Tips for Buying Italian Sausages
Avoid buying sausages at very low prices. They are full of fat and made from all the leftover meat of the hog that cannot be used for anything else. These sausages are usually over spiced, salty and with fillers to disguise the taste. The grinding is always very fine so to amalgamate the different parts and impurities of the meat. The coarser the grind the better must be the quality of the meat.
Buy fresh sausages only at reputable butchers that sell out the batch daily. I have seen the same tray in some shops for prolonged periods! I freeze mine as soon they are made and vacuum pack them right away. I reached this decision after weighing the pros and cons of selling them fresh. From my trials and tasting experiments I feel that the flavour is better in frozen sausages than the few-days-old fresh ones. I have tried as an experiment many months’ old frozen sausages that show no deterioration of taste.
Good Italian sausage contains only pork shoulder-butt meat, with virtually no spices; only salt, pepper, and sometimes a little wine. The Sicilian version contains fennel seeds. The shoulder butt contains just the right amount of fat, about 20%. With this quantity of fat, the grill will not flare up as much and provides better cooking conditions.
There is a remarkable difference in taste and texture between “commercial pork” and farm raised heritage pork. I use heritage pork that is being fed a proper diet and provided with good living conditions. Commercial pork is very lean, flavourless and has no bite. Of course, the way these animals are raised and the hormones, antibiotics and the feed…there is enough information in the news!
Unfortunately, most of the sausages out there are made from commercial pork because there is an overproduction, bringing the cost down. Sadly, the bottom line usually wins. I am getting tired of being told that the taste difference between the two is negligible. Sustainability, our health and animal welfare seems to be a concern of very few!
Tips for Cooking Italian Sausages
About 15 minutes is enough to cook good quality sausage. Any longer and it will dry up. I recommend high heat, turning the sausages quarter turns.
Avoid puncturing the sausages. The more fat and juices retained the tastier and flavourful is the sausage. If you must puncture so to get rid of as much fat as possible, then do it right at the end of cooking. Let the sausage rest after cooking for a few minutes so the juices settle back in it. Otherwise the juices will ooze out readily when cutting. With my sausages this method is a must since I put a lot of wine in them!
Another fun way to cook sausage is to split open and flatten the sausage with the blade of a big knife. The sausage will curve in on the side of the skin while grilling. It looks great. Arrange on a platter with the meat exposed and casing down. Squeeze on them fresh lemon juice and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil. Hot pepper flakes and a little chopped parsley would be a nice touch. With a little salad, French fries and a crusty baguette it will make a great al fresco lunch.
Frying highlights the saltiness. Cook slowly and puncture the skin as it could explode. The bonus of frying is that you can deglaze the pan with your favourite booze. I use the same wine or cider for my Riesling, Baco Noir and Cider Salsiccia.
Cooking them in the oven is probably the easiest method. Preheat the oven to 375⁰F then put the sausages on top of a wire rack in a tray and cook for about 20 minutes. Adjust the time, depending on the thickness.
My ultimate way of cooking sausages is on the BBQ using well-aged hardwood. I am not a fan of aromatic wood smoke as I want to highlight the quality of the meat flavours.
At a friendly sausage competition where my Riesling Salsiccia won, the judge’s remarks were that it tasted like real pork!
Let’s not forget the basics. Do we know what pork tastes like? Are we being told how it should taste with the addition of so many spices and ingredients? LESS IS MORE. Do your own comparison test.