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~ Secrets to the Italian-American Sausage Sandwich ~

IMG_9063Whether one is at the ballpark, a carnival, or entering a shopping mall, one can't help but notice the line in front of the vendor selling Italian sausage sandwiches. Hot-off-the-griddle, a succulent link of sweet or hot sausage on a medium-textured Italian roll, heaped with a savory mélange of griddle-sautéed peppers and onions: it's next to impossible to resist.  If you've ever eaten one, you've also noticed they taste immensely better than the majority of home-grilled versions. Why is this?  Read on, and "don't knock it until you've tried it", so, criticize this post with caution.

The best technique for charcoal- or gas- grilling "Italian sausage" -- The moist-heat-first, dry-heat-second technique.

IMG_9086I've never been a fan of charcoal- or gas-grilled sausage (links or coils), because most people don't know how not to dry it out, starting with: don't poke holes in the casing.  Folks don't realize, and mostly refuse to be enlightened, that the key to perfectly-grilled sausage is to start it in a moist mélange of sautéing vegetables to slow-cook it, to marry the flavors of the sausage with the veggies and vice versa, then, finish-off the gently-cooked, juicy-on-the-inside sausage on the grill grids, just enough to crisp it up -- over medium- (not high) heat, so the casing doesn't split. This kinder, gentler moist-heat-first, dry-heat-second technique produces perfectly-grilled sausage links or coils.  Learning it rocked my sausage-grilling world, and enabled me to come up with my indoor method for perfectly-cooked, succulent Italian-American sausage sandwiches.

"You want a sassidge sangwitch? I'll give you a sassidge sangwitch." ~ Tony Soprano

"Backyard grilling was uncommon until the 1950's American middle-class began to boom and move to the grass-lawned suburbs.  Long before that, sausage sandwiches had become a popular street food sold in the cities by vendors with steam-heated pushcarts, while apartment dwellers living high above the busy streets cooked almost everything in a skillet, including their sausage sandwiches.  I blame 1950's America for the ill-conceived sausage sandwich." ~ Melanie

In Italy, "sausage" does not refer to "Italian Sausage".

IMG_8961"Italian sausage" is a term Americans coined.  In Italy, there is no product resembling the USA's product referred to as "Italian sausage".  In Italy, there are many salsiccia and salame (each region has its specialties), but the word implies cured meats like cotechino, soppressata, Genoa salami and mortadella.  FYI:  What we Americans call bologna is not found in Bologna -- the local sausage in the town of Bologna is mortadella.

"Italian Sausage" is a term coined in America. 

IMG_8967Called "sosizza" on the streets, in restaurants, and in Italian-American kitchens, in the USA, it refers to ground pork sausage in natural casings, containing about 20%-25% fat with a fennel and garlic flavor. It's mainly sold raw (but can be found cured or smoked) in 5"-6" links, coiled ropes or in loose burger-meat-type form.  It comes in three flavors (sweet, mild and hot) with seasonings varying-slightly from butcher shop to butcher shop.

WARNING:  Sausage in this recipe refers exclusively to:  pork sausage.  Sausage containing chicken, turkey, vegetarian soy or byproducts therein are not considered or acknowledged to be "real" sausage in Melanie's Kitchen. Comments or questions regarding the substitution of these (or any other) sausage impostors will not be replied to.


IMG_9077Fantastic "Italian sausage" can also be, & is, cooked indoors.

IMG_9018We can all agree a sausage link or coil needs ample time to cook through, 25-30 minutes.  Many will disagree, but, the dry heat of a barbecue grill over 25-30 minutes, is NEVER going to produce a succulent sausage with a golden-brown casing and the "snap and squirt" of the first bite.  It'll be good, just not great -- unless that's the only way you've ever experienced it. The best sausage is cooked indoors, and an electric skillet is an excellent substitution for the moister heat of the flat-topped griddle.

The following method for gently steaming the sausage through, then crisping the casing produces moist, juicy sausage, plus provides a pan of flavorful drippings for the vegetable sauté too.  

IMG_8971For the sausages:

10-12  5"-6" high-quality sausage-sandwich-sized links (sweet-, mild, or hot-, or a combination), about 2 total pounds sausage (a 2 pound coil of sausage may be substituted  without compromise)

about 1 1/4 cups water, enough to fill the skillet with 1/4" water

6  tablespoons olive oil

4  tablespoons salted butter

IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974~Step 1.  Place a little over 1/4" of water in a 16" electric skillet -- do not be inclined to substitute wine, beer or stock as they will muddle-up the flavorful drippings.  Add the sausage, sweet or hot (links or an entire coil).  Bring to a boil over high heat (400º).  Adjust heat to a steady but gentle simmer (325º) and continue to cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated from pan.  Using a pair of tongs, NOT a fork (do NOT poke holes in the casings), turn the sausage over onto second side about halfway through the simmering process.

IMG_8995 IMG_8995 IMG_8995 IMG_8995 IMG_8995 IMG_8995~Step 2.  Turn the heat off.  Add the olive oil and butter to the skillet.  Adjust heat to medium (300º). Gently sauté the sausage, regulating the heat carefully (up or down), so as to brown not burn, until the sausage is golden brown on both sides, turning only once, 4-6 minutes per side.  Turn the heat off.  Once again, using tongs, NOT a fork, transfer the sausage to a plate or a platter.  Cover sausage with aluminum foil and set aside.

IMG_9021For the spices and vegetable sauté:

1  tablespoon fennel seed

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes 

2-3  teaspoons sea salt, to taste

2  pounds thinly-sliced onion

1  pound each: thinly-sliced green and red bell pepper strips

1  14 1/2-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, well-drained 

IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027~Step 1. Measure spices and prep vegetables, adding them to the flavorful drippings in the skillet as you work.  Adjust heat to gently sauté (250º).  Using a large slotted spoon or a spatula, keep the vegetables moving in the skillet, until vegetables are softened and just cooked through, yet still colorful and crunch tender, 6-8 minutes.  Do not overcook the vegetables.  Taste for salt and add 1 teaspoon if desired.  Stir in the well-drained diced tomatoes and cook until steaming, about 1 minute.   Adjust heat to "warm" setting.

IMG_9051 IMG_9051 IMG_9051~Step 2.  Return the still-warm sausage to skillet, cover the skillet and set aside 5-10 minutes -- just enough to reheat sausages.  To serve, slice your favorite steak-type rolls. Generously spoon some warm vegetable mixture into bottom of each roll.  Add a sausage and top with another scoop of vegetables.

Try it or don't, but, kindly don't knock it, unless you do:

IMG_9098Secrets to the Italian-American Sausage Sandwich:  Recipe as written above yields 10-12 Italian sausage, pepper & onion sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  16" electric skillet; tongs; aluminum foil; cutting board; chef's knife; large slotted spoon or spatula; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b014e8c358dbd970dCook's Note:  Sausage making is one of the oldest forms of prepared food and was the product of efficient butchery -- tissues, organs, various meat scraps and fat were salted and stuffed into cleaned animal intestines, then preserved by cooking, curing or drying.  No one is, or can be, directly credited for inventing the process, but, it is known to have existed thousands of years before the Romans.  The word "sausage" was first used in English in the mid-15th century and spelled "sawsyge".  This word came from the Old North French word "saussiche", which came from the Latin "salsicus", meaning "seasoned with salt", with "salsus" meaning "salted".  The most popular sausage in the U.S. is:  the hot dog.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


Laela -- So glad to know I played a part in taking your recipe over-the-top. Thanks for the kind comment! ~ Melanie

Absolutely delicious. I have made Italian sausage sandwiches for years using the method you described but the spices and the addition of tomatoes bumped it up to the next level. Thank you!

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