Thursday, November 02, 2006


Heston Blumenthal said at the start of his new television programme that he would present us with techniques that we could use at home. A sausage stuffer? Liquid nitrogen? Dry ice and protective clothing? They won't be featuring in my home any time soon.

However, one idea of his did interest me. He advised a poaching of sausages for 30 minutes (the Sunday Times version gave the timing as 20 minutes) in 65C water, before frying on a medium heat. The gentle poaching helped to retain the juices of the meat, he said. A high heat for frying would cause the sausages to split; a low heat would cause the outsides to overcook.

I am not sure that I follow the logic of that last bit, but I do understand the need to cook sausages gently. I usually fry them on a very low heat, sometimes with a heat disperser beneath a heavy frying pan. The only other recipe I know that advises pre-poaching is Valentina Harris's sausages and beans in Italian Regional Cookery (BBC, now out of print). I thought I would give Heston's technique a try.

I had to guess the water temperature. I heated a saucepan of water until bubbles started to appear, put a heat disperser underneath it, turned down the flame to minimum, and dropped in the sausages. The water steamed, but did not bubble again. After 30 minutes (20 would probably have been enough), I took out the sausages, and let them dry on kitchen paper.

I heated a heavy frying pan on a medium flame, poured in a little groundnut oil (the oil that Heston recommended), and fried the sausages.

Sausages split much more easily than cookery writers allow, in my experience. At the weekend, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall offered a recipe for toad-in-the-hole, recommending that you heat oil or fat in a roasting tin in a gas mark 7/220C oven for 10 minutes, then throw in the sausages. If my butcher's sausages were to get that treatment, they would burst like an overstuffed corset. Even a medium heat puts them under pressure.

Small fissures, through which liquid spurted, appeared in my frying sausages. What I should have done was start them on a medium heat, turn them over after a minute, then gradually lower the flame as they continued frying.

Heston is on to something. In spite of the escape of juices, these sausages were plump and moist, and retained their chunky texture. I sometimes find that the meat in slow-fried sausages is, though juicy, rather compacted.

I should have slow-fried one of yesterday's sausages in order to compare the results. My failure to do so means that I am reluctant to assert that Heston's method is the best I have found. But I shall definitely use it again.

1 comment:

Jack said...

By far the best way to cook beef or chicken sausages is in the oven in a water-wine mixture (or water-cider for pork sausages). Almost cover the sausages with liquid and cook for 45 minutes on a medium setting. Turn, raise heat a little, and cook until liquid is almost gone. No browning is needed.