Hairy Bikers' Sausage Casserole is the ideal comfort food to come home to on cold winter days. This filling family meal is packed with flavours. It’s so tasty you will forget all about the calories.
The summer has turned into windy autumn, and our cravings have changed too. We love to cook stews and casseroles as well as filling oven bakes and roasts during the long chilly months.
While looking for inspiration on the internet, I came across two tasty looking Sausage Casseroles from Hairy Bikers.
The second - Ultimate Comfort Food Sausage Casserole can be found on the ITV website accompanied by an entertaining video from "This morning" with Holly and Phil. The recipe was originally published in the Hairy Bikers’ cookbook British Classics.
Which casserole to make?
We were looking forward to cooking both casseroles, mostly from curiosity as they both looked completely different. Our plan was to give you detailed reviews on each of them.
But after we made them, I realised that it would be a lengthy article revealing at the end that only one of them was worth making, the other one was a huge disappointment.
It was the Ultimate Comfort Food Sausage Casserole with Indian Pale Ale from ITV that failed us.
Initially, the recipe was a breeze to make, the timing and the methods were accurate and easy to follow. The finished product looked delicious and smelled divine. However, the taste of the meal was a total letdown.
The ale that the recipe asked for made the casserole sauce taste very bitter. And the bitterness didn’t subside even after adding muscovado sugar into the sauce!
I can honestly say that it was an unpleasant meal to eat. I believe the problem lies in the choice of beer. Generally, ale is more bitter than other types of beer, but I wonder if the beer I bought was extra bitter as I can’t believe that Hairy bikers would recommend this meal to anyone.
After the failure, I decided to focus only on their Sausage and Bean Casserole. Here is what we learnt about the recipe as well as a few tips that might help you with cooking.
The ingredients for Hairy Bikers' Sausage and Bean Casserole
Mums know best Sausage Casserole has a fairly long list of ingredients. I counted 18 in total (including oil for frying and salt and pepper for seasoning):
- 1–2 tablespoon sunflower oil
- 12 pork sausages
- 6 rashers rindless streaky bacon
- 2 onions
- 2 garlic cloves
- ½–1 teaspoon hot chilli powder or smoked paprika
- 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 300ml/10fl oz chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoon tomato purée
- 1 tablespoon dark brown muscovado sugar
- 1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
- 2 bay leaves
- 3–4 fresh thyme sprigs
- 100ml/3½fl oz red or white wine (optional)
- 400g tin butter beans
- ground pepper
Meat/Proteins (Sausages and Bacon)
➤ Good quality pork sausages is a major component of what makes this casserole a success.
When buying sausages, I make sure they have a meat content of at least 80%. If I find two brands with the same amount of meat, I compare the fat content. It can indicate what part of pork was used - a leaner sausage with less fat indicates pork shoulder while a sausage with more fat could mean more pork belly. But in my opinion, sausages shouldn’t be too lean. A good sausage should be a ticking calorie bomb.
Likewise don’t look bad at fillers and binders in the sausages. They help to bind the ingredients together and keep the meat moist and full of juices by absorbing some of the fat during cooking. The best-tasting sausage isn’t always the one with the highest percentage of meat.
➤ The first time we made Hairy Bikers Sausage Casserole we didn't have English bacon, so I used thinly sliced Polish smoked pork belly.
The bacon is in the recipe to enhance pork flavour. You could also use chorizo to add more of a spicy paprika taste to the dish. If you don't have any, don't worry too much and skip them; the sausages will add enough of a pork taste to the meal on their own.
Legumes and Pulses
➤ Butter beans add additional texture and fibre. They increase the volume of the food and make us feel fuller. They are also a good source of protein. Butter beans are pretty much a staple food in our cupboard. We love them in stews, casseroles and curries. But as the Hairy Bikers mentioned, you can substitute them with mixed beans or any other tinned beans for that matter.
Aromatic Vegetables (Onion, Garlic)
➤ Of all vegetables, it's onion (garlic is close behind) that we use the most in our kitchen. We hardly cook without it. Not only does it add more flavour and sweetness to the meals, but it also functions as a thickener and filler for many sauces. Besides, frying onion always makes the whole kitchen (house) smell delicious.
➤ Garlic is used as a flavouring agent, but if you don't have any, don't rush to the shop because the recipe asks for 2 cloves. However, if you are a garlic lover like us, you won't be satisfied unless you add at least double the amount recommended.
Cooking liquids and the body of the sauce (Chicken stock, Chopped tomatoes, Tomato puree, Wine)
➤ I like cooking with stock. It's an easy way to add more flavour to soups, risotto, stews or casseroles as well as other dishes. My favourite brand is Kallo. Their organic stock cubes don't contain any artificial colours, flavours, preservatives or MSG, and they are gluten and lactose-free too.
In this recipe, the best option is to use chicken or vegetable stock, but you can potentially replace it with any stock you have on hand.
➤ It's handy having at least a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes in the pantry. They make a perfect base for many sauces like pasta with tomato sauce, bolognese sauce, sauce for meatballs, pizza topping or curry sauce.
Tomatoes in this recipe are giving the casserole not only great taste and colour, but they function as a thickener too by adding some additional fibre to it.
➤ Adding tomato puree to the sauce will intensify the tangy tomato flavours and brighten the colour of the dish. If you don't have it and you feel like you wouldn't use it in any other recipe, skip this ingredient.
➤ The last from cooking liquids is wine. I like combining wine with tomatoes as I think these two ingredients go together exceptionally well. I usually add a few splashes of red wine to my bolognese sauce.
The wine in this recipe fortifies the ingredient flavours. It's not an essential ingredient, but it can give you a good excuse to open a bottle.
Spices/Seasoning (Chilli powder, Smoked paprika, Fresh thyme springs, Mixed herbs, Bay leaves, Pepper, Salt)
We have a huge selection of spices and seasonings and some fresh herbs in the garden. But don’t worry if you don’t. Some spices and herbs are easy to substitute, and others can be left out without altering the taste of the final dish too much.
➤ Chilli powder can be replaced with chilli sauce. If you don’t want your casserole spicy Hairy Bikers recommend using smoked paprika instead.
➤ Smoked paprika can be replaced with sweet paprika. I remember, a long time ago, I found the flavour of smoked paprika too strong, so I was always using sweet one instead. Taste changes, and now I enjoy the smoky tones in stews and casseroles.
➤ Mixed herbs should be available from any bigger supermarket. As the name suggests, it's a blend of a few different dried aromatic herbs. Most often, it includes marjoram, basil, oregano, and thyme; in some cases accompanied by parsley and sage.
If deciding between buying mixed herbs or thyme, I would possibly purchase mixed herbs. It is a versatile herb blend that is great for stews, casseroles, meat roasts and mincemeat as well as many other dishes.
➤ Fresh thyme in the recipe can be simply replaced with dry thyme. If you don't have either, consider using at least mixed herbs (they contain thyme as I mentioned above).
➤ Bay leaves are a great addition to sauces and stews. It's not easy to substitute them as there isn't another herb with a similar taste. In some cases, it's recommended to use dry thyme (¼ teaspoon to replace 1 bay leaf). But the thyme is already part of the dish (fresh/dry thyme or thyme in mixed herbs) therefore if you don't have any bay leaves leave them out.
Condiments (Worcestershire sauce)
➤ Worcestershire sauce could be the Hairy bikers' signature ingredient. It is in a number of their recipes, for example, Steak Diane, Meatloaf, Cottage pie, Chicken wings, Sausages with onion gravy or Ale Sausage Casserole from the book British Classics.
Worcestershire sauce adds a specific tangy, spiced flavour to the dish. My husband and son loved it, I, on the other hand, found it to be too strong. It is very much to your taste preference. The sauce doesn't perish quickly, and if stored correctly, it will last a very long time.
Sweeteners (Dark brown muscovado sugar)
➤ The dark muscovado sugar is added to the recipe to balance a tangy taste of ingredients like chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and Worcestershire sauce and it deepens the colour of the sauce too.
As we didn’t have any to hand, we replaced it with light brown muscovado sugar. You can use any sugar to sweeten the casserole though.
Cooking oils (Sunflower oil)
➤ The last category in the ingredient list includes cooking oils. Hairy bikers recommend frying sausages with a few splashes of sunflower oil. Of course, you can use any oil good for frying, just stick to what is already in your pantry.
How to adjust Hairy Bikers Sausage Casserole?
It’s super disappointing, after finding a perfect looking recipe for family dinner only to realise that we are missing some items from the ingredient list. The more individual components the recipe has, the more chances there are it will happen, and Hairy Bikers Casserole seems to be a good example of it.
For everyone who might be curious about how I would adjust this recipe (or any other recipe), I decided to share with you my method.
I find it helpful to organise the individual food items into groups based on their purpose or characteristic.
To give you a better idea of what I mean, I divided ingredients from this recipe into seven food groups:
|➤ Food categories||➤ Ingredients|
|Meat & Proteins||Pork Sausages|
|Legumes & Pulses||Butter Beans|
|Cooking Liquids & Sauce Body||Chicken Stock|
|Spices & Seasoning||Chilli Powder or Smoked Paprika|
|Sweeteners||Dark Brown Muscovado Sugar|
or any sugar
|Cooking Oils||Sunflower Oil|
Having individual items in their groups gives me a better idea of what is their function in the recipe and how important they might be.
Then I look in each group for ingredients that play the most significant role. They are the foundation you can start building on. Without them, the meal would change too much. I call them essentials.
The essential ingredients are often used in greater quantities, or they noticeably change the texture of the sauce or add the main aroma/ flavour to the meal. I also add ingredients like oil for frying or salt for seasoning into essentials.
These are the essentials I picked for Hairy Bikers Casserole:
- Chopped tomatoes
- Mixed herbs
- Cooking oil
I see sausages as a significant part of this recipe; it’s pork sausage casserole after all. On the other hand, I am happy to replace bacon or not use it at all.
Another good example is the onion. You shouldn’t really replace it or leave it out. Onion adds flavour and sweetens the sauce. Also, it contains fibre that will help to thicken the sauce and increase its volume.
Next is the Cooking liquids category. I selected chopped tomatoes as I believe that they are the most important part of the casserole sauce. They contribute significantly to its taste, texture and volume compared to the other ingredients from the same category.
From the Spices & Seasonings, I selected the mixed herbs. They are versatile, and they add a great aroma to the meal. You can be a bit more flexible here and use, for example, dry thyme instead.
This way, I check all categories, and after I decided on my essentials, I look at which of the remaining ingredients are easy to substitute or even can be left safely out.
|➤ Essentials for Hairy Bikers Sausage Casserole|
Sunflower Oil (any cooking oil)
|➤ Flexible Ingredients||➤ Substitutions|
|Bacon||smoked pork belly, chorizo|
|Butter Beans||any tinned beans - pinto beans, kidney beans, mixed beans ...|
|Chicken Stock||any stock available|
|Chilli Powder||chilli flakes, chilli sauce|
|Smoked Paprika||sweet paprika|
|Fresh Thyme||dry thyme|
|Dark Brown Muscovado Sugar||any sugar|
|➤ Optional Ingredients|
Please note when adjusting any recipe, the more ingredients you replace or leave out the further from the original taste you will get.
If you are a beginner, I recommend following the original recipe. You can start experimenting in the kitchen once you gain more experience and have the intuition for the flavours you want to change.
I always presumed that casserole is a dish that is cooked in a heavy pot in the oven (heated up from all sides). I understood that it doesn't need to be cooked for long hours opposed to a stew (cooked on the hob), and it often contains less liquid.
This recipe confused me, as it is called casserole but it’s cooked on the hob. After looking into the casserole definition, I learned that a meal can be called a casserole after a type of pot it was prepared in and it’s less important whether it was cooked on the hob or in the oven.
In this case, the Hairy bikers’ sausage casserole got its name after the type of pot they used for preparation.
Looking at the recipe, it asks for two main pieces of equipment:
- frying pan
- flameproof casserole dish or large saucepan with a lid
Tip: This meal is best cooked in a shallow casserole dish with the bottom diameter large enough to fit all 12 sausages next to each other. You should be able to do so in a pot with a diameter between 26 - 30 cm.
A wide pot is better for making thick sauces as it allows the liquid to evaporate faster and the sauce to thicken up. Here is the casserole pot we have and love, this has made many meals over the years. As it's cast iron it can be used on all types of hobs (even induction) as well as in the oven.
If you are planning to only cook on the hob, this type of pot works really well.
The recipe aims to feed 6, which I think can be a bit of a stretch for some. Of course, it all depends on the size of the portions. Two sausages in thick sauce with beans served with mashed potatoes, rice or a thick slice of sourdough bread should satisfy as the main meal.
But if you are cooking for someone with a bigger appetite, you will need to serve fewer people or increase the volume of the recipe.
We made the casserole twice, and it was enough for two dinners for our family of four (2 adults and 2 kids) both times. We served it with mash, rice and bread on different occasions and all the side dishes went well with the main meal.
What can go wrong
The recipe has straightforward directions with only a few steps even though it asks for an extensive number of ingredients.
That said, there still might be a few challenges to account for.
How to prepare sausages without making a mess?
What’s the right way to cook sausages often creates a debate here in the UK. You might have heard that the best method is to fry them in a pan. Apparently, it gives them a lovely juicy texture and extra flavour, and it's what the Hairy bikers advise to do in this recipe.
I have found out that preparing the sausages in the frying pan needs constant turning to make sure the heat is evenly distributed. Cooking on a low - medium temperature (recommended) can take a while and if you turn the heat up to speed up the process, the sausages will release lots of fat.
Also, all this frying is actually a very messy job. I had to clean half of our kitchen from oily splashes after we finished. That’s why I decided to try brown sausages in the oven instead. I tested two different settings:
- Fan assisted oven
- Fan assisted grill
First, I cooked the sausages on a 190C fan assisted setting on the middle shelf for 20 minutes in total. After 10 minutes, I scattered bacon all over and continued cooking for 10 more minutes. I didn't even turn them.
The sausages were cooked but didn’t get brown except at the bottom from touching the tray. Leaving them in the oven longer would make them too dry as they shrank a bit already and looked wrinkly. They plump up again in the sauce though.
Browning the sausages under a fan assisted grill setting on 200C was more successful. I used the middle shelf again. The total cooking time was 18 minutes. I turned the sausages halfway through the cooking time and they ended up with a lovely brown colour, exactly how I wanted them to look.
While the sausages were in the oven, I was able to prepare the sauce, and I didn't have to clean any oily mess around the hob after all.
Tip: Brown the sausages under the oven grill. It's less messy and saves time.
What to do if the casserole is too runny?
If your sausage casserole is too thin, check that the liquid isn't mostly oil. Too much oil suggests that the cooking temperature was too high and most of the fat from sausages leaked out. The first time we made the recipe, our casserole was literally swimming in 1 inch of fat.
We could eat the casserole how it was and enjoy the excess fat soaked into a thick slice of bread, but it was too much for me.
To remove the excess fat from the dish, I let the fat accumulate on the top (it's lighter than water) and then I carefully removed it with a large spoon.
If the casserole is still runny because it contains too much liquid. The easiest solution is to extend the cooking time and let more water evaporate. A gentle simmer will reduce the sauce down to a more concentrated and thicker consistency.
In this recipe, I recommend extending the cooking time by approximately 5 - 8 minutes (it’s better to do it before adding the beans as those are already pre-cooked) and leaving the pot uncovered so the steam can escape. This allows more liquid to evaporate.
If however, the casserole is still very runny after extending the cooking time, the best way is to thicken the sauce with a thickener.
Mix 1 - 2 tablespoon (depending on how thin the sauce is) of cornstarch with the same amount of water to create a smooth, pourable paste. Stir the mix into the gently bubbling casserole. Let it simmer for one or two minutes to allow the cornstarch to absorb the liquid and get cooked.
Note that cornstarch breaks down and will make the sauce runny again if it’s cooked for too long.
Timing and temperatures
On the BBC website, they anticipate that the whole recipe will take a maximum 1 hour 30 minutes. The notes state that the preparation won't exceed 30 minutes and cooking can take somewhere between 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Preparing and cooking the casserole took me +- 1 hour and 15 minutes when following Hairy Bikers’ instructions.
I managed to make the meal faster when I browned the sausages under the grill, and in the meantime worked on the sauce. It took me around an hour.
Also, don't forget to save some time for cooking the side dish (rice or mashed potatoes) unless you plan to serve the casserole with bread.
Two best ways to brown sausages - temperatures:
|➤ On the hob in the frying pan||➤ In the oven - fan assisted grill|
|Temperature||Low - medium||200 °C|
|Time||Hairy bikers recommend |
|18 minutes (turn sausages after 9 minutes)|
|Notes||- not cooked through|
|- cooked through|
- no mess
- you can prepare the sauce at the same time
Tip: Once the sausages are in the sauce, don't let them cook on a rapid boil. There is a risk that they will release too much fat, and you will end up with a very oily casserole. It happened to us with the pan-fried sausages. They leaked their fat during frying, and they continue releasing more fat while cooking them in the sauce.
Ideal cooking temperatures for cooking the casserole:
- Frying onion/garlic/spices - medium
- Simmering sauce including sausages - low!
In the table below, you can see nutritional values for the sausage casserole provided by the BBC website next to the numbers from our calculator. Both are showing values per serving of 2 sausages and sauce without a side dish.
The fat content and ratios of ingredients in different sausage brands can alter the total nutritional values of the recipe. Our nutritional calculator gave me slightly higher numbers compared to the BBC website but still close enough. (To make it as accurate as possible I added ingredients like sausages, bacon, sugar, chopped tomatoes by hand.)
|Nutritional values from BBC website||Our own nutritional values|
|of which saturates||10||16|
|of which sugars||9.5||8|
On average, there is 485 kcal in one portion of sausage casserole without the side dish.
Hairy Bikers recommend serving the casserole with rice. There is approximately 162 kcal in 120g of cooked long-grain rice (serving for one person).
That makes the total count per portion of two sausages, sauce and rice 647.5 kcal.
What have I learnt?
I always learn something new when doing our tried and tested chefs’ recipes. It wasn't different this time.
- The very first thing I’ve learnt was not to use India pale ale for cooking. At least not for casseroles and stews. It was a very bitter discovery.
- Regarding herbs, I didn’t know that it is difficult to substitute bay-leaf as there are no other herbs with similar aroma. I’ll keep it in mind from now on.
- I also learnt that casserole got its name after the dish it is cooked in rather than the way how it is cooked.
- I found out that the least messy way to brown sausages is under the grill. It takes only 18 minutes and the kitchen stays splashes free.
- Although, the best part was when I leant how to correctly pronounce Worcestershire sauce and the fact that if it's stored under ideal conditions, it can last indefinitely.
I agree with everyone describing Hairy Bikers' Sausage and Bean Casserole as the ultimate comfort food. This filling hearty family meal is packed with flavours. It’s so tasty you will forget all about the calories.
There is a lot going on in this recipe. Hairy Bikers combined mouth-watering sausages and bacon, with a sharp taste of chopped tomatoes and tomato puree. They mellow the tangy taste with dark brown muscovado sugar and spiced the meal with a unique taste of Worcestershire sauce, dry spices and aromatic herbs.
I like how flexible the recipe is. Even after replacing some of the ingredients, it’s still possible to make a very tasty meal or soften some of the sharp flavours that children might find too strong.
We decided to give this recipe 9/10 rating. I'm sure we will cook this recipe again. There are only a couple of little alterations I'd like to make.
- I will brown the sausages under the grill.
- I prefer to use only half a tablespoon of the Worcestershire sauce instead of the whole tablespoon.
- We enjoy the meal a little bit sweeter so I will add two tablespoons of sugar into the sauce and use either normal caster sugar or light brown muscovado sugar instead of dark muscovado sugar.
We hope this Hairy Bikers recipe will warm you up, and you enjoy it as much as we did. Please, share your tips and observations with us. We are looking forward to hearing from you.
Happy cooking to all of you.
Hairy Bikers' Sausage Casserole by Lea
- 12 pork sausages
- 6 rashers rindless streaky bacon cut to 2.5 cm pieces
- 2 - 3 tablespoon frying oil
- 2 onions
- 2 garlic cloves
- ½ teaspoon hot chilli powder or 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
- 2 tablespoon tomato purée
- ½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoon dark brown muscovado sugar
- 1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
- 2 bay leaves optional
- 3-4 fresh thyme sprigs optional
- 300 ml chicken stock (10fl oz) or vegetable stock
- 100 ml red or white wine (3½fl oz) optional
- 400 g tin butter beans
- ground pepper optional
- cast iron pot, oven tray
- Brown the sausages and bacon under the grill preheated to 200C. For the best results use the fan assisted grill setting:Space the sausages on an oven tray and leave small gaps in between them. Grill them on the middle shelf for 8 minutes. Next, turn them over, add pieces of bacon and insert the tray back to the oven for 10 more minutes.(Hairy Bikers recommend frying sausages with a little bit of oil in a non-stick frying pan for 10 minutes, turning regularly.)
- While the sausages are in the oven, start preparing the sauce. Heat up a few tablespoons of oil in the shallow cast iron pot, add the onion in and fry until soft and opaque, around 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic into the cast iron pot and fry with onion for 2 - 3 more minutes, until the onion is lightly golden.
- Sprinkle in the chilli powder/smoked paprika, give it 3 - 4 stirs.
- Quickly add tomatoes, tomato puree, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt and herbs (to stop paprika from burning).
- Pour in the stock and wine (or the same amount of water if you are not using wine) and bring to a gentle simmer and give it a good stir.
- Transfer browned sausages and bacon from the tray to the sauce. Reduce the heat to low - medium and gently simmer for 20 minutes. Don't close the lid completely, leave a gap so the steam can escape, stir from time to time.
- After approximately 20 minutes stir in the beans and cook for additional 10 minutes. Keep the heat on low - medium. This time leave the pot uncovered so more steam can escape.
- If you prefer the sauce thicker, you can extend the cooking time 5 - 8 minutes to let more liquid evaporate.
- Adjust the casserole taste with salt if needed and season with pepper (optional).
- Serve with bread, rice or mash.