a much reduced risk of burning the outside and leaving the centre undercooked.
It seems to me that when it comes to flavour in sausages it's both a matter of personal preference and a matter of what the sausages are like. Also because of the personal-preference issue the advice of the sausage-makers might be spot-on or completely wrong for you, depending on what *they* personally prefer.
Some sausages are inherently drier, others moister. Some have more fat, others are leaner.
Some are densely packed, others are looser.
Summarising the 4 basic methods:
Pan-frying will develop the strongest and most intensely browned outside, while keeping the centre reasonably moist.
Oven-baking/roasting promotes even cooking with the driest centre and typically a less-browned outside.
Poaching/boiling creates an evenly-cooked sausage with no exterior browning and the plumpest profile.
Grilling/barbequeuing injects a certain smoky flavour, promotes exterior browning but which is uneven, and like oven-cooking leads to a dryish centre.
If your sausage is dry, lean, and dense, then it's usually best at least to poach for a few minutes, so that it becomes moister and plumper. Then any of the other methods could be adopted if you want a browned outside, or served as is if you don't.
If the sausage is lean generally, frying, if used, will need more fat, but if not then you can probably use an unoiled pan.
Dense sausages tend to do badly on the barbeque; it generally creates a very hard, dry outcome. Too much fat is also problematic because it causes flare-ups.
Loose sausages, meanwhile, tend to become waterlogged and insipid if poached or boiled.
Overall, though, for the typical fresh sausage, I think personally the best results are achieved by frying. If you're going to fry, I find the best results are achieved by turning on 2 elements on the hob. One you set to a medium-high temperature. The other you set to a medium-low temperature. You start the sausages on the medium-high temperature. Lay them in and after brief searing on all 4 sides (or 2 if you've got a large, coiled sausage such as a Cumberland, or patties), transfer to the medium-low temperature. Turn off the other element and continue cooking slowly, turning delicately so as not to break the skin.
The point when they're ready is the point where the fat starts melting out fairly copiously - take them out right away at this point or they'll dry out. The result, done this way, is a sausage with a strong, evenly browned exterior and a lovely moist but through-cooked centre. It should also create its own sticky "sauce" in the pan - an emulsion of the fat and the browning products - which should always be spooned over the sausages after rolling them in it while in the pan to pick up as much as possible before removing them to the plate. Or you can use this substance to make gravy, if you prefer.
It shouldn't be necessary, in most cases, to add water to the pan like drig23 suggests. That would only be true with a dry or very dense, lean sausage. Most of the art is in the modulation of hob temperature. That usually takes a few goes before you work out the 2 cooking temperatures necessary to create good results. (Too high a sear temperature usually results in burst skins and possibly burnt outside; too high a cook temperature results in burnt outside and tough centre; too low a temperature creates inadequate browning, long cooking times and often a very dry outcome.