Thursday, 28 February 2013

'First make friends with your butcher'

Sausages. Real ones. 

“First make friends with your butcher.” It may have been said by Isabella Beeton and if so, almost a century and a half ago, but it could hardly be more apt today.

A good sausage is a thing of great joy, but the latest revelation, hot on the hoofs of the horsemeat scandal, is that some great British bangers may be full of stuff that’s far from great – and of downright borderline legality.

Desinewed meat (DSM) was introduced into the UK in the 1990s accompanied by claims that it is a higher form of recovered meat, retrieved from animal bones using low-pressure water.

Apparently, it looks a little like a fine mince, and closer to meat than the more liquid MSM ‘slurry’.

MSM – mechanically separated meat – is a paste-like meat product that is made by forcing beef, pork, turkey or chicken through a sieve with the aid of high pressure, thus separating the bone from the edible meat tissue. It’s sometimes known as ‘white slime’.

Now the EU (and we all know what a dreadful, anti-British body that is) declared that DSM could still be used in UK meat products – but could not be considered part of the meat content. So in other words, you have to label it as a different ingredient than meat.

This is just like the horsemeat scandal: the crap is packing for cheap products, which are sold (predominantly) to the poor as ‘value’ or ‘economy’ – or just plain cheap – ranges, but still have to turn a profit for the producer and the transporter and the retailer etc etc ad nauseum.

According to the BBC, one EU-based meat supplier pointed out that 500g of sausages was selling in one supermarket for less than a euro (86p).

And he went on to say that it was impossible to produce meat at that price without cutting corners.

None of this should be a surprise. When the EU announced that assorted derivatives could not be listed simply as ‘meat’ on a packet of sausages, it provoked consternation from producers. And after all, it suddenly became easier to see how much – or rather, how little – real meat was in a sausage.

But now it seems that some British producers have been using something like ‘slurry’ – but classing it as ‘meat’ for the sake of the ingredients list.

So, we’re pretty much back to where we were yesterday – poor food for poor people; profiteering, paternalism and just one hell of a big old mess,

It all emphasises, yet again, the need to find a real butcher (if you have that chance) and then make friends with him (or her!).

On a more personal note, for some strange reason or other, sausages were one of the mass-produced products I carried on buying until only a few short years ago.

Perhaps realising the value of a top-class banger is one of the marks of a mature foodie?

Yorkie pudding.
Yet entirely coincidentally, tonight was set aside for sausages – bought from Downland last weekend and frozen until last night, when they were brought into the main fridge.

Buy quality and, as a general rule, freeze what you want for later in the week and then give things at least 24 hours in the meat part of the fridge to thaw gently.

You don’t actually need to try to change our schopping culture from once a week.

Anyway, tonight’s dinner was a bit of a sausagey experiment.

One of my biggest problems in the kitchen is timing different parts of a meal.

And with Yorkshire pudding, for instance, I tend to overcook it – partly because I do it rarely and don’t, therefore, learn.

And partly because I miss-time things.

So, what to do?

First up, take your sausages and add to a pan, with water halfway up the sausage. Bring to a simmer and leave, lidded, for 10 minutes.

Remove and dry on kitchen paper.

When your Yorkies have cooked gently for about 20 minutes, heat some lard or dripping in a pan and then brown the sausages.

For gravy, dice one large onion and sweat in butter for 10 minutes or so.

Add decent stock and simmer for 10 minutes, then blitz and reduce further until as desired. You can pre-cook this, let it cool and reheat.

This is largely a Bill King recipe – cut short. His version includes two thinly-sliced cloves of smoked garlic with the onion to start with, and continues after the blitzing bit by slicing a further onion and sweating in butter until translucent, then turning up the heat to brown a little of the onion.

Add the blitzed mixture, bring to the boil, simmer for 10 minutes and check the seasoning.

Unfortunately, I didn't have any smoked garlic, and I don't have a processor, so my blitzing was necessarily limited. 

And so to the Yorkie – which was pure Delia.

Take 75g plain flour, sifted with a pinch of salt and pepper.

To which, beat in one medium egg, 75ml milk and 55ml water.

Melt a tablespoon or two of dripping or lard in an oven that’s been heated to 180˚C (fan).

Whip the dish out, pour the batter in and pop straight back in the oven. And now, you want to leave for around 25-30 minutes.

The advantage of all this, which might sound complicated, is actually that it, in effect, unbundles the process. You don’t have to worry as much about times, because you can pre-prep parts of the final dish, and concentrate on the one that it is arguably most sensitive.

In the interests of accuracy, I served carrot and peas with this: carrot sliced and cooked for 10 minutes in boiling, salted water, with frozen peas added after five.

So, the lessons here?

Read the labels – and by god, DO make a friend of your butcher!

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