Still on Christmas - sorry still a couple more things to say about Christmas. Maybe it's not having cooked the Christmas turkey for the first year in many that has made me so Christmas focussed. A sort of goodbye to Christmas.
Anyway the next quintessentially British thing that we eat at Christmas is pigs in blankets - i.e. chipolata sausages rolled in streaky bacon and cooked in the roasting pan with the turkey. Above are the most gorgeous ones I found from Gordon Ramsay. He achieves that glorious crusty outside by finishing with a glaze made of mustard, honey and soy. It's barely a recipe though. And even though others try to tart it up it's one of those things that doesn't need any messing with. Just make sure your primary ingredients are top notch.
The keys to success are twofold. The first seems to be that the sausages should be pork - almost all British sausages are made from pork unlike here where they are largely made with beef. Please note that the dish is called pigs in blankets, not cows or even bulls in blankets. Chipolatas seem to have originated in France with Escoffier perhaps, and the word seems to come from the Italian chipolata which means made from onions. I guess there must be onions in the sausages. The shape of the sausage is also key - thin - sometimes they are longish, sometimes short. Gordon Ramsay uses long ones but twists them in the middle and cuts them in two so that he actually has short thin sausages. And I have to say that in my mind chipolatas are short little sausages. Thin? Not so much.
The other key which many recipes said to do was to scrape the length of the rasher of bacon with a knife, while stretching it out a little. Nobody suggested bashing it to make it thinner. They all said to do the knife trick - some with the back of the knife, (most) and some with the sharp side. And did I say it has to be streaky bacon? Of course these days the fashionistas of food will tell you to use pancetta, but really it should be good old streaky bacon. The fat is essential you see.
Variations? The delicious recipe is straightforward but at the bottom it directs you to some variants. BBC Good Food tries to please vegans by wrapping butternut squash and chestnuts. Jamie Oliver similarly to Gordon Ramsay deglazes his with, in his case, Worcestershire sauce and honey.
delicious Magazine also recommends making a tray bake with them - some other time - not for Christmas although it is a bit Christmassy with its redcurrant jelly (a cranberry jelly substitute) and brie in the mix.
As for that name - well it's pretty obvious really isn't it, although apparently not very old. Indeed origin stories don't seem to go back further than 1957 when Betty Crocker is supposed to have created the recipe in a book called Cooking for Kids. But hang on isn't Betty Crocker American? Yes indeed and I'm not even sure there is a real Betty Crocker - must look into it sometime - and she is talking about pigs in a blanket - a subtle difference in name but rather different in form. The pig in this case is usually a frankfurter or a cocktail weiner (same thing?) and the blanket is some kind of pastry wrap. I tried very hard to understand what kind of pastry they were talking about but the terms used were very American so I gave up. This is what they look like though:
The form of the pastry seems to be always the same - formed from a triangle so that it looks croissant like, but not, I think, puff pastry. The term crescent dough is often used. Now what on earth is that? In fact the term 'dough' rather than pastry was used more often than not. There's obviously rather more room for improvisation here and often those improvisations seem to end up looking very much like sausage rolls.
The Australians on the other hand, lying as they do halfway between the two, have a bet both ways, with some recipes going for the pastry version and some for the bacon. Always called pigs in blankets though rather than pigs in a blanket.
I must say I find it really hard to believe that this particular delicacy if you can call it that, does not date back to at least medieval times. I mean it's a sausage - peasant food if ever there was any, wrapped in bacon - that too. However, my 'researches' failed to come up with anything further back than Escoffier.
This is my sister's Christmas dinner plate full of all those traditional veggies of Christmas and tucked away near the bottom - two pigs in blankets. Short and flattish as I remember them. They look just as good as Gordon Ramsay's I have to say.
The British have apparently now instituted a Pigs in blankets Day early in December. Well I suppose you can't really have it on Christmas Day - that would be a bit sacrilegious I suppose.
I'm not sure that the Americans treat their pigs in a blanket in quite the same way. It's just a sort of cocktail/finger/snack food not meant for any particular occasion.
And when you think about it why not? Why do we only eat turkey, pigs in blankets, mince pies and bread sauce at Chrstmas? They're all perfectly wonderful things - well I'm not so sure about the bread sauce - and could be eaten at any time. Indeed I have often noted when in France that sometimes, in the hypermarkets turkey seems to be the dominant cheapish meat available, so they have obviously got over the Christmas turkey thing. But then I don't think they actually do turkey at Christmas. Goose maybe? And I also should have said that versions of pigs in blankets are eaten all over the world - yes as far away as Russia and Korea, which makes me think that it's really an ancient thing. It's a sausage wrapped in something. Simple.