Saturday, 5 November 2011

Cooking the great British banger – and refs getting it wrong again

After British Food Fortnight, British Cheese Week and Chocolate Week comes British Sausage Week – for which piece of information I have the excellent Matthew Fort to thank.

And is there anything much more British than a good banger?

Well no – but that’s why it can do with a week to boost it: the sausage has been so badly served by mass production, not least as that process adds water to the finished product.

Now at this point, I have a confession to make. Until recently – embarrassingly recently – I just refused to budge from the mass-produced sausage you’d find in any corner shop or supermarket.

Peppa Pig pink and with as little texture as possible – inside or out – this was what a sausage was for me. I just didn’t ‘get’ the better ones.

I don’t really have any strong memories of sausages from childhood. There was my mother’s version of the French dish, sausage and kidney Turbigo – which I now cook, a tad more authentically (in other words, it has real onions) and in my teens, when we visited her mothering St Helens, we’d stop at a local butcher on the way to pick up some tomato sausages for lunch.

We must have had sausages – because I know that the crabapple jelly she’d make from fruit gathered at my grandmother’s was perfect with sausages. Yet I cannot recollect the sausages themselves.

I do remember sausages at college: they would lie there in the morning on the tray in the campus canteen, under light and always rather worryingly suggestive of a row of uncut penises. Or perhaps that was simply the effects of student living on my innocent mind.

For a little added context, this was in the years just following the appearance on Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life of the Yorkshire Terrier that could ‘say’ sausages. Titter ye not, Missus!

The thing with sausages, though, is that they're not a quick cook. To get the best out of proper butcher's sausages, you need time.

After The Other Half picked up a pack of venison sausages last weekend, this has proved a big week on the sausage front.

I wasn't completely satisfied with the results of those (the pack did two meals): tasty, but a bit dry. The difficulty, of course, is that lack fat.

On Saturday morning, before a manic day, I sat in bed with a cup of coffeee and browsed various sources for answers.

Delia seems to concentrate on recipes that include sausages, as opposed to basic information about how best to cook them.

I was surprised to discover that as eminent a source as Jane Grigson recommends pricking them before cooking – surely that means losing lots of the juices and fat? Although I seem to remember that my mother pricked them – but then again, I seem to remember that she grilled them. Perhaps we had already moved into a culture of removing fat as much as possible?

But sure enough, Nigel Slater came to the rescue. In Real Cooking, he details the basic method. It's not difficult.

Pop a little fat in a pan – dripping or lard or some oil, but not butter because that would burn, and moist definitely not marg. Pop the sausages in (not pricked!), pop the lid on, turn the heat right down and cook for around 30-40 minutes, turning two or three times.

In other words, you're partially steaming the sausage, but in doing that, also retaining moisture. And because it's a low heat, you don't risk the skins bursting.

The following hours were busy. The Other Half came up to Broadway Market for what was probably my earliest shop there, then we took the bus to Marylebone Station and the train to Wembley to watch the Rugby League double header: Wales v New Zealand, followed by England v Australia.

Suffice it to say that the latter provided some real fireworks – and the referee (who'd only officiated his first professional game earlier this year) dropped a number of clangers. I'm not saying that England would have actually won, but the scoreline could have been rather different from the 20-36 that was on the scoreboard at the end of the 80 minutes.

But then again, Australian coaches could make Alex Ferguson look tame, given their constant whinging and whining about officials and rules. They whinge in advance – just to make sure the officials know how they want the game run.

Still, it's all rather cathartic – and when we got home, I was able to watch the second half of QPR-Manchester City. Unfortunately, we'd booked our Wembley tickets before the football fixture list revealed that the Blues were actually going to be in London on the same day.

It was deeply annoying – but at least we won, albeit after a greater struggle than any other match this term so far.

We're breaking records – and I'm still convinced somebody's going to wake me up any time now, and we'll be in a relegation struggle! In this case, I was convinced that former players Shaun Wright Phillips and Joey Barton were going to come back to haunt us (even though Halloween's been and gone). And indeed, the latter had a strong game – including a hardly unexpected hack at David Silva's legs. Doubtless he tweeted philosophically about it later.

But the difference is right there: Silva's now a City star – not Barton. I still say it was the best bit of football business ever done getting anyone to pay money – let alone nearly £6m – for someone with such a reputation as a thug, on and off the pitch.

Anyway, I was starving but the time we got home. With the rush earlier in the day, I'd had to resort to stadium food. Overpriced and really not very thrilling at all. Chips weren't too bad, but the fried chicken was dry. And why, oh why can't you buy a 'meal' without a vast drink with it?

I found myself missing the pies at Eastlands.

A red onion was peeled and sliced, while a little lard melted in a pan. Then it was left to cook away gently. Shortly afterwards, the sausages – plain butcher's pork – went into another pan, also with a little lard, before being lidded and left on low.

Then it was back to the football with a welcome cup of tea.

I peeled the remainder of some spuds from a bag from the supermarket (yes, I do occasionally shop in supermarkets in midweek) and popped them on to boil. The intention was to put them through the ricer, but the varied sizes from the end of the bag meant that some cooked quicker than others and I was left with a bit of a crumbled mess. It took some draining, so I simply left it as crushed potatoes, which worked perfectly well.

And to finish, a tin of mushy peas – this was becoming a bit of a northern day.

To serve, some of the juices from the sausages dressed the potato, while I opted for a spoon of redcurrant jelly on the side.

The sausages were delightful and the onion was soft and sweet – just starting to crisp a little: as I like it best.

It might have been the end of British Sausage Week, but my sausage education will continue. Watch this space for a first experiment making my own!

1 comment:

  1. Sigh, sausages, onions, potatoes, mushy peas.... sigh....

    How long did you cook the onions? also on a low heat?