Shaping and frying breakfast sausage meat is more work than simply browning a frozen, fully cooked patty. Is it worth the effort?
Published Dec. 1, 2011. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 5: Hearty Autumn Dinner
The mantra of modern cooking is that fresh is always better than frozen. But frozen is usually faster. And most mornings, time is of the essence. Fact: Dumping a box of fully cooked, frozen breakfast sausage patties into a skillet is easier than shaping and cooking patties from raw tube-style rolls of sausage meat. Plus frozen cooked patties take half as long to cook. Then again, the extra work might be worthwhile if the end result tastes better. Several years ago, we pitted fresh breakfast sausage links against precooked and were surprised when the precooked products won. We set out to see if the same would hold true for patties.
Our ideal breakfast sausage patty is meaty, savory, and a little peppery, with a nice hint of salt, herbs, and sweetness. Some fat is to be expected—it’s sausage, after all—but not too much, and it shouldn’t be tough or gristly. And it goes without saying that good sausage shouldn’t be rubbery. Armed with 11 national pork breakfast sausage products, we held pretastings to eliminate the worst and winnow our lineup to seven. Our final lineup included two products that were fully cooked patties, one that consisted of raw patties, and four tubes of raw “roll-style” breakfast sausage meat that we sliced into patties. Twenty-one America’s Test Kitchen editors and test cooks sat down for a blind tasting.
Texture, it turned out, was the most important factor. Four of the seven products scored poorly for being “rubbery” and “spongy.” Tasters described their texture as “processed” and “artificial” and wondered whether “weird” binders or fillers were used. According to Iowa State University meat-processing and -preservation expert Joe Sebranek, fillers are actually uncommon in breakfast sausage: Sausage is made from pork trimmings. Manufacturers analyze the fat content of the meat and combine trimmings of various fat levels to achieve the ratio that they desire—a process called blending. The way that each sausage is blended directly affects its texture. Too much lean protein and not enough fat makes for chewy sausage, Sebranek explained.
Conversely, our least favorite product seemed so fatty that one taster dubbed it a “grease bomb.” A peek at the nutrition label verified that this sausage had the most fat (23 grams) per 2-ounce serving. Our winner isn’t lean by any means, with 19 grams of fat in 2 ounces; obviously, we like sausages that have some sizzle. But its fat ratio made for a tender bite without the grease puddle.
Traditional breakfast sausage seasonings are salt, black pepper, and sage; manufacturers then add their own blend of spices, which labeling laws do not require them to reveal. Tasters panne...
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