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.
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 I was growing up my parents got meat from McKee’s butchers in Maghera. Their beef sausages were magnificent.
When you ask chefs what their death row meal would be they always come up with something simple – normally a memory of childhood like bacon and cabbage or stew made with mince.
Mine would be those beef sausages, turnip and potatoes. Despite eating a lot of fancy food this is still one of my favourite dinners!
Every town in Northern Ireland has a butcher with a reputation for their sausages – too many to mention.
Very few, however have ventured into the art of making cured salami type sausages, where the meat is fermented and air dried.
When I go to Italy the butchers shop in the village of Casalviera has a fantastic array of them hanging from the ceiling.
They’re every shape and size and their colour changes during the long process.
Making these is a health and safety nightmare. You have to maintain them at a certain temperature in order that they ferment and then dry at a constant temperature.
I know of a lot of meat gone by the wayside in this country from butchers who haven’t mastered the art!
Alastair Crown in Limavady is one who has. He has developed a delicious cured chorizo sausage using meat from rare breed pigs from his farm.
Chorizo is a Spanish sausage flavoured with smoked paprika that lends itself to a myriad of dishes – equally at home with beef as it is with shellfish.
Alastair’s variation is hard to get hold of – stockists sell out nearly immediately when it arrives but check out his website corndalefarm.com for details.
A sausage is only as good as the ingredients that go into it. Rare breed, free range pork will make an infinitely better product than forced meat. It’ll add to the price but the quality is much superior.
When I go into St George’s Market in Belfast on a Saturday morning it takes 100 percent of steely resolve not to buy a sausage roll from Ann’s Pantry stand. It’s a battle that I rarely win but they are sublime. My first recipe is for my version with tart apple and onion and cider reduction added. Sausage rolls are a decadent indulgence so use the best sausages you can find and treat yourself.
While chorizo is evocative of hot Spanish days, it adds a dash of sunshine to a sometimes wet miserable Ulster. My other recipe is for a soup, Iberian in inspiration but very much from here as far as the ingredients go. Chorizo, chicken, spuds and kale simmered together makes for a heartwarming soup.