Every ingredient in the kitchen has a value. It is easier to define the value of certain ingredients over others, for example eggs. If we were to apply a numerical score to every food item eggs would score extremely high. They can be the main focus of a dish or provide the necessary additions to pull a recipe together.
Ignoring individual cuisines or regional cooking practices (rice will certainly score a higher value in Asian cuisines than in German) the three highest value ingredients might be water, salt, and eggs.
Part of what makes seeing the value in those three easy is that they are base ingredients. It is not difficult to think of recipes that require their addition for a vast array of reasons. However when we look at a more complex ingredient, like chicken or sausage it becomes harder. We tend to focus more on applications where it is the star ingredient and thus it’s overall value is diminished because if it isn’t the center of the dish, we are less apt to use it.
Yet looking closer we see that proteins can be just as valuable. Think of all the uses you can derive from chicken stock; which requires chicken to make.
Recently I’ve been using sausage more and more. Part of the reason has to do with ease of acquisition (more on that later) but also because I think it has a very underrated versatility score. It can be grilled as a main course or served as a side dish for breakfast. It can be the background flavor to a terrific ragu or be the perfect complement to a dish of pasta. It works just as well inside of a casing as it does outside. Aside from salads, there are no general cooking applications that I can think of, where sausage isn’t widely used.
This brings me to the next reason I’ve been using it more, ease of acquisition. Plenty of foods can be adapted across a wide variety of dishes, but procuring sausage is becoming easier and far more economical than it ever has been. According to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council (I’m not making this up) “Sausages are enjoying unprecedented sales in the United States, as new flavors, convenient products and many great tasting old standards have enjoyed steady category growth.”
In 2010, dinner sausage saw sales rise to over $1.89 billion, much of that propelled by the increased visibility and availability from protein counters in grocery stores. In many places sausage is now available either in ground form or sold by the link. For any cook this is a great place to buy exactly the amounts of food you need, but for a single cook, like me, this might be where the best value in the entire store is.
Instead of having to buy a large package of sausage or ground meat, at whatever price they want to charge I can order just enough to feed me, and perhaps a bit extra if I plan on spreading it out over several meals. You’d be surprised how far even one link of sausage will go (which average about 1/3 of a pound). My grocer in particular usually has around 5 different choices of sausage links giving me further options depending on whether I want an apple sausage to go with my omelets or a red win garlic sausage for use in Sunday gravy. That level of choice is spectacular since some of my weekly menu is planned out for me as soon as I walk up to the counter.
I tend to buy the sausage in the casing because it simplifies storage, and cutting it open to get at the meat if I want to use it in ground form is incredibly easy. If you are uneasy about sausage and “what is in it” look for a protein counter in your mega-mart or find a reputable butcher that makes their own.
Talk to the people behind the counter, figure out which product is going to work best for you. Fresh sausage is likely the best option since it isn’t meant to last forever. It is only sale for a day or so after being made, meaning it is less likely to have extra additive or preservatives, and certainly no nitrates (if you’re really worried about that). That stuff over in the freezer section might be a bit more suspect.
Whether you’re dining alone or feeding an army you shouldn’t overlook the sausage. With consumers trying to save money any way they can, but not sacrifice quality the sausage might just hold the key to keeping that equation in balance. Increased variety, ease of access, and unsurpassed versatility all add up to great meals and less pressure on the wallets. You don’t need to be a math major to see the value in that.