Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bangers and mash variation with general sausage cooking tips

To me, there is something comforting about sausages.  You can find variations of sausages in cuisines the world over.  Sausages can be made with all kinds of different minced meat, herbs and spices.  They can be cooked, smoked, dried, fermented or a combination of the above. 
In Australia, sausages are typically associated with barbecues.  It is pretty standard to have sausages cooked on the barbecue served on a slice of white bread with tomato sauce (ketchup).  If you want to get fancier, you can top that off with caramelised onions and shredded cheddar cheese. 
If you want to head indoors, sausages are often served with mashed potatoes as per the British tradition.  This is a standard dish you’d find in most pubs and it usually comes with rich gravy.  It is not the fanciest food, but it’s comfort food – something most people would have had at home with their families at some stage.
As for why sausages and mashed potatoes are known as “bangers” and mash, it appears that this term originated in poorer times, when sausages were made with higher water content.  The result is that if you turned up the heat too much, the water would turn into steam and explode through the casing.  This is less of a problem nowadays, although it still does happen sometimes, depending on the type of sausage you use and your heat settings on the stove.
When I recently made bangers and mash, I decided to try making the dish with Ćevapi, a traditional grilled minced meat dish found in southeastern Europe.  I understand it is a type of kebab meat, and is typically served with flatbread.  These sausages are short and stubby and don’t have casing (which means that they are definitely not of the “banger” variety, unless if you count the “bang” of flavour it contains).

In addition to just wanting to try something different, I thought that it was easier to present the dish with Ćevapi than with traditional English sausages, which are thicker and longer, and have a tendency to take over the whole plate.  In terms of flavour, Ćevapi sausages have strong notes of salt, pepper and cumin and have a dense texture. 
If you were to eat these by themselves, I think they would be a bit overpowering.  This is where the creaminess of the mashed potato takes the edge off the saltiness.  Although rich gravy is the tradition, I thought that the dish would work better if ketchup was used instead of gravy.  The sweetness and acidity works better to balance the flavours than a rich gravy, which would push the sausages towards overpowering again.
My final dish had pan-fried Ćevapi sausages, buttery mashed potato, ketchup on the side and fresh garnishes of oregano leaves and snow pea sprouts.  I think that this is a fresher twist on the traditional pub grub version.  
Cevapi, buttery mashed potatoes with fresh oregano, snow pea sprouts and ketchup.
It isimportant to me to brown all of my sausages nicely.
Sausage cooking tips
There are many right ways in which you can cook a sausage, but there are a few different wrong ways.  I will explore some different ways to cook sausages and list some tips for each method.
Oil poaching (only for sausages with casing)
This is my favourite way to cook sausages in casing (which you must not prick).  You do this by filling a pot with oil and heating the oil very gently on the stove.  When the oil has heated up, you submerge the sausages whole. A thermometer is useful to make sure that you don’t heat the oil up too much -- anywhere between 75° C to 100° C works well.  You can get away with higher temperatures depending on the moisture content of the sausage.  However, you risk exploding the sausage if you heat the oil over 100° C.
Contrary to what you might think, the oil will not make the sausages greasy.  The casing will act as a barrier against the oil, so you will have a perfectly cooked sausage on the inside and a lightly browned skin on the outside.  
The upside with this method is that you will have a perfectly cooked sausage with no risk of explosion.  Depending on your choice of oil and herbs, you can even gently flavour the sausage.  The downside with this method is that it takes some time to cook the sausage (the precise time will vary according to the size of your sausage) through so is not good if you are in a hurry.  Also, you need a bit of oil on hand to do it.
Pan frying
This is the usual way to cook sausages.  You do this by pre-heating a frying pan on low heat and then adding a small amount of oil.  You then add the sausages and turn them over periodically so they brown evenly and cook through.
This is one of the simplest methods and you get the benefit of browning the sausage.  You can also cook any kind of sausage this way.  You can either cook the sausage whole in its casing or pre-sliced and you will get the benefit of browning.  The difference is that you need to cook a whole sausage at a slowly lower temperature and slices quickly at a much higher temperature.  I still think that pricking is wrong because you then lose the benefit of cooking a whole sausage, which is to retain its juices and flavour.
If the sausages are particularly big, you can pan fry first to get browning on the casing and then put the sausages in a moderate oven to finish.
This is pretty much the only way in which you can cook sausages outdoors.  I recommend cooking sausages on barbecues on the lowest possible temperature setting.  If you cook it on the grill, you run the risk that the sausages might explode due to more direct exposure to the heat from the flames.  However, you get the advantage of nice looking grill marks on the sausages.
You can bake sausages in the oven at a moderate temperature.  I recommend this method for cooking thick sausages whole.  The sausages will cook evenly this way and should not explode.  However, you do not get the benefit of a nicely browned skin this way.  To me, it is better to pan fry first and then finish in the oven.
You can cook pre-sliced sausages this way as well, but I recommend only doing this if the sausages are in a sauce or part of a casserole.  This is again because you do not get the benefit of browning.
This method is probably the easiest for cooking whole sausages through in a foolproof way.  Water has a maximum temperature of 100° C, so you can easily cook sausages through without causing them to explode.  You cannot prick your sausages or cook slices this way (you can, but the results would be less than ideal).
Aside from microwave hot dogs, do not otherwise microwave sausages.  I would say this even for defrosting because with every microwave I’ve seen, you will partially cook the food you are trying to simply defrost.
General tips
1.      Make sure your sausages are fully de-frosted and preferably close to room temperature before cooking them.  This will ensure you can cook them through quickly without burning them or bursting the skin.
2.      Always make sure you cook your sausages through.  It is better to have a slightly over-cooked sausage than to have salmonella poisoning.
3.      If cooking sausages whole, DO NOT prick them.  This is to retain juices and flavour.
4.      If cooking sausages whole, cook them gently.  It might take longer, but they will cook through without bursting.
5.      If cooking sliced sausages, fry them on a pan at a moderately high temperature.  This way you can brown them quickly without drying the meat out.
6.      If you have pricked or sliced the sausages or if your sausages do not have skin, do not poach them in oil or boil them.
7.      DO NOT microwave sausages ever (except for microwave hot dogs).

1 comment:

  1. Hi Yu-chiao,

    I followed your tips on cooking sausages the other day, best sausages I ever made! I boiled them as per your instructions and once they were cooked I lightly fried them on the outside. they stayed juicy and perfect...usually I burn the outside by frying them and have to cut them in half to cook the meat inside - they lose juiciness and I set the fire alarm with all the smoke!