First, let’s clarify that boiling sausage isn’t a good idea. That’s not to say you can’t cook your Italian sausage in bubbling water, but boiling requires a higher heat than is optimal. Boiling may burst the casing, which leads to significant loss of fat (read: flavor), and it can render the tube of meat unpleasantly mealy. What you really want to do is to poach your Italian sausage, which is a gentler, more suitable method that prevents mishaps and turns out a moist, evenly cooked final product.
Cooking Sausage by Poaching
Place your Italian sausages in a saucepan and fill it with just enough cold water to completely cover them. Add a few pinches of salt to the water and bring it to a simmer on the stovetop over medium-high heat. There’s no need to cover the pot.
As soon as the water starts gently simmering, reduce the burner heat to low and cook the sausage to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (assuming the sausage is made with pork, as is typical of Italian sausage or red meats; sausages that contain poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees F). The whole process should take only about 8 to 10 minutes.
If you’d like to impart more flavor, consider cooking sausage in a different poaching liquid besides water. Beer, red wine, or any type of broth or stock works well with Italian sausages. Everything is done the same as with water.
Finishing Sausage on the Stove or Grill
Once Italian sausage is poached to the appropriate internal temperature, it’s fully cooked and safe to eat. Feel free to chow down at this point. Or, consider one additional step for a more enjoyable finished product. If you only poach sausages, they won’t develop the attractive brown coloring or the slightly crisped casing that takes them to the next level both presentation- and flavor-wise.
As the Italian sausages finish poaching, preheat a pan coated in cooking oil or the grill to medium heat. Blot the sausages dry when you remove them from the saucepan and place them in the pan or on the grill.
They’re already cooked, so all you’re doing here is browning and crisping the sausages. Give them just a minute or two on one side until it’s nicely browned; then flip them over and do the same on the other side. Don’t continue cooking them longer than needed to achieve a sear on the surface, or they’ll start to overcook and dry out.
Storing Italian Sausage
Fresh, uncooked sausages should be refrigerated and eaten or frozen within two days of purchase, and cooked sausage should be refrigerated in an airtight container and eaten within another three days. If you’re freezing it, vacuum-sealing is the best option; otherwise, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap; then close it in a freezer bag with as much air forced out as possible. Freeze cooked sausage the same way.
Thaw frozen Italian sausages by moving them into the refrigerator for about 24 hours and use or refreeze them within two days. To thaw them faster, submerge them completely in a leak-proof bag in a bowl of cold water for an hour or so, dumping the water and refilling with new cold water every 30 minutes. If you use this method, cook the sausage right away, even before refreezing.
You can also thaw your sausage in a few minutes using your microwave’s defrost setting, but this starts to cook the sausage and detracts from the quality of the finished product. Using this method necessitates immediately cooking the sausage the rest of the way, including before refreezing.