Some ingredients earn permanent resident status in my pantry because I use them in more ways than I can count.
Sometimes, I can count on one hand the number of dishes I make with an ingredient.
Beef hot links are one of those one-hand ingredients, but the handful of dishes I make with them are some of our all-time favorites.
A trip to New Orleans many years ago introduced my husband Ted and me to jambalaya and gumbo, two Cajun dishes that have at their core andouille, a spicy pork sausage. I painstakingly picked pieces of andouille off my plate, while enjoying the residual smoky flavor the sausage left behind. Determined to replicate the flavors of south Louisiana in my own kitchen, I began testing recipes as soon as we returned home.
When you grow up pork-free, you spend a lifetime experimenting with spices, sauces, and substitutes for the smoky taste of ham hocks and pork sausage. Spanish pimenton (smoked paprika, sweet or hot), ancho chile powder, liquid smoke, barbecue sauce -- all will work, though each flavor is just a bit different.
Beef hot links work even better; not only are they smoky, but they're spicy, too. You can smoke your own beef sausage, but it's easier to buy beef hot links at the supermarket and keep them on hand in the freezer.
Find beef hot links in your regular grocery store. There's nothing exotic about this pantry ingredient, but it will work magic in a handful of your favorite dishes.
Yellow split pea and sausage soup (slow cooker and stove top)
A few ingredients come together in a hearty, delicious soup, perfect for a snowy New England day. Substitute freely: green splits for yellow, water or vegetable stock for chicken stock, and any hot smoked sausage for the hot links. This soup can be frozen. Serves 6-8.
1 lb yellow split peas
1 small onion, minced
4 cups chicken stock (I use Swanson 99%, or homemade)
2 cups water
2 tsp barbecue sauce (homemade or store bought)
1 package (14 oz) beef hot links (or other cooked hot smoked sausage), sliced 1/4 inch thick
Fresh black pepper, to taste
Pick through the split peas to remove any stones. Place the peas, onion, chicken stock, water, barbecue sauce, and a third of the sliced hot links into a 4-quart slow cooker. Set to HIGH and cook for 2 hours, until the peas break up easily when stirred. Add the remaining hot links, and black pepper to taste, and cook for 30 minutes.
To cook on the stove top: Place the peas, onion, chicken stock, water, barbecue sauce, and a third of the sliced hot links into a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for 1-1/4 hours or until the peas break up easily when stirred (you might need to add more water if the soup is cooking too quickly, so keep an eye on it). Add the remaining hot links, and black pepper to taste, and cook for 30 minutes.
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