honestly… it is not as obvious as it might seem and most people get it wrong!
Like all genuine sausage lovers, here at The Charcuterie Board we take this really quite seriously! Just about every culture dabbles in the magic that comes with sticking meats, spices, herbs and other flavourful goodies into a perfect little parcel. and, given that we go to so much effort to get everything in that sausage just right, we thought we should also go to the effort of explaining just how important it is to cook them properly to keep them juicy, flavourful and so that you or your customers can enjoy them at their very best.
Now we are not talking here about recipes, more of that elsewhere on the forums here, but suffice to say there is far more to sausages than just frying them in a pan. Whole, sliced, crumbled. Poached, grilled, fried, smoked, casseroled. There are a million ideal ways to introduce sausages to a meal. With a sauce, in a sauce, with rice dishes, pasta dishes, Bar-B-Q, stews, bollito misto, soups, choucroute, tagines, hot dogs, pozole, toad in the hole – you name it, there is always room for the right sausage!
But, what we are talking about here is the basic, fundamental principles of cooking the sausages, either to eat on their own or before introducing them to their accompaniment whatever it may be.
Whats in a sausage and why is that so great!
When you eat pork, or any meat for that matter, you always long for it it be perfectly seasoned, juicy, tender and, important yet so rare, even throughout in all these respects when its finished cooking. That is what is so great about sausages – when made and cooked right they just tick all of these boxes, every time.
Even better is that they come in great little packages, a multitude of flavours and, given all the effort and care, not to mention prime naturally raised meat that goes into ours, they are also pretty unbeatable value.
So, on to the cooking…
First, what not to do
We need to be clear about the ‘wrong’ way to cook a sausage. Unfortunately this is a common method and can often lead to disappointing, or at least less than optimum, results.
Your sausage, just as with other cuts of meat, will shrink and contract in direct relation to the amount of heat it is subjected to and the amount of time it is exposed to that heat. If you cook a sausage over a high heat it will, understandably, shrink considerably, drying out the exterior or even splitting whilst potentially leaving the centre uncooked.
Too high a temperature will also liquify the fat content that has been so carefully mixed into your sausage to keep it moist and juicy. If this liquifies and leaks out into the pan, onto the grill or elsewhere you will have a dry and crumbly result without all that flavour we went to such trouble to get in there for you.
The ‘science bit’
Our sausages are made with a careful mix of lean and fat to provide a moist, flavourful and tender treat (think of of it like a beautifully marbled steak) perfectly consistent and with an even amount of all of its ingredients spread throughout. Especially important among these are the fat and the salt.
The fat gives that ‘juicy’ bite. The total fat content in our sausages varies from recipe to recipe but is generally around 25% to 30% and this ensures they are tasty, rich and moist (and remember with our pastured meats this is good healthy fat too!).
The salt helps give the sausage its perfect texture as well as seasoning. It is the salt that, when mixed with the lean meat, draws out the myosin proteins which in turn create the right ‘bind’ for the mix and helps trap that all important fat content helping keep the cooked sausage moist as this evenly distributed salt content means that, when cooked correctly, it can retain moisture better than any chop or steak could ever hope to.
The effect of Temperature
The golden rules of meat cooking still apply here, you do not want to overcook and this means understanding whats happening in that banger when you are cooking it
At 140°F (60°C): At this temperature for around 10-12 mins the meat and fat inside a sausage are cooked through and opaque. Some shrinkage may well have occurred, but at this point it is the meats themselves that are holding in the juices not the casing.
Above 155°F (68.3 °C): The Proteins will go on shrinking and shrivelling, eventually squeezing out that juice and fat meaning that it can no longer be held. Eventually the heat will just wring all that is good out of that sausage and it will either pool under the skin or leak away for good.
HOW TO DO IT RIGHT
The simplest solution to all of this is to cook a sausage gently over low to moderate heat, whether on a grill, in a pan or an oven. Keep moving them so that they come up to temp gradually and colour up evenly as they do so until the exterior ideally reaches a perfect slightly crisp brown just as the sausage reaches 150ºF internal temp.
Using this method, you can get an evenly cooked sausage with plenty of flavour and will soon learn how to get it spot on every time. As with all things patience is the key.
Another solution is much more reliable, and the one we recommended to our trade customers: simmer or poach them first.
This can either be achieved by covering the sausages in cold water, stock or any other cooking liquid, such as beer, whether in a pan on the hob or a tin foil dish on the BBQ grill, and slowly bringing them up to 145-150°F. You can get them cooked perfectly evenly from edge to edge this way. Then all they need is a quick flash, over a higher heat, to colour them up and you’re done.
This method also works really well as the basis for getting your meal started, so as well as a little ‘braising liquid’ you could use onions or peppers, tomatoes or sauerkraut (basically whatever would go well with what you are cooking) along with accompaniments like a little mustard, herbs etc to help with the simmering and then this means that the rest of a nice quick meal is more or less ready by the time you have whipped the sausages out and given them some higher heat for a matter of moments to get a little colour and crust.
To sum up
Cook gently and only to a max 145-150ºF over a low to moderate heat or with the simmer then brown method.
The main benefit from either of the methods we recommend is that you will lose only about half of the moisture when compared to a fast high cook approach and this means immeasurably better results, every time.
Effectively what you are looking for is the classic slow start and then sear finish that you would often use for other meats which gives you evenly cooked meat with a lovely caramelised exterior.
So now you know! Sorry for going on a bit but we just want you to ensure everyone enjos eating your sausages as much as you enjoy making them for you.