This month, the wine panel turned to panelist Chad Houser for an easy sausage sandwich recipe that welcomes wine and beer pairings.
We held the chef to one stipulation: The sausage had to be widely available. We held the wine prices to less than $20, but let the beer budget run wild - because great beer is an affordable luxury.
Houser came through in spades, elevating Earl Campbell Hot Links to haute links, on a bolillo bun (from Wal-Mart). He topped the links with smoked Gouda cheese, caramelized onions and pickled mustard seeds.
The onions and mustard seeds are sandwich secret weapons that can be made in advance; keep them on hand, and you can pull off Houser's party-perfect recipe in less than 30 minutes.
The hot links are precooked and need only to be reheated. Doing this on the grill adds extra flavor. Plus, you give the illusion that you are putting some effort into what's actually a ridiculously easy cookout.
This is one bold sandwich, with an array of flavors and textures. The sweet, velvety-soft caramelized onions are a foil for the spicy, salty sausage. The sweet and tangy pickled mustard seeds brighten the rich sandwich and lend a cool, caviarlike pop in the mouth. The grated smoked Gouda is just plain good, melting on contact with the hot sausage.
It's a riot of flavor, but not too much for seven of the wines and three of the beers that the panel tasted with the dish. Jeff Gregory, wine director of FT33, joined us for this mammoth tasting mission. (We started with 23 wines and five beers.)
Our pairing picks offer something for everyone. They include a sparkling rosé; rich reds and fruity, textured white wines; and Belgian-style ales. A Texas wine and a Texas beer made our top 10 list, too. So between the hot links and drinks, you could go totally Texan with this party. Read on to learn about our wine and beer matches, and get the recipe for Houser's killer sausage sandwich.
By Tina Danze, Special Contributor
Find wines less than $20 to go with Chad Houser's Spicy Sausage Sandwich With Caramelized Onions.
A sandwich made with grilled Earl Campbell Hot Links, smoked Gouda cheese, caramelized onions and pickled mustard seeds on a bolillo bun.
The wine pairings
Graham Beck Brut Rosé NV, South Africa
- $17.99 to $19.99
- Find it at Central Market (Lovers Lane and Plano stores); Spec's; Total Wine & More; Whole Foods Market; Sigel's; Green Grocer; Pogo's; PK's; Andrew's Fine Beverage; Las Colinas Beverage; McKinney Wine Merchant; Corner Wines in Plano; and Wine Cellar at Starwood in Frisco
This well-made, fruity sparkler is incredibly versatile. Unlike many sparklers of this quality, it's affordable enough for a casual cookout. Out of three sparkling rosés sampled, it was the only one that held up to the sausage. "It's nice and rich, and creamy," Tidwell said. "The wine on its own is bold, but with this dish, it comes across as fairly delicate," he noted, adding "It's a match, especially if you like sparkling wine." Gregory praised the wine's persistent mousse. Houser said the rosé's blackberry and raspberry flavors played well with the mustard seeds, smoky meat and sweet onions.
Badenhorst Family Wines Secateurs Chenin Blanc, 2014, South Africa
- Find it at Central Market and Whole Foods Market
This is a good wine for the money. Panelists agreed that it had enough fruit to hold up to the dish. "The sandwich makes the wine seem to have more acidity with the food," Tidwell remarked. Botamer added: "The acidity kicks in and holds up to the fattiness of the dish; it matches the pickled mustard and brings out the sweetness in the onions." He also praised the wine's texture. Gregory liked the wine's balance and its refreshing, palate-cleansing quality.
Herdade Do Esporão Monte Velho 2014, Portugal
- Find it at Spec's, Whole Foods Market and Pogo's
This food-friendly white blend made from native Portuguese grapes is an incredible value - you'd never guess that it's less than $12. Unlike several whites sampled, it didn't turn bitter when paired with the flavorful sandwich. Botamer liked the wine's lemon-lime and green apple flavors with the dish. Gregory said, "The spice, smoke and fat meld with the wine for a pleasant finish on the palate." Tidwell said "texturally, it works," explaining that the wine's richness stands up to the dish. "The wine and sandwich flavors play off of each other," Houser said. "Have a bite of the sandwich and a sip of wine, and the flavors are all dancing around in your mouth. All of a sudden, the sandwich flavors come alive again - it's wonderful," he said.
Quinta Do Crasto Douro, 2013, Portugal
- $16.99 to $17.99
- Find it at Central Market; Spec's; Whole Foods Market; and Pogo's
With its concentrated fruit, good structure and light oak notes, this complex red blend proved our favorite pairing for the sausage sandwich. "All aspects of the wine are really good with the sandwich," Gregory said, adding that the wine's smoky quality enhanced the sausage. Tidwell liked how the wine made the sandwich taste spicier. "It's got port wine fruit, and it's a little charry, so it works with the smokiness of the meat. It also works with the sweetness of the onions," he said. Houser added that the wine's caramelized-fruit undertones played well with the sandwich.
Juan Gil Jumilla Red Wine, 2012, Spain
- Find it at Central Market (Lovers Lane, Preston Road and Southlake stores); Spec's; select Goody Goody stores; Sigel's; Total Wine & More; La Cave; Pogo's; Wine Poste; Las Colinas Beverages; Market Street; and McKinney Wine Merchant
Made of 100 percent mourvèdre - known as monastrell in Spain - this rich, intensely fruity wine shows spice notes and a touch of oak. "If you are a fan of big reds, this is your wine," Houser said. Calling the pairing "a heavyweight matchup," he added "everything about this wine is robust. It goes toe to toe with the dish in a big way, emphasizing how flavorful the sandwich is." Gregory described the wine as "big and in your face." He said, "It leans heavily toward the ripe-fruit end of the spectrum and flavorwise, it works well." Tidwell said the wine made the dish even weightier; if eating outdoors on a hot day, he thought that this could be a drawback for some. Die-hard fans of big red wines may be undeterred.
McPherson Roussanne Reserve, Texas High Plains 2012, Texas
- $17.67 to $20.99
- Find it at Pogo's; Spec's on North Central Expressway; Central Market (Lovers Lane and Plano locations); and Sigel's
This aromatic, food-friendly wine surprised panelists with how it changed when paired with the dish. "It has a remarkably different texture with the sandwich: It becomes richer. The dish highlights the textural quality of the wine," Tidwell said. "It's not over the top in flavor; the wine's lemon quality on the back end shows more with the mustard seeds." Gregory noted that the lingering quality of the fat and smoke in the sausage called for a weighty wine with intensity, such as this one.
Haak Malbec, 2012, American
- Find it at Spec's on North Central Expressway; Central Market (Lovers Lane, Preston Road and Southlake stores); Total Wine & More; Whole Foods Market in Addison
This smooth, supple red shows rich, dark berry fruit with a hint of cocoa. "This is well-made wine with a creamy, rich texture. The match is really good," Botamer said. Tidwell said, "It's got luscious, rich fruit. It's a simple, easy-drinking wine that strikes the middle ground - it doesn't have too much fruity sweetness, and doesn't have too much structure." Although Haak Vineyards is in Texas, this wine is made using grapes grown out of state; consequently, it must be labeled as an American wine, not a Texas wine. The wine is cellared and bottled by Haak in Santa Fe, Texas, in Galveston County.
The beer pairings
Duvel Belgian Golden Ale, Belgium
- $10.99 (750-ml. bottle)
- Widely available
With notes of pear, citrus and orange zest, and a touch of sweetness, this elegant ale is a wonderfully refreshing foil to the rich sausage sandwich. Tidwell noted that the ale has a candied-sugar profile that complements the sandwich, offsetting its spiciness. "The carbonation helps handle the sausage's saltiness," Botamer said. Houser liked how the beer brightened the sandwich. "It individualizes the sandwich flavors; the pairing brings out crisp, clean flavors in both the beer and the sandwich," he said.
Westmalle Dubbel Trappist Ale, Belgium
- $11.99 (750-ml. bottle)
- Find it at Spec's; Total Wine; Whole Foods Market; Central Market; Market Street; select Kroger stores; Sigel's; Pogo's; and Las Colinas Beverages
"It's fabulous, and has a nice hint of vanilla that picks up the sweetness of the onions. The balance makes it shine: It has just enough sweetness, body and texture," Botamer said. Tidwell called it "a phenomenal pairing. It's rich, but not too heavy or overpowering." Gregory said, "This beer nails it. The sweetness leads into the flavor of the sandwich, and the beer flavor integrates well with the sandwich flavors." Houser added that the beer managed to "bring all the flavors in the sandwich together, up front, in one big taste." He felt that the beer's vanilla flavor added another element to the sandwich pairing.
Lakewood Brewing Co. Bokkenrijders Doppelsticke Alt, Garland
- $10.52 (22-ounce bottle)
- Although not currently in production, this seasonal beer is still available at Spec's on Central Expressway.
This is a big, rich, malty ale. The malty sweetness is balanced somewhat by an earthy, floral hops bitterness. "I like it - it's so creamy and rich; it's a hearty choice," Botamer said. "The maltiness of the beer works to tone down and smooth out the spice," Tidwell said. He added that the beer made the dish even richer. Gregory found the beer heavier than he would want for this pairing. Houser agreed. He likened the pairing to "eating the entree and dessert in the same course " - think milkshake with burger. Panelists agreed that half of a beer and half of a sandwich would suffice for this pairing.
Chad Houser's spicy sausage sandwich with caramelized onions
- Caramelized Onions (recipe follows)
- Pickled Mustard Seeds (recipe follows)
- 1 (16-ounce) package hot links, such as Earl Campbell Hot Link sausages (5 links)
- 5 split bolillo rolls
- 2/3 cup grated smoked Gouda cheese
Prepare the onions and mustard seeds ahead of time.
When ready to prepare sandwiches, fire coals in a chimney starter and let burn until a white ash forms on the coals. (If using a gas grill, heat the grill to medium to medium-low.) Spray the grill grate with grilling spray to keep sausages from sticking. Place coals in the grill. When grill grate is hot, place sausages on it; cook on both sides, turning often, until heated through and brown grill marks appear, about 10 to 12 minutes. (The sausages are precooked, but need to be heated. Besides, they taste better with a little grill flavor.)
Transfer sausage to an oven-safe baking dish or baking sheet and cover with foil, if not ready to use them immediately; you can reheat them, if necessary, in a 325 F oven.
To assemble the sandwiches, place a hot link inside of each bun. Top each one with about 2 tablespoons of cheese, 2 heaping tablespoons of Caramelized Onions and 1 rounded tablespoon of Pickled Mustard Seeds. Serve immediately, with a lot of napkins. Makes 5 servings.
Caramelized Onions: Peel 2 large yellow onions. Slice in half lengthwise, then cut into thin half-moon slices. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet (not a nonstick skillet) over medium heat. Add onions and stir to coat. Cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes, stirring every 5 to 7 minutes, and scraping up the flavorful buildup that sticks to the bottom of the pan. May be prepared ahead and stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or make a double batch and freeze half for up to 3 months.
Pickled Mustard Seeds: In a saucepan, combine 1 cup rice vinegar, 1/2 cup white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 cup yellow mustard seeds, 1 cinnamon stick and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Store in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 months; if the mixture begins to dry out, stir in another tablespoon of rice vinegar.
PER SERVING: Calories 772 (49% from fat), Fat 42 g (17 g sat), Cholesterol 85 mg, Sodium 1,825 mg, Fiber 5 g, Carbohydrates 65 g, Protein 28 g
SOURCE: Chef Chad Houser, Cafe Momentum
- Paul Botamer, sommelier and wine director at Fearing's at the Ritz-Carlton, Dallas
- Chad Houser, executive director, Cafe Momentum
- Jeffrey Gregory, wine director, FT 33 restaurant
- James Tidwell, certified wine educator; master sommelier, Cafe on the Green, Four Seasons Resort and Club in Las Colinas
- Cathy Barber, Taste editor
- Sarah Blaskovich, guidelive.com
- Tina Danze, freelance writer