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A common meal That I make in a pinch is Italian sausage with peppers and onions. I'll cut up a few red and yellow peppers, a whole onion, and throw it in a pan with some olive oil. Once the vegetables cook down a bit, I throw in the sausages, making sure they contact the pan so they can brown.

My problem is that I can never tell how much oil to use. I always end up using too much. My vegetables are drenched in oil. I hate having to break out a measuring cup to do precise recipes, as I'm trying to get a natural feel for the right amount, and I also don't know how, and if, I should scale up or down the oil if I'm making a bigger batch.

Are they any good rules of thumb I can apply to get a natural understanding of using oil in this manner?

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This question is problematic -- the sausage is going to give off a fair bit of fat, so it likely doesn't matter how much oil you added to start with, you always risk it being greasy unless you cook the sausage first to drain some of the fat off. –  Joe Jul 28 '10 at 12:46

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I would do it the other way round, I'd fry the sausages first, then add the veg. This has a few benefits as I see it:-

  • The sausages will brown more evenly, purely aesthetic but some people will think they are not cooked if they are not brown.
  • You'll get the oil out of the sausages so you'll have a better idea of how much oil to add when you add the veg, if any.
  • The veg will sweat down in the sausage oil which is likely to be much nicer than the other oil
  • You can cook the sausages on a really low heat to start with so that they really get sticky and caramelised, then when you add the veg back in you can add a spoon of water/vinegar/stock to deglaze the pan an get that lovely sticky sausage goodness all over your veggies, which will be delicious.

You could optionally take the cooked sausages out of the pan and do the veg separately, or keep 'em in there, I'd probably take them out so I could turn the heat up a bit without having to worry about the sausages.

I'd say that when you do add the veg you want a thin (1mm ish) layer of oil in the pan. Depending on the pan this is probably a tables spoon or 2. You probably don't need to scale up as if you are cooking a bigger batch you will probably use a bigger pan, and so a similar depth of oil should suffice. If you are using the same pan, but with a deeper amount of veg, then I would add a little more, but I would make the depth of oil in the pan proportional to the depth of veggies.

Remember the golden rule. You can always add, you can never take away. And once the veg start to cook down and the volume decreases then the oil ratio will be higher, so start out with a little less than you think, just enough to coat the veg when tossed in it.

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Low heat and caramelize go together like fish and bicycles. The pan should be at about 160ºC / 320ºF. –  BaffledCook Aug 31 '10 at 19:51

Have you tried cooking the sausage first? Cook it with a small amount of oil (just enough to keep it from sticking to the pan), and let some of its intrinsic fat render out. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Now: pour out the oil/fat from the pan until there's just a couple tablespoons in there. Get the vegetables started, and once they're hot and sizzling add the sausage back.

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A good enough non-stick pan will probably only need a glaze of oil, if any at all. I use a silicone pastry brush to coat it as it's heating up.

Perhaps cook the sausages first as mentioned, then set them aside and mop up most of the oil with paper towel before adding the vegetables?

Then again, I really dislike the taste and mouthfeel of oil in vegetable dishes and will go to puritanical lengths to avoid it.

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