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Cooking sausages

Sausages are easy to cook, just remember 3 golden rules:

1. Cook them slowly

2. Never prick a good sausage

3. Cut the links cleanly with a sharp knife

Sausages can be baked, barbecued, fried, grilled or poached.

Whatever method you use they should be cooked right through, but still juicy. Cook them slowly to ensure that the skins do not burst. This is vital because the skin helps to retain moisture, once it bursts it cannot do this. A burst skin is either a sign of a bad sausage or a good sausage ruined by fast cooking.

It can be difficult to turn sausages without piercing the skins. A pair of spring loaded kitchen tongs will make it easy to turn and reduce the risk of piercing them.

Calories and fat content

We have been conditioned to think that frying is bad for us because the food will be fattier. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) published a survey on sausages in September 2003. This looked at the impact of different cooking methods on sausage fat levels. The surprising results showed that different cooking methods have only a small impact on fat levels. See Health & legal for more on this.

Frying

22% of sausages are fried.

Try to use a heavy, cast iron frying pan. If you have one use a ridged pan for the char grilled taste.

Our 'quick' method is to fry them on a low heat for around 20 minutes, turning them 3 or 4 times. The longer method can take more than twice as long or even an hour. You will not need to stand over the frying pan and the results will justify the wait. Just turn the heat to the lowest setting and leave the sausages to cook very, very slowly. Wait at least 10 minutes before each turn. That way each side will be brown and sticky and all the juices will stay inside the sausage.

As they fry, sausages will curve away from the frying pan. To cook the opposite side just turn it over, initially only the ends will touch the pan but the middle will sink and the sausage straighten as it cooks.

Baking

20% of sausages are baked

To bake, put the sausages in a roasting tin and place them in a medium oven (gas mark 4 or 180 degrees) for 35 to 45 minutes. Baking can dry the sausages so baste them in the juices 2 or 3 times during cooking. You can also marinade sausages prior to baking or pour a little honey, mustard, soy sauce or tomato ketchup over the sausages as they bake.

Grilling

This is the most popular method - 44% of sausages are grilled.

It should take 10 - 15 minutes to grill sausages on a medium setting. If you prick them before grilling, the fat content will be low (however as stated above this will impair the taste and succulence).

Poaching

Only 1.5% of sausages are cooked in water.

Poaching sausages is unusual in the UK but fairly common in Europe and the US (see the Warm potato salad with sausages recipe). This is probably because the best sausages for poaching are made with 100% meat and our sausages tend to contain cereal filler.

To poach sausages you put them in barely simmering water for 30 - 40 minutes. Be careful that you do not cook them too fast, otherwise the skins may burst. Once the sausage is cooked, it will keep warm in the poaching liquid for at least 30 minutes.

A poached sausage may not look too appetising. To add colour and a few crispy bits simply fry or grill the sausages for 5 minutes.

Barbecuing

The poaching method really comes into its own during the barbecue season. Sausages do not cook well on the fierce heat of a barbecue. We must have all experienced sausages which are blackened on the outside and raw inside.

To make foolproof barbecue sausages first poach them for 30 minutes and then barbecue on residual heat for 5 - 10 minutes. The sausages will be already cooked. All the barbecue is doing is heating the sausages, adding colour and a smoky barbecue taste.

See the full list of recipes for more on cooking sausages.