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Thursday, 13 June 2013

Sausage mad!

Sausage making is a traditional food preservation technique. The preservation is done by three main methods, those of curing, drying or smoking. The sausage is the logical outcome of efficient butchery and sausages, salami and puddings are amongst the oldest of prepared foods whether cooked and eaten straight away or dried for later consumption.

Traditionally sausage casings were made of cleaned intestines and when I originally started to learn the trade with Bosworth's, the butcher's walk in fridge would have a special deep plastic bucket with pig's intestines sitting in a weak brine solution which would be washed and washed in cold water until considered clean enough for being filled with the freshly made sausage meat. Sometimes we would come across little patches of green skin which had to be discarded. The cleaned pig's stomach was also used in the case of haggis and other traditional puddings. Nowadays natural casings are often replaced by collagen, cellulose or even plastic casings. Some types of sausage, a sliced sausage for example, are prepared without a casing.

The most simple of sausage consists of meat, cut up or minced and filled into a casing. Traditionally the meat will be from pork, lamb, beef or veal. Most traditional types of sausage from Europe and Asia use no bread based filler and are 100% meat and fat plus the flavourings. However in the UK and other countries with English cuisine traditions bread and starch based fillers account for 25% of the ingredients. The filler used in many sausages helps them keep their shape as they are cooked. As the meat contracts in the heat, the filler expands and absorbs the moisture lost from the meat. Too much water in the mix makes the 'bangers' explode in the hot fat.

I do like a nice sausage and remember with great fondness my mother cooking 'toad in the hole' (sausages cooked in a Yorkshire pudding batter) and even family sized sausage meat pies to fill up the six strong Lowe family relatively cheaply. My favourite English sausages are pork and chive, tomato sausages, Cumberland, peppery Lincolnshire and traditional pork chipolata sausages. Whilst growing up 'bangers and mash' was a popular dish and a trip to the local fish and chip shop could result in a battered sausage or two or a saveloy sausage with chips. Way back when, I used to love a saveloy, chips and curry sauce meal from the chippy! The saveloy skin was traditionally coloured with Bismark brown food dye giving the saveloy a distinctive bright red colour. After I left home and started to cook for myself a big part of my diet was home-made sausage casseroles made with big fat pork sausages purchased from the butchers I worked for and bulked out with baked beans, tinned tomatoes and fried mushrooms. The resultant sausage casserole was then enjoyed with mounds of buttery mashed potatoes. I also used to devour rather a lot of the black puddings sold in the shop sometimes cold and sometimes fried as part of a Sunday morning traditional fry up breakfast. Red rings of Polony never did it for me.

As a schoolboy I used to go to my friend Stephen Gillett's house after school and enjoy four or five boiled Princes' hot dog style sausages from a tin along with fluffy white bread and thought this was culinary bliss. We would often get that Colman mustard in a tube and liberally spread the yellow mustard all over the sausages. Happy days.


In my travels throughout Europe I have tried various sausages including Strasbourg sausages, spicy Toulouse unlinked sausages, Morteau and Vienna sausages. In Germany I have had a Berliner Currywurst, Dampfwurst, Brühwurst (steamed sausage), a Thüringer Rostbratwurst made with lean belly pork as well as a 'proud Henry' - the Stolzer Heinrich. Smoky Frankfurter sausages with mustard are very tasty and the Germans really go to town on the process of curing and smoking sausages and other meats. In fact they have an expression which goes something like “Not so much a sausage – more a way of life” Everything revolves around the sausage and similar meat products. German sausages are eaten for breakfast, as a snack, eaten hot or cold for the main meal of the day or made into sausage salads. Go to any minor or major sporting or music event and there will be cooked sausage stalls galore! It has been calculated that there are over fifteen thousand varieties of sausage in Germany alone! Believe it or not they even have a popular theatre comedy and film about the invention of the curry sausage called Die Entdeckung der Currywurst written originally as a novel by Uwe Timm..

Despite my love of all things French I don't recall eating a massive amount of sausages in France. However I do love the taste of dry cured Saucisson Sec and could happily hang around the market stalls selling this and other dried and cured pork sausage products. The aroma drives me wild. I once tried the Merguez sausages at a cheap student café in Bordeaux and they went well with the fries, mustard and a few beers. They are small thin link sausages that look innocent enough but pack a punch as they are made using a generous proportion of hot chilli paste harissa. They have a dense texture which makes them ideal for barbecuing and go well with lentils

I have yet to experience many of the Spanish sausages and their pimentón and garlic flavoured cousins and would love to try some of the famous Polish, Hungarian and Serbian sausages some day.

If I am feeling really adventurous I might give the Chinese sausage types a go. These are Lap Cheung and are wind dried pork sausages that look and feel like pepperoni but are apparently much sweeter. From my research I have discovered that sausages in South Western China are flavoured with salt, red pepper and wild pepper and that the Chinese often cure sausages by smoking and air drying them. They are apparently nice steamed on top of rice. The Japanese have fewer sausage varieties in their diet but do include some unusual sausage made with ground fish and are often bought in their convenience stores. They also have a type of chicken meat sausage called Tsukune and are popular as a snack in bars where the hard working businessmen go to get hammered after a long day in the office.

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