Banger to rights

You'll need to experiment with methods to achieve the perfect sausage

As I wrote here last year, I am not a confident barbecue cook, though I do crave one or two grilled foods strongly enough to set aside my nervousness. I mentioned sardines; and I might have added sausages.

Why it is that sausages should work well on the barbecue is far from clear. You are supposed to cook them slowly. On the fierce heat from the coals, you risk splitting the skins and shrivelling the meat, or, even worse, producing charred exteriors and raw, poisonous interiors. But somehow, if you are lucky enough to get the temperature right, you end up with the perfect balance of smokiness and juiciness.

It is a puzzle, because you cannot get the same result from an overhead grill, which dries out sausages and toughens their skins. Cooking in an oven has a similar effect, particularly when set to a high heat - and if the oven heat is low the skins do not brown.

That leaves poaching and frying, or a combination of the two. In his BBC2 programme In Search of Perfection, Heston Blumenthal recommended poaching sausages in water heated to 65°C - he was precise about that - before browning them in a frying pan over a medium flame. I tried it. Probably because I did not have a thermometer, and because I can't get the flame on my hob to maintain such a low temperature, I wasn't impressed with the result. Also, I find that sausages cooked at medium heat, even after an initial poaching, tend to split.

Do you prick your sausages? Despite the celebrated sausage label showing Ainsley Harriott holding a pronged instrument above the legend "Prick with a fork", most experts tell you not to pierce the skins before cooking. It used to be essential, because the miserable, well-named bangers we normally ate contained so much liquid that they exploded as soon as they became hot. Now, the theory is that you want to ensure that the moisture is trapped within the skin.

I am not so sure about this advice. What is that sizzling sound? It is, of course, the noise of liquid meeting fat. Your sausages are going to lose moisture while they cook, whether you try to contain it or not. I usually pierce my sausages all over with the sharp point of a knife, because I find that the skins of the butcher's sausages I buy split very easily, even in a very heavy pan over a very low heat.

I have just tried another hybrid method: frying, then baking. I browned my sausages - pricked - over a low to medium heat, and put them in a gas mark 2/140°C oven for half an hour. They were not sticky enough. So it is back to slow frying. Cast-iron pan; heat disperser; very low heat; a little olive oil, and a little butter. Turn several times. It takes anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes.

Nicholas Clee's food blog is at

Nicholas Clee, the NS food columnist, is the author of Don’t Sweat the Aubergine: What Works in the Kitchen and Why (Short Books). He is a former editor of The Bookseller, and writes about books for papers including the Times, Guardian, and Times Literary Supplement.

This article first appeared in the 04 August 2008 issue of the New Statesman, China: The patriot games