Breakfast sausage is among the most popular variety of sausage consumed nationwide. They're often made from ground pork and pressed into small patties, fried in a pan or on a griddle, then served alongside eggs, pancakes or waffles. The ingredients are consistent throughout most recipes: pork, sage, black pepper, red pepper flakes and brown sugar.
Nearly all breakfast sausage is made using ground pork. Some recipes call for pork butt, shoulder or both, and direct you to dry rub it with spices so it absorbs flavor before grinding. From there, most breakfast sausage is flattened into thin patties and cooked in a saute pan. Sometimes it is stuffed into smaller, natural sheep casings, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
Sage is a flavorful herb that happens to be the state flower of Nevada. Like most herbs, it's sold fresh and dried at grocery stores. Fresh sage is far less bitter and more aromatic than the dried version, but it won't mix or distribute its flavor as uniformly in something like breakfast sausage. Some breakfast sausage recipes call for it fresh or dried, depending on the flavor desired.
A combination of partially refined sugar and 4 percent molasses, brown sugar is added to the breakfast sausage to balance the salt and spice with a little added sweetness. The small amount of molasses in the brown sugar helps mimic the smell and taste of syrup that tops pancakes, waffles or French toast at breakfast. Some variations of breakfast sausage use maple syrup instead of brown sugar to make this effect more dramatic.
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Black pepper has a pleasant, familiar kick that wakens your palate when chewing breakfast sausage in the morning. Black peppercorns have better flavor and aromatics when freshly ground, so don't use preground, dried black pepper if you can in any way avoid it.
Cayenne or Red Pepper
In dried form, cayenne and red peppers have similar effects on breakfast sausage, which is to give it a nice kick of heat without overpowering the other flavors. Red pepper flakes gives a slightly chunkier texture to the breakfast sausage than powdered cayenne. Heat comes from the red pepper in spurts rather than a constant, lingering heat from the cayenne. The severity of the heat depends on the amount added and the freshness of the pepper. Some breakfast sausages are intended to be extra hot and usually call for larger amounts of red pepper flakes.
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