I am more than happy eating vegetarian meals about 80% of the time without even thinking about the fact that they're vegetarian. But I do like meaty texture and flavor in a meal more often than I can afford a steak. And, it usually doesn't take much, so steak is not always the answer anyway. The solution is often sausage and I never let my freezer go without it. If it's on sale, I stock up. If it's not, I buy it anyway because it is such a deal. You get so much flavor and satisfaction for your money!
First, for those of you who are a little scared of sausage because you don't know what's in there, I worked in our stores as a shift manager for many years so I can personally vouch for the cleanliness of the equipment in the meat cutting room, which is where our butchers grind and pack the in-house-made sausages. In fact, I wasn't allowed to let the butchers go home for the night until I'd looked around to make sure everything was shipshape. And, to be clear, there were no mystery meat packages arriving at the receiving dock, either. They make the sausage with the same quality meat you see at the full-serve counter.
Grilled sausage on a bun-or wrapped in a slice of sandwich bread with a generous trail of mustard-is undeniably awesome, but if you're really watching your wallet, you gotta break it up and stretch it. You can either cook it and then slice it into little rounds or you can squeeze it out of the casing before cooking it. Either way, you need less than one quarter-pound link per person. To keep things interesting, I try different varieties and often go for turkey or lamb sausage instead of pork.
The "cook it and then slice it" method is great for pasta dishes. My favorite is "surf & turf pasta salad" because it also has a few shrimp (along with halved cherry tomatoes, cucumber, scallions and crumbled feta cheese). Sausage slices make any pot of beans more than any pot of beans, and any marinara more than any marinara. For cocktail hour or "smorgasbord" (aka "clean out the fridge") night, I cut slices and use toothpicks to dip into BBQ sauce or mustard.
The "squeeze it and brown it" method works for pizza, too, and a rustic "sauce" for frozen cheese ravioli. Brown the sausage, turn off the heat and stir in chopped tomato, minced garlic, red pepper flakes and chopped fresh herbs-basil, sage, parsley, chives or any combination. Deglaze the pan with a splash of wine or stock or pasta-cooking water. Toss into cooked ravioli.
What is the most bestest sausage stretcher that I love the mostest? I squeeze lamb sausage from the casing and brown it. Next I add either red or green lentils (depending on how patient I am; red lentils cook in just about 15 minutes), lots of dried dill weed and veggie stock, chicken stock or water. Turn down the heat, cover and cook until the lentils are falling apart or complete mush-whichever I'm in the mood for-and then taste it and season with salt or tamari and brighten up the flavor with some acid-vinegar or lemon juice. Meanwhile, make rice and a cucumber yogurt salad, combining seeded diced cucumber, maybe some quartered cherry tomatoes, garlic, yogurt and feta cheese and/or tahini. Serve the lentil/sausage mixture over the rice with the salad on the same plate so you can get a little salad with each bite of rice and lentils. If you like spicy, Indian pickle is my choice for a paired condiment, but hot sauce or sriracha will do. I'm so pleased the latter is now available without artificial preservatives!
Okay, now that I've finished with my "sausage, how do I love thee, let me count the ways," let's hear about how you take advantage of this super budget solution. I'm always looking for more sausage ideas.