#WeeknightKitchenista: Skillet Sausage & Peppers (and a Beginner's Cooking Lesson!)Thursday, January 07, 2016
At the end of 2015, I asked everybody in my social media audience to share their #FoodResolution for 2016. I got a ton of feedback (thank you!) that's already giving me all kinds of ideas for the blog. After sorting through your responses, I thought I'd start out with an easy dish that would appeal to those who are trying to leave takeout behind and cook more often this year. I think it's important for everybody to have some simple staple weeknight dishes that they can bang out without really thinking about it. Weeknight meals are also most often family friendly and inexpensive. Having a variety of basic dinner recipes in your arsenal will help get you into the habit of cooking regularly and eating out less.
Today's recipe is one that I learned to cook when I moved out on my own in my early twenties. Sausage and peppers is far from the more creative dishes I'd whip up for company, but it's perfect to satisfy my kids and I on regular weekdays. To this day, I still keep smoked sausage in the fridge for those nights that I don't really have time to do more. A meal that's budget friendly, kid friendly and schedule friendly is all win in my world. There's no meat to worry about thawing or marinating or overcooking, no painstaking vegetable prep or custom spice blends to create. We're just talking sausage, onions and peppers folks. You can even choose whether that means pork, beef, chicken or turkey sausage. I've jazzed this up a bit since I first started making it, but it's still a very easy dish to pull together. As written, the recipe serves two generously and was cooked in a 10" skillet. Use a larger skillet if doubling to serve four or more.
If all you need is the recipe, continue on below. While this is a really basic dish, I decided to use it as way to drop some gems for beginning home cooks. I try to incorporate cooking tips into all of my recipes, but it's still hard to cover everything all in one post. People often ask me what a good recipe would be to start out with, so I'm looking forward to finally having the perfect one in mind. As I started writing, I realized it was a great opportunity to cover some basic building blocks of home cooking. Here are the main concepts you'll see referenced in this recipe.
- Mise en place: Literally, "everything in its place." This French term is what chefs refer to when getting all of their ingredients, tools and equipment ready to go before cooking. It's a way to ensure you're organized and have everything needed to prepare a recipe.
- Sear (or Brown): Cooking food over high heat with a little fat browns the surface. It can refer to meat or vegetables. The browning that occurs is a result of the natural sugars in the food caramelizing. Sometimes you'll hear that searing meat locks in its juices. It's been proven that this isn't true, however, browning is a real chemical reaction that creates a change in flavor. It's an important step that shouldn't be skipped.
- Fond: As you cook, especially after searing meat, little crusty browned bits will develop on the surface of the pan. That's the fond, and it's rich in flavor. It's often used as the starting point for a pan sauce or gravy.
- Deglaze: Liquid added to the pan helps release the fond, defined above. Often you'll see water, stock or wine added after cooking the meat or vegetables, with instructions to "scrape up the browned bits in the pan." In other dishes, smaller amounts of liquid can naturally work to deglaze a pan, such as the juices released from vegetables as they cook.
- Sauté: When we quickly cook foods over high heat in a little bit of fat, we're sautéing them. What separates this from searing is that the food is constantly moving, and not necessarily browning at all (think crisp tender veggies.) It's important to sauté in a skillet that's large enough to accommodate food in one layer, otherwise moisture gets trapped and you'll wind up steaming it instead.
- Salt to Taste: In most recipes, there's not an exact amount of salt that could ever be given to the home cook. Besides variations in the type of salt used, the taste of your ingredients are going to be slightly different every time. This requires you to season accordingly and make adjustments based on what you personally determine a dish needs. A pinch of salt is what can be grabbed between your thumb and forefinger; no more than an 1/8th of a teaspoon at a time. In almost all of my recipes, I use Kosher salt, but sometimes I'll specify sea salt.
- Balancing flavors: Technically, our tastebuds can only detect sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness and umami. Flavors incorporate even more of a sensory experience, such as aroma, emotion and mouthfeel; think spiciness or fruitiness among others. A good dish will hit a variety of notes in a way that's thoughtfully composed. (The brilliance in doing so is what separates average cooks from the exceptionally gifted.) Some flavors will be deep and lingering, like the savoriness from the meat in your dish. Others may be punches of flavor here and there, like that from a bright herb, hot chile pepper, or splash of citrus juice. Think of it as taking your tastebuds on a ride. Rather than coasting along a flat, boring road, you'd want some low points and high points along the way to make things interesting.
1 tbsp neutral cooking oil, such as grape seed or canola
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: Serves 2
Special Equipment: Heavy non-stick skillet