If there’s a dish,
For which I wish
More frequent than the rest,
If there’s a food
On which I brood
When starving or depressed,
If there’s a thing that life can give
Which makes it worth our while
If there’s an end
On which I’d spend
My last remaining cash,
It’s a sausage, friend,
It’s a sausage, friend,
It’s a sausage, friend, and mash.
When love is dead,
And pleasure, Lad and Pash,
You’ll still enjoy
A sausage, boy,
A sausage, boy , and mash.
So sang the Bard of the Breakfast Table, the Singer of Suppers, AP Herbert and he’s absolutely correct. Back in the 1990’s (the exact year escapes me) our sausages came second in the inaugural Great Guardian Sausage Quest and they’ve been going from strength to strength ever since.
I call them breakfast to differentiate from anything part dried (e.g cooking chorizo) or fully cured (salami etc) but in Germany, where they know a thing or two about such things, it’s the other way round – with a plate of cured meats, cheese and pickles being the order of the day for the first repast.
When I started up in the 1980’s there were no good quality sausages. Supermarkets had decreed that what we wanted was a kind of pink MRM (mechanically recovered meat) slurry poured into an artificial casing and, extraordinarily, independent butchers had decided that the only option was to take them on at their own game and lower the level even more. Things were pretty dire and it really wasn’t hard to raise the bar. I remember a friend of my mother saying she didn’t mind finding a bit of gristle in her sausages because at least they proved that they were of animal origin. Now, thirty years later, it isn’t hard to find a decent sausage with demonstrably high meat (of reasonable quality) content. Virtually all contain artificial colouring, preservative and acidification of of some description to help extend the shelf life. In fact, the food technology input is massive – it needs to be using something as unquantifiably variable as – shock, horror – fresh meat. That’s where the BFS banger differs – we use proper shoulder meat, rusk (a biscuit crumb made from flour – sometimes gluten-free – and water) and our own base seasoning (white and black pepper, nutmeg, mace and salt). Then we jazz it up with fresh herbs, chillies, garlic etc. Obviously, we use natural casings. When something is as simple as that, there’s not much need for food technology – once you accept that they are a fresh product with a short shelf life. As such, they’re completely unfit for long supply chains and suchlike.
How to cook the perfect sausage? Everyone seems to have different ideas but in our house, it’s a constant battle between she who won’t tolerate any chewy bits of skin (ie virtually cremated) and he who likes a bit of residual moisture left in the middle. I’ve taken a tip from the Germans and taken to poaching and finishing off quickly under the grill, on the barbecue or, even better, in the Aga toasting clamp – but that is a bit smelly and guaranteed to set off the fire alarm. The advantage of poaching is that it goes a long way towards solving the shelf life problem. Once poached, the sausages keep for at least five days in the fridge without any deterioration of flavour or ‘souring’.
But for tips from a man who really knows his sausages, I’ve gone back to 2005 and Matthew Fort, food writer and erstwhile restaurant critic for the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2005/feb/19/foodanddrink.shopping
He goes on to say: “Now that you’ve made your own sausages – or at least know how to – it’s time to cook them. Call me old fashioned but I’m something of a martinet in these matters. A good sausage is one of the greatest achievements of civilisation and, as such, deserves to be treated with respect. There are grand boiling sausages, of course, among them la salama da sugo of Ferrara, the greatest sausage of all in my view, and cotechino, and sausages that are better grilled, such as andouillettes and merguez, but when it comes to British bangers, frying is the only way.
Here are my golden rules:
- Never prick a sausage – this allows the juices to escape along with the fat, which will leach out anyway through the semi-permeable membrane of the natural casing if …
- You fry long and slow – at least 40 minutes over a very low heat. So…
- Use and heat diffuser and…
- A frying pan with a thick base. I use a cast iron pan gleaming with the fat of long use, and…
- The burned caramel that forms on the base of the pan during cooking is reserved for the cook.
There are a couple of other considerations too. If you’re cooking for large numbers, it may be easier to bake them at 180°C/350F/ gas mark 4 for 20 minutes., turning them over at least twice. And if you have to barbecue your sausages, blanch them in boiling water for 10 minutes before committing them to the flames. To me, grilling is an act of desperation. Actually, barbarism.”
So there you have two conflicting opinions. That’s what’s so great about the world of food – it’s so subjective that everyone’s a winner.
Of course, there is life beyond the simple fried banger, so here are a few recipes that may bring light to you table.
Risotto alla pilota con maiale e salsiccia
Or risotto alla pilota with pork and sausage meat. Many years ago, rice in northern Italy was husked by hand and the men who did it were known as piloti or pilarini. They were also put in charge of cooking rice dishes for the mondine – the rice pickers. Nowadays, of course, everything is mechanised but the power of the piloti lives on in the claims of various restaurants around Mantua. As this dish involves absolutely no effort whatsoever on the part of the cook, it should appeal to those who balk at the constant stirring required for most risotti. Serves four to six.
200g sausage meat
200g pork, cut into small cubes
1 onion, finely chopped
Water – the same quantity of rice to water, plus half a cup for the pot
350g Vialone Nano rice
Melt the butter in a pan and fry the sausage meat, pork and onion until cooked and the pork is tender.
In another pot, bring the water to the boil. Pour the rice into the boiling water all at once, to form a pyramid with it’s top just below the surface of the water. Shake the pan gently to collapse the pyramid. Add a little salt. Put the top on the pan and cook very gently for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to stand for another 10 minutes. By now, the rice should have absorbed all the water and be quite dry. Stir in lots of Parmesan and then the pork mix and serve at once.
Best ever sausages with rich Guinness gravy (from Fiona Beckett’s excellent book; Sausage and Mash)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 Spanish onions, peeled and finely sliced
2 tsp golden granulated sugar
284ml carton fresh beef stock
2 level tsp plain flour
8 large traditional pork sausages or 2 Cumberland rings
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large frying pan, add the butter, then, when it has melted, tip in the onions. Stir them to coat them in oily butter then cook over a low heat and stir continuously for about five minutes, until the onions are really brown and caramelised. Meanwhile bring the stock to the boil and reduce by half – this will take about 10 minutes. Stir the flour into the onions and cook for a minute, then pour in the stock and the Guinness. Bubble up for a minute or two then turn right down and leave to simmer. Grill or fry the sausages in the remaining oil until browned on all sides. Check the seasoning of the gravy, adding salt, a tablespoon of white wine vinegar and (if the sauce has got too thick) a little water. Transfer the sausages to the gravy , spooning ti over them and cook on a low heat for about 15 – 20 minutes, adding extra water as needed. Serve with mashed potatoes or colcannon. If you’re not a big onion fan, you can remove the sausages at the end of the cooking period and sieve the gravy. You can. of course, use other beers to make the gravy – a robust British ale such as Marston’s Pedigree or Coniston Bluebird say.
This dish may sound a bit cheesy, but it actually works brilliantly. And my entire family loves it. What more could a mother want?
250g pack dried black beans or kidney beans (or 2 x 400g cans)
1 green pepper
5 tbps sunflower or olive oil
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 level tsp mild chilli powder
rounded tsp cumin powder (optional)
400g tin whole or chopped tomatoes
400g spicy beef or pork sausages (eg with Cajun-style seasoning)
3 heaped tbsp fresh coriander
Soak the beans overnight, then according to the instructions on the packet. (If you’re using tinned beans you don’t need to cook them first). Meanwhile, cut the pepper into quarters, remove the white pith and seeds then cut into chunks. Heat three tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan and the onion and pepper and cook for five to six minutes until they’re just beginning to soften. Add the garlic, chilli powder and cumin, if using. Stir, cook for a minute, then add the tomatoes (if they’re whole, break them up in the pot with a wooden spoon) and stir again. Turn down the heat, cover and simmer slowly for about 15 minutes.
Pour the remaining oil into a frying pan, brown the sausages on all sides and then cut diagonally into three. Drain the beans and add these to the tomato mixture, along with the chopped sausages. Stir, replace the lid and cook for 10-15 minutes longer, to give the flavours in the pot the chance to amalgamate. Just before serving, adjust the seasoning as necessary and stir in the coriander. Serve with warm tortillas and a sharply dressed salad.