In praise of sausages (and bangers and mash)
"A good sausage - a perfect sausage - must be very, very hot. So hot that you have to jostle it round your mouth with your tongue. It should also have the sort of skin that 'pops' in the mouth, exuding savoury, peppery, herby juices." Nigel Slater
This is sort of a coincidence thing - bearing in mind my post about the charcutiers the other day. Today, yet again, I was without inspiration, and so I picked up my next lucky dip book (I choose them in advance so that they are ready to go when needed) - one of Nigel Slater's and started flicking through it - actually for inspiration for something to actually cook in the near future, when I came across a page of writing about sausages - beginning with the above. He is such a good writer about food, that I decided to highlight some of what he says and in the process talk about the English banger - not nearly as salubrious as saucisson, but at the top of the comfort food tree. Indeed is there anyone who doesn't like a sausage? Not a fancy recipe that includes sausages, just a sausage.
His opening comments at the top of the page are followed by 'how to cook sausages properly' by Matthew Fort, who is a British food writer and critic? It also is beautifully written and so I am copying it out here.
"The proper cooking of sausages is a tranquil, almost meditative business. It involves no violence or agitation of any kind. Above all, this means you must never, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever, prick a British sausage of any kind of quality. It does not require or deserve such treatment. If you do prick, you will only allow a good deal of the natural juices to flow out during cooking, making the inside drier and lessening the flavour.
Just lay those gleaming, pristine links across the centre of the frying pan and leave them there, gently cooking, for a very long time (long enough to make a pot of tea, take it upstairs to your slumbering partner, rouse him or her, share a few agreeable moments of repose, wash, dress and slope downstairs again) - anything between forty minutes to an hour. It is only through frying and slow frying at that, that you allow the meat to heat through slowly and thoroughly, encouraging the polite transformation of flavours, the retention of essential juices, and the fat to leach out through the semi-permeable skin."
I so wish I could write like that. It's what cookery writing is all about.
As to the actual recipe - well I'm not sure about the long, slow cooking - I mean that's seriously long. And when do the sausages get turned over? Maybe they don't. Maybe they are slow cooked under cover. He didn't say. It's an interesting approach though.
So why are they called bangers? Well according to Wikipedia it's because after WW1 the sausages had very little meat and lots of water in them and so they burst when cooking. I do remember that the sausages that my grandmother, and to a lesser extent, my mother cooked, did indeed burst whilst cooking. I loved that. First of all I loved it when they burst with a mini bang, even though it made me jump. And it was probably not a good thing to be standing very close when they did. Then the sausage around the edges of the burst bit went all crispy and crunchy as they cooked which gave an added texture to them. Why don't they burst these days? Have they got too much actual meat in them? I thought you had to make a cut in the sausage to make them burst, but when I've tried that it hasn't happened. And if I don't prick them at all they just ooze out the ends sometimes. Anyway the picture above perfectly encapsulates the sausages of my youth. How I really like them.
The other thing I discovered, on one of my sister's visits here, is that English sausages are mostly made from pork, and ours are mostly made from beef. Have a look next time you are buying sausages. Yes I know you can get sausages made from just about every kind of meat these days and flavoured with all manner of things, but your basic Australian sausage is beef. Just not right according to my sister.
I also read an article in The Guardian which said to be very wary of supermarket sausages, because all manner of undesirable stuff, including the meat may well be in there. Terry Pratchett summed up this approach in one of his wonderful books. (Dibbler is a character who turns up here and there - a ruthless street vendor of whatever will sell).
"Victor eyed the glistening tubes in the tray around Dibbler’s neck. They smelled appetizing. They always did. And then you bit into them, and learned once again that Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler could find a use for bits of an animal that the animal didn’t know it had got."
The advice is to read the contents carefully and the more ingredients there are the more wary you should be, because if there are lots it probably means there are all manner of extraneous chemicals in there. All of which is true, but these days you can get some good sausages in your supermarket. The best ones though, I reluctantly have to say, because I'm also a bit suspicious of the gourmet providers, are those bought from a proper butcher who makes his own. I buy my favourite ones at the Queen Victoria Market. They are called English sausages, and the butcher claims they are made from his mother's recipe. They are really nice, though the last batch I bought had too much salt. Maybe the apprentice made them and made a mistake. The ones shown here are what I think Delia thinks of as a good sausage - you can see the little flecks of herbs and other stuff inside them.
So what about the mash? Why mash? Well I'm not sure why mash but it is a really traditional British thing, and served with onion gravy usually. To me it has a kind of Northern England ring to it. Nigel Slater is a fan.
"The smell of a chubby, sticky link sizzling softly in its pan makes me yearn for mash. Mountains of buttery, creamy mashed potato. If am having a 'fat fest' then I shall make a proper job of it. But what is sausage and mash without onion gravy? Thick, glossy, brown onion gravy. Oh, and mustard, I simply must have mustard with my sausage."
The ones at left are from Delia in her How to Cheat at Cooking Book. It's not on her website. It's a cheat's recipe - the gravy is made with bought caramelised onions, mixed with a gravy made from red wine and thyme. The mash has mustard and crème fraïche in it. So she obviously thinks you should have mustard too. Simple, but personally I have never been a big fan of sausage and mash, I prefer my 'fat fest' with baked beans and crispy onions, and maybe a baked potato slathered with butter - or chips. Obviously not that healthy, but comfort food. When I was at university, on Sundays when the refectories had a day off, my friends and I would walk down to the motorway truck stop at the bottom of the vast grounds of the university, and treat ourselves to a plate of all of those things. Sausages, chips, onions and baked beans, maybe an egg and some bacon too. Then we would stop off at the pub for a beer or two - the Sneyd Arms (named after the family who used to own the estate on which the university was built) - before weaving our way back to our individual little homes - our college rooms. The Guardian article which was very dismissive of supermarket sausages said that in a recent poll, sausages and mash topped the poll of the most popular comfort food. Which is interesting. Not fish and chips then?
Here in Australia they are most often thin, made from beef and barbecued. And eaten at sausage sizzles with lashings of tomato sauce in a slice of bread or a roll. Different.
I will stop pricking my sausages from now on though.