Kick Off Grilling Season With This Open-Faced Sausage Sandwich
The sun is out and the pollen is zapping my will to live, which means grilling season is officially upon us. You may like to kick of the season with a big ol' pork shoulder or smoked chicken, but I like to ease myself into things with a simple, low-risk-high-reward project. This grilled sandwich is such a project.
Truthfully, I always "kick off" grilling season by cleaning my grill, which I hate. It's gross, tedious work, and I like to reward myself by grilling up a little treat once it's done. Again, this sandwich fits the bill. It's more special than a hot dog or hamburger, and somewhere in between the two in terms of ease, and it cooks up in all of six minutes.
I originally saw this genre of sandwich on Instagram, and I was immediately intrigued. There are many videos featuring the grilled, open-faced delight, but the format is always the same: A pair of masculine forearms halve a baguette, lay some soft looking cheese down on the bread, then sensuously slice a sausage in half and smoosh it on top of the cheese. The whole thing is then cooked, sausage side down, either in a pan or on the grill. (In one video, a man takes a torch to meet after it comes out of the grill pan. I'm unclear on why, however.) Once the meat is cooked through, it's finished with an herby oil of some kind, then sliced and devoured.
The sandwich is often referred to as a "choripan," but that's a bit of a misnomer. This article from Saveur breaks down the details of how to make a true Argentinian choripan, but--besides the exacting nature of the chimichurri--the main difference is one of assembly: The sausage is grilled separately from bread, rather than smashed into a baguette and grilled as a single unit. Choripan are also closed, whereas this thing is open-faced. Which may not seem like a big deal, but there are rules to sandwiches, damn it. Oh, and there's no cheese. That's a pretty big difference.
This smash-and-grill may not be a traditional choripan--and I am not claiming that it is, nor am I claiming it is an improvement on the Argentinian sandwich--but it is fun to make and eat.
How to build a smashed sausage sandwich
Start by choosing an overall flavor profile, with an appropriate bread, meat, cheese, and finishing sauce. I went with three: Spicy Italian sausage with mozz and oregano oil, bratwurst with Swiss and that same oil (I didn't feel like making two oils), and breakfast sausage with American cheese and maple syrup. All three slapped.
In terms of sausage, you do not have to stick to links that come in casings; using ground sausage meat works just as well, if not better, and there is no need to get casings involved since they're just going to get trapped between the meat and cheese, creating a textural component some people might find off-putting. Using casing-free sausage is stickier, and helps the everything hold together in one piece. (If you are making true choripan, it makes sense to leave the casings on, as they will get cooked properly and provide a pleasing snap.)
Start by halving your bread and laying some cheese on top. Slices are easier to work with, but shredded can work if you kind of mix it into the meat (again, using loose sausage is preferable here). There is no "right" amount of cheese, but you want the sausage to cover it as completely as possible.
Smoosh the sausage over and around the cheese. If you're using a standard sized baguette, you'll need two links, or 6-8 ounces of ground sausage. I used mini baguettes and batards, which only needed one link (about 4-5 ounces) for full coverage.
How to cook your smashed sausage sandwich
I respect gravity as much as the next woman in STEM, and I was a little concerned the sandwich would fall apart when inverted. It didn't. The sausage was sticky enough to keep the whole thing together, so be confident in your motions and you should be fine.
Start by setting up a classic "two-zone" configuration with your charcoal. Get your coals white hot with a chimney (read more about that here), and pile them on one side of the grill. (If you're using gas, turn half the burners on high and leave the other half off.)
Place the sandwich, meat side down, on the "indirect heat" side of the grill (the side without the coals or burners). Cover the grill--if using charcoal, make sure your vents are fully open--and let it cook for five minutes.
Move the sandwich to the other zone, directly over the coals. Let cook for another minute or so, and don't be afraid to press down and encourage some flare ups. The sausage has plenty of grease to spare, and those vaporized drippings will give your sandwich that classic "grilled" flavor.
Once you've got plenty of browning on the sausage and some char on the bread, remove the sandwich from the grill and sauce it up, boys.
You can use a classic chimichurri, a simple herb oil, or get weird with it and drizzle with something sweet, like I did with this breakfast sausage sandwich, which is finished with maple syrup.
Repeat until you are out of sausage and bread, then go get more sausage and bread, until you have run out of ideas for new and exciting combinations of bread, sausage, and cheese. This could take all season, so you better get started now.