Next week is British Sausage Week and no better time of year to enjoy this warming national treasure.
The actual word derives from the old French word saussiche and from the Latin word salsus meaning salted.
Sausages are the product of efficient butchery – once the prime cuts were used the trimmings were salted and preserved in a skin made from animal intestines. There’s evidence of salami type sausages dating back to Roman times and many references globally since then. While many countries in Europe cure sausages, the British variation is always fresh and gleaming, demanding to be eaten at once.
During the First World War, when meat was scarce, butchers added water to sausages to eke them out.
This caused them to explode and hence the nickname “banger” was born.
By the end of the 20th century industrial meat processes coupled with the addition of cereals signalled the demise of the great British sausage.
Thankfully there has been a sausage renaissance.
Butchers in Northern Ireland have a fine reputation for making great varieties of this treat. Good meat craftsmen know to cut down on rusk and use a correct ratio of fat to meat.
Fat coming from a fried sausage is a reassurance that it’s been made properly.
When you fry the sausages make a virtue out of the fat and add some onions. Cook until soft and golden and make into a gravy or serve with some hot mustard.
Good sausage meat is sublime in a properly made sausage roll.
Use any meat sausage – pork, venison, lamb or beef and add some aromatics accordingly.
Fresh thyme and apple works really well with pork. Add onions cooked in port to venison with a spoonful of red currant jelly.
Lamb will be pepped up with middle eastern spices like cumin, coriander and cardamom and garlic, chilli and lemon. Beef, onions and mustard work like a dream. Encase the flavoured meat in buttery puff pastry and bake to flaky, crisp perfection. A bit of imagination in the seasoning department will make for magic in the sausage roll.
Sausages are versatile and a well made one goes a long way.
Their natural spicing will enhance vegetables, pulses and pasta without having to go overboard in quantity. My first recipe braises them in beer with cabbage. This is a one pot wonder that’s ready in half an hour and packs a punch in the flavour department.
The sweet cabbage soaks up all the porky deliciousness and the addition of ale, mustard and Worcestershire sauce just finishes it off brilliantly. Nothing else required apart from some good local spuds.
The Italians use good sausage sparingly with beans and pasta to make a rich dish called pasta e fagioli or pasta and beans – always sounds better in Italian! The dish starts off with good bacon rendered down. The sausage is removed from the casing and crumbled. Layers of flavour are added – aromatic vegetables, herbs, garlic wine, stock and passata. The whole thing is simmered for at least an hour and pasta and parmesan added.
The temperature is due to drop soon and nothing will warm the soul, and stomach, more than this classic dish.
One of my favourite authors, Tom Robbins said: “ A sausage is an image of rest, peace and tranquillity in stark contrast to the destruction and chaos of everyday life.”