If you’ve stopped by just about any higher end market (Whole Foods, Fresh Thyme, Earth Fare or any local foodie market), you can usually find a variety of really interesting sausages. I’m not talking about the big name brands, but smaller producers or even made in the store. There is a place in Cincinnati, Ohio, for instance, that makes over 50 different styles of sausage.
A lot of people think that sausage is low-class fare, that it is only good for hot dog buns at football games. I think that’s a shortsighted view of what sausages are and have been in lots of cultures. Artisan-level sausages combine unique meats with interesting flavors and can easily be the main course of some great meals. They’re also great with a variety of sauces instead of the standard ketchup and mustard.
The best thing to do is get a variety of sausages available in your area to try them out. Aidells is a pretty easily found and excellent brand, but find something unique to your area if you can. I tried some chicken and basil sausage, a pork sausage with chipotle chile and some merguez lamb sausage, all from a local meat department at a specialty store. The lamb was smoked, but the other two were fresh.
Sausage is as easy as can be to grill. The seasoning is all there so it doesn’t need any real prep work. I just let it sit out for about 20 minutes to get up to room temp, then it goes on a preheated grill with most of the heat indirect. On a Char-Broil® TRU-Infrared™ 4-burner grill, the outside burners should be set at medium-high with the inside burners set on low. People often overcook sausage at temps that are too high. That causes the casings to crack and the juices to escape, resulting in dry sausage. The idea is to grill them more slowly and take them off at 160-165 degrees internal temperature.
Sauces are what can really bring sausage up to main course level. Paring the right sauce with the right sausage is the key, but it’s not hard to do. Some sauces go with just about everything while others are well suited to certain flavors.
- Pork and apples go well, so a bourbon/apple/onion relish was served with the pork/chipotle sausage.
- Chicken and basil worked well with a bacon/bourbon barbecue sauce from an artisan sauce maker. This is great because it’s ready-made, but not standard fare.
- The merguez lamb, being a North African/Middle Eastern flavor, went really great with a zahtar yogurt sauce.
Zahtar (za-atar or other spellings) is an interesting spice blend of sumac, oregano, sesame seeds and cumin, and goes great with lamb and chicken. The yogurt sauce was about 2 tablespoons of zahtar, 1 cup of Greek yogurt and a splash of champagne vinegar (lemon could be used instead of vinegar). It can be made ahead and does best after sitting for a few hours.
The relish is really simple to make. It starts with finely chopping half an onion and one apple, then simmering them until cooked (about 15 minutes) in 2 ounces of bourbon on low-medium heat. With the addition of a bit of sea salt, that’s all there is to it. The sweetness of the apple and bourbon with the zip of the onion go great with both pork and chiles.
The last addition is the simplest. Stonewall Kitchen out of Maine makes great sauces and marinades that have different ingredients than the ordinary store-bought sauce. Their Boozy Bacon Barbecue sauce is close to a standard barbecue sauce, but doesn’t have the typical vinegar zip to it that most sauces do. Add real bourbon and real pieces of bacon, and it’s a great sauce that I’ll be trying on lots of foods. It went well with the chicken and basil sausage without being too hot or sharp.
Sausage isn’t just breakfast or ballpark food. It can be served to even the foodiest of your foodie friends!
Experiment with unusual flavors of sausages and take them to a new level with simple sauces.
- 2 links (1/2 pound) merguez lamb sausage
- 2 links (1/2 pound) pork and chipotle sausage
- 2 links (1/2 pound) chicken and basil sausage
- 8 ounces Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons zhatar seasoning
- 1 teaspoon champagne vinegar
- Dash of salt
- 2 tablespoons ground sumac
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground sesame seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 medium apple, diced
- 1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
- 2 ounces bourbon
- Dash of salt and black pepper
- Preheat the grill to about 400 degrees, with the inside burners set to low-medium.
- Let the sausages sit out for 20 minutes before putting on the grill.
- Grill for about 5-6 minutes a side, turning to keep from burning, until the internal temp reaches 160-165 degrees.
- Rest 5 minutes under foil before serving.
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using. Best if done the day before.
- Serve with merguez lamb sausage.
- Mix all ingredients and store in a cool dry place.
- Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and heat over medium heat until apples are cooked, about 15 minutes.
- Serve with pork and chipotle sausage.