Reverse-Searing for Succulent Sausage Success
The road to kielbasa nirvana is paved with pitfalls. It you cook them at too high a temperature, the casing scorches and bursts forth with undercooked sausage stuffing; cook them at too low a temperature, and the stuffing cooks through but the casing wrinkles and grays, not unlike a sad, desiccated common wiener. And you don't even want to know the horrors that await when you slice fresh sausage and then bake it. So how do you navigate the precarious path to sausage success? By using two cooking methods in one: the venerable reverse-sear.
Why Reverse-Searing Works
Reverse-searing, or first baking the kielbasa in a flavorful cooking medium – such as stock, sauerkraut and beer, or onions and peppers – then searing it on the stove for a delectably caramelized finish, covers the spectrum of moist-dry cooking methods. You essentially braise the sausage for nice, even cooking all the way through and then do a quick, high-temperature sear to achieve the hallmark of a well-cooked kielbasa: a richly browned, intact casing.
Cooking Mediums and Secondary Ingredients
You can bake kielbasa with just about any ingredients that produce moisture when heated, which are many. Beer and sauerkraut are almost organic in their relationship with kielbasa, but so is the Italian-American combo of onions and peppers and the Spanish pairing of sausage and tomato-caper sauce. You can even use stock on its own or with your vegetables of choice, such as fingerling potatoes and sliced shallots, or lentils and mushrooms. The only real guideline to follow is to use enough secondary ingredients and/or stock to reach about halfway up the sides of the kielbasa, just as you would when braising meat.
Let the kielbasa reach room temperature.
Heat the oven to 325F, and take the kielbasa out of the fridge 30 to 45 minutes before you want to cook them; room-temperature sausages cook more evenly than cold sausages.
Heat the secondary ingredients. If you're cooking with sauerkraut and lager, for instance, add them to a saucepan and heat them to a simmer; if you start with cold ingredients, it throws off the kielbasa cooking time. The same applies to stock and other ingredients. If you want the secondary ingredients browned, as you might when cooking with peppers and onions, brown them in a saute pan first.
Arrange the kielbasa in a deep roasting pan. Add enough secondary ingredients to reach about halfway up the sausages. Cover the roasting pan with foil.
Bake the kielbasa until they reach 140F, about 20 minutes. Turn the kielbasa over after 10 minutes. You don't have to check the temperature of each kielbasa, just one. Transfer the secondary ingredients to their serving dishes. Next, heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in a saute pan.
Sear the kielbasa on all sides over high heat. Cook the kielbasa until crisp and caramelized, with an internal temperature of 160F to 165F, about 3 minutes total. Kielbasa cooked to 160F will continue cooking to 165F after you take them out of the saute pan. Let the kielbasa rest for about 5 minutes before slicing or serving.
After cooking the kielbasa, simmer the remaining cooking liquid (such as the beer and sauerkraut juice) until it reduces to a glaze-like consistency; pour it over the kielbasa before serving.
Never poke holes in kielbasa to help it cook through; you'll lose a majority of delicious fat and juices that way (this doesn't include when you check the temperature at the end of cooking). Sausage casings are porous (sausage links would explode otherwise), so cooking just until the interior reaches 160F to 165F suffices.