Praise the buns, but ditch the dogs this Memorial Day. The hot dogs, that is.
Though grilled hot dogs are standard -- and no fuss -- for holiday cookouts, there are other tubular temptations to spark your menu. Think savory, spicy and even sweet sausages, from traditional bratwurst, kielbasa and hot Italian to interesting combinations like chicken and apple or spinach and feta.
Cradle sausages in hot-dog buns or more sturdy rolls, toasted or not, and you've elevated the usual fare by a mile. Settle on something interesting to garnish them with, such as whole-grain mustard, sauteed onions and mushrooms or even a mango chutney mayonnaise.
Different regions of the United States have their sausage favorites, mostly owing to the immigrants who settled there. You'll find plenty of Polish kielbasa in Milwaukee and Chicago, and lovers of Wisconsin brats will tell you that a brown, German-style mustard is a must. In fact, anything else might get you kicked out of the Badger State. In states that border Mexico, spicy chorizo is common at home and on restaurant menus. New Jersey takes pride in Italian sausages, and just about everywhere, you'll find sausages with German lineage -- and that includes the frankfurter.
There are three types of dinner sausages -- most often made from pork and beef -- and you'll find them in a variety of places in the store. Fresh sausages are not cooked and will take the longest time to cook on the grill, 8 to 10 minutes a side. They are done when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Find them in the butcher case.
Fully cooked sausages only need to be heated through. About 5 to 6 minutes over medium heat, flipped halfway through to get those coveted grill marks, and they're done. Fully cooked sausages are normally stocked near the hot dogs, and you'll find lower-fat and lower-sodium offerings, too, including turkey versions. The green section of the store will offer organic sausages -- and that includes meatless varieties.
Cured sausages are dried and are generally eaten sliced rather than whole in a bun. Salamis are cured sausages as are Portuguese linguica and chorizo, which also come fresh. These are best in sandwiches and on antipasto platters, for nibbling with crackers or adding to egg and rice dishes in cubes.
For your Memorial Day cookout, I recommend two salads to serve alongside brats with cherries and bacon, or grilled apple-and-chicken sausage with a simply homemade mango-chutney mayonnaise.
The apple-and-chicken sausages I tested in the oven and on the grill were Aidells brand. We liked them better on the grill. In the oven, the pleasant snap that comes with some casings became too tough and we had to fight each bite. The spread was simply mayonnaise mixed with mango chutney. The sweet tang of the chutney paired well with the apple in the sausage.
To continue the Indian flavors, I prepared Curried Rice and Artichoke Salad. If you're heading to a potluck, consider this salad. It travels well and feeds a boatload. The base ingredient is two boxes of cooked and cooled chicken-flavor Rice-A-Roni, and the recipe can easily be cut in half for a smaller gathering.
The curry is subtle here, just 2 teaspoons for a large bowl of ingredients, and once you make it, you'll think of a number of ways to doctor it. For a main-dish version, add shredded chicken. A handful of halved red grapes would add a welcome sweetness. To take the salad in another direction, ditch the curry, substitute chopped kalamata olives for the green olives and add feta cheese. Now, you've got a Greek version and a perfect accompaniment to a roasted garlic sausage or even Aidells' spinach and feta.
Brats With Cherries and Bacon are a simple showstopper and one of those who'd-have-thought? recipes. Cherries stuffed in sausages? Well, why not. I used fresh cherries that I halved and pitted to stuff the split sausages. The recipe says thawed; frozen are just as good, but I think they'll get soft and fall apart over the heat. After stuffing the brats, wrap with a piece of bacon. You'll need some wooden toothpicks to hold everything in place or risk losing the cherries to the bottom of the grill.
The brats were just as delicious in the oven, and actually cooked more evenly. I baked them at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes on a rack over a pan to catch the drippings. Because they were on the rack, they didn't need to be flipped and stayed together better. Whole-grain or Dijon mustard adds the perfect tang to the cherries' sweetness. I love this recipe.
Make Spinach Salad With Mahogany Roasted Mushrooms and Onions as your side with the brats. It's a bit fussy as a take-along salad, but works well if you're entertaining at home. Small whole button mushrooms and onion slices are briefly marinated in a sweet balsamic dressing, then baked until golden. The warm veggies are tossed with spinach leaves and warm dressing.
Croutons are made from sourdough bread that's toasted then broiled with a slather of goat cheese. This is a spin on the typical bacon-spinach salad with warm, sweet dressing. I like it better for a change, and find that big shaves of Parmesan cheese stand in nicely for the homemade goat-cheese croutons.
Who says an old dog can't learn new tricks? Your sausage menu will prove them wrong this Memorial Day.