Hot dogs? Go for grownup sausages for a Memorial Day cookout

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.

In the past decade, specialty sausages have become more readily available in Tampa Bay's major grocery stores. Sweetbay produces signature combinations of fresh sausages, including parsley-Romano and a savory blueberry. Aidells brand offers more than a dozen varieties, though not all may be available where you shop. Chicken and apple is easy to find, but I haven't seen artichoke and garlic. Another brand that's popped up recently is Al Fresco, an all-natural variety. Some of the offerings including chipotle chorizo and roasted garlic.

Fresh, cooked or cured

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.

On Memorial Day

For your 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.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

. FAST FACTS

On the menu

Here are some sausages that are tailor-made for Memorial Day grilling. They can often be found both fresh and fully cooked. Serve them in rolls with garnishes, spreads and relishes of your choice.

• Kielbasa, sometimes called Polish sausage

• Bratwurst

• Hot or sweet Italian sausage

• Knockwurst

• Spicy chorizo

• Andouille

• Look for specialty sausages that combine meat (chicken, beef or pork) with other ingredients such as roasted garlic, feta cheese, spinach, apples, parsley and Romano cheese.

>>easy

Curried Rice and Artichoke Salad

2 packages (6.9 ounces each) chicken flavor Rice-A-Roni

Olive oil, for cooking rice

6 scallions, green parts only, trimmed and chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1/2 cup finely chopped red or green bell pepper

1/2 cup sliced green olives

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 (12-ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons curry powder

1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds

Cook Rice-A-Roni following the instructions on the package, using olive oil. Let cool.

Meanwhile, place the scallions, bell pepper, olives and parsley in a large mixing bowl. Add drained and chopped artichoke hearts.

In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise and curry powder. Set aside.

Add the cooked and cooled rice to the bowl with the artichokes. Spoon the curry mayonnaise on top of rice and mix well.

Salad can be served cold or at room temperature. Garnish with toasted almonds before serving.

Serves 10 to 12.

Source: What Can I Bring? by Anne Byrn (Workman, 2007)

>>moderate

Spinach Salad With Mahogany Roasted Mushrooms and Onions

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided use

8 ounces mushrooms, lightly rinsed and patted dry (12 mushrooms)

1 cup onion slivers (1 medium onion)

3 slices sturdy sourdough bread

2 ounces soft goat cheese

1 (10-ounce) bag spinach (6 to 7 cups), rinsed and drained well, stems removed

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place the balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Whisk in 1/3 cup olive oil.

Trim and discard the stems of the mushrooms. Add the mushrooms and the onion slivers to the dressing mixture. Stir to coat well and let marinate for about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms and onions and place in a baking dish. Save the remaining dressing. Bake the mushrooms and onions for about 20 minutes, until they are golden.

While the mushroom and onions are cooking, toast the bread lightly, then place on a cutting board and spread it with the goat cheese. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and place in a shallow metal baking dish. Set aside.

When mushroom and onions are done, place them in a large, shallow serving bowl. Heat the remaining dressing by pouring it into the hot baking dish and letting the residual heat warm it.

Preheat the broiler to high. Drizzle the bread cubes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then broil until cheese bubbles, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from oven.

Add the spinach to the serving bowl and stir to combine with olive oil and mushrooms. Dress with warm dressing and garnish with hot goat cheese croutons.

Garnish note: To save time and to offer an alternate taste, substitute large shavings of Parmesan cheese for the goat-cheese croutons.

Serves 6.

Source: What Can I Bring? by Anne Byrn (Workman, 2007)

>>easy

Brats With Cherries and Bacon

8 fully cooked, unsmoked bratwursts

8 ounces pitted cherries, thawed if frozen

8 slices bacon

8 rolls

Dijon-style mustard

Use a serrated knife to slice the bratwurst lengthwise, cutting halfway through. Stuff cherries inside the opening, 4 or 5 for each. (If fresh cherries are large, use halved cherries.) Wrap 1 slice of bacon around each sausage to keep cherries in place. (You may need toothpicks, too.)

Heat grill to medium with lid closed.

Grill the cherry-stuffed brats for 10 to 12 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are cooked through and the bacon is dark, golden brown.

Transfer the cooked brats to a platter and serve with rolls and mustard.

Makes 8 sandwiches.

Oven method: Stuffed brats can be baked in the oven. Place them on a rack over a baking sheet and cook for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. If you don't have a rack, turn the brats halfway through cooking so the bacon browns evenly.

Source: Dad's Awesome Grilling Book by Bob Sloan (Chronicle Books, 2009)

Hot dogs? Go for grownup sausages for a Memorial Day cookout 05/25/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 8:27am]

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