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The gentrification of the sausage

"even at the crummiest of supermarkets, [they] come in at least a half dozen flavors." J. Kenji López-Alt

So very true.

According to The Daily Mail, this is the most expensive plate of bangers and mash in the world. It will cost you £75 which in Australian dollars today is $143.15!! I can't quite remember the details now, but truffles were involved in the puréed potato base and the sausages, made from the meat of Iberico pigs, were braised in vintage Bordeaux red wine. Not quite a sausage either, because this was a 'deconstructed' dish, concocted by the chef Olivier Limousin - head chef at Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier restaurant, for potato week in Britain.

Suffice to say it's not your average British bangers and mash.

"To the uninitiated, a British sausage contains a lot of non-meat products, particularly rusk or breadcrumbs, which once upon a time were added to better stretch the meat, but has now stuck as just being the way the Brits make a sausage. The minimum meat content to be called a 'pork sausage' is 42%, which as you might imagine is shockingly low for something that is 'meat'. In cheap forms, up to half of this meager requirement is (hold on to your stomach) connective tissue. This contrasts to the many European sausages which are required to be around 90% lean pork meat. Basically, the British sausage is in theory a hideous monstrosity of what it should be, although in practice is quite tasty." Wikipedia (Sausage inna bun)

I used to love proper 'bangers'. My mother and grandmother would cook them in a frying pan and they would burst like the ones in this picture. Then the open bit of the sausage would crisp up as they continued to fry. I actually found it really hard to find a picture of a burst sausage because, of course, these days the quality of the sausages is better - well not much really, but nevertheless they don't burst in the same way - believe me I have tried. I even cut the skin all the way down the length of the sausage. And actually, I have now discovered, if you prick or cut into them the will not burst. But no the standard of what goes into the sausage is not much better than it was in hard times.

"Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) specifies that fat-free meat flesh must make up at least half the total weight of the sausage, and that the fat content should be no more than half the weight of the fat-free meat flesh." Choice

50% is not much more than 42% is it? Moreover that meat can be:

''the skeletal muscle of any slaughtered animal, which can include any attached animal rind, fat and connective nerve, blood, blood vessels and, in the case of poultry, the skin" Choice

'Any slaughtered animal' is a bit of a worrying statement is it not? Although if the label specifies a particular kind of meat then it has to be that meat. Not much offal gets in though for a surprising reason:

"One meat industry insider pointed out that offal fetches good prices in overseas markets, so it's not cost-effective to waste it in sausages here in Australia. And, in any case, offal is generally stripped out of the carcass before it's delivered to butchers." Choice

So not really one of Terry Pratchett's recurring sausage-inna-bun in his Diskworld novels:

"And then you bit onto 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. Dibbler had worked out that with enough fried onions and mustard people would eat anything." Terry Pratchett

Those Diskworld street food icons became such a thing that inevitably people had a go at taking them upmarket - as with this version of: Sausage inna bun

"Sausage, bun, fried onions, and mustard. Very simple, but so many ways to interpret! " Fantasy Feasts

Literature - and wonderful books written by the late Terry Pratchett - so funny, but so wise - and the food curriculum in action.

Going back to the banger concept, however, and moving to science - physics I think - in the food curriculum, here is an explanation, from David's favourite scientists at Cambridge University, of why they burst:

"You can think of a sausage skin as being like a pressure vessel. It's actually holding in all the contents that are expanding with the heat. When the skin suddenly bursts, it's going to burst in the direction where the stress is highest. The stress is really just the amount of tension there is [in] the skin. It turns out that for a pressure vessel, the stress going around circumferentially is twice as high as the stress going lengthwise. So that means that it tends to rip along the length because the circumferential stress is twice as high as the longitudinal stress." The Naked Scientists

However all that does for me is to wonder why mine don't burst. Whatever kind they are - plain old supermarket bbq sausages, a butcher's personal blend or fancy gourmet ones that include things like Margaret River Shiraz. None of them burst like my mum's did.

Most cognoscenti would of course decry a bursting sausage for reasons such as these:

'A burnt and busted-open casing, sooty flavor, juices lost to the grill gods." J. Kenji López-Alt

And you can see their point - but personally I think that's because the same cognoscenti seem to think you should cook them over a flame - which to my mind is fraught with disaster anyway. Maybe it's an American thing. Personally I think you should fry sausages - or bake them. Then if they burst you still keep the juices. But then I'm not a huge fan of bbqs apart from the companionship and fun of it all - because something inevitably always ends up burnt.

But going back to the sausages themselves - yes indeed you can get very fancy sausages these days. That cheapest and snobbily despised food - the sausage - has become gentrified. Along with a whole lot of other things:

"At the bakery a $3 pie used to be delicious – but take off the lid and the meat is a sort of grey paste. Now the bakery has shut down, replaced by a shop selling similar products but at a 300% markup. The good news? In pies the meat is now recognisable as meat. In addition to real meat, the pies now also contain tofu, pumpkin and tarragon, while the sausage rolls come in flavours such as spring lamb and rosemary." Brigid Delaney/The Guardian Australia

And yet the originals persist - sometimes completely the same, sometimes with just a name change:

“'Do you know what they called a sausage-in-a-bun in Quirm?’ said Mr Pin, as the two walked away. ‘No?’ said Mr Tulip. ‘They called it le sausage-in-le-bun.'” Terry Pratchett

And sometimes the originals are cooked differently.

Everyone, especially kids still loves the sausage sizzle sausage - a basic, basic thin sausage barbecued and diagonally placed in a slice of white bread with a squirt of tomato sauce on top. Like the 'hideous' British banger monstrosity it tastes so much better than it really should. Now why is that? For me it's a clear demonstration of how tasty a food is, is because of so much more than the food itself. If you are in France you can up the ante by putting a gourmet Toulouse sausage in a piece of crispy baguette and serve with Dijon mustard. Then make it look sumptuous by employing a professional photographer, and stylist to whet your appetite. Or, just about anywhere these days your sausage can be a fancy merguez or chorizo, placed in a wrap of some kind with pickled and salady things - maybe even some feta. In a brioche bun, a croissant, a tortilla ...

Yes sausage-inna-bun or bangers and mash have come a long way and if you are really interested in extremes watch Heston Blumenthal make perfect sausage and mash. This is just part one - making the sausage itself. I haven't watched part 2 which must be cooking them and making the mash. I don't think any of us will be doing this at home but it's interesting to see the extremes to which one can go with something as ordinary as bangers and mash. I don't think his banged and burst. And I bet that gravy took forever.

I don't think I have said that this post was a lucky dip post. And this was the book that David picked out for me. It's an old one, written in 1976, revised in 1987 and revised a bit again and republished in the version that I have in 2008. I opened it at the first page of Delia's chapter on sausages which opens with a brief list of some of the exotic sausages from Europe that are now so widely available. And then she went on to bangers:

"In Britain we have bangers. They burst and spread themselves out over the pan, amalgamating with each other before charring, crisp and black out side and pink and soft within."

Nostalgia and the contrast to today's ever growing choice in our local supermarkets and butchers. No self-respecting butcher these days would not make his own sausages in at least thee different flavours. Not to mention the vast choice of vegetarian options. I was sucked in.


Apologies for the gap between blogs. On Monday I stupidly tripped and fell and have broken my wrist so am typing with one hand. Operation on Monday. I think posts will be a bit intermittent for a while.


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