The English take their sausages very seriously. More so than most. More so even than the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.
But the humble sausage is a long standing British institution. A tale about The Great British banger. Rather than what the English arrogantly refer to as the English sausage.
Each region, community even, with their own preferences and variation. The integrity of which is jealously guarded.
Traditional British sausages used to be made in the winter months. Throughout the autumn, when the roots were plentiful, the pigs would be fed and fattened up until they were big and strong. As autumn moved into winter when the apples had fallen from the trees, and food was less plentiful, the time would come for the pig to be killed. Traditionally the legs were made into succulent hams, and the loins made into bacon.
The trimmings would then be made into sausage. As food stocks were often lower in the winter months, rusk or bread would be added to the trimming to make the protein go further. The pork would be minced with seasonings, salt and the bread to create what we have now come to know as the traditional British sausage.
This style has become intrinsic to sausage production now. Indeed many other British classics originated in this way: the shepherd’s pie would have been traditionally made from the leftovers of a Sunday dinner, the Cornish pasty the same. Butchers did not wish to waste any part of the animal, hence the creation of the Black Pudding. These dishes and products have become integral to the tradition and culinary history of Britain and are to be embraced.
Although the British method was traditionally used to make the pork go further, it has become what we expect as the light textured, flavoursome breakfast sausage. This contrasts with the continental sausage which is made almost entirely of meat – such as the Bratwurst, Toulouse, Nuremburg and Chorizo. These types of sausages have a much denser texture, are heavier and firmer and have less seasoning. You can get a great continental version of the sausage that is 100% meat but it is not something that British people tend to favour.
Often in supermarkets you’ll find the shelves lined with sausages marked at 97% meat, but this is not what we would call a British sausage. A good traditional British sausage should have an amount of bread or rusk, as this helps create the correct taste and light consistency. Often these supermarket sausages are not in the traditional British style, and rather similar to the more heavy continental sausages.
Just because a sausage contains high meat content doesn’t mean that it is a better sausage. A beer brewed at a local brewery with 3.5% alcohol content wouldn’t be considered any worse than a continental beer produced in a foreign country and brewed at 5% alcohol content – and the same reasoning can be applied to sausages. I won the National Champion of Champion’s Sausage title on two separate occasions with sausages of 70% meat content. Meat quantity is important, but so is the amount of bread or rusk used.
What you must consider is not the lower percentage of meat in British sausages, but rather whether they are made with good quality British pork. Rather than having high welfare standards, and good quality pork, often these supermarket sausages contain either imported pork or cheaper cuts such as jowl and pork rind rather than belly and other good quality trimmings.
My advice is to find a butcher has an artisanal approach to the manufacture of his sausages. You need to find a craftsman that has a passion for what he considers the creation of traditional British sausages, using quality British pork.
Buy British sausage!
English damp weather is not suited for the production of dry sausages of salami type. There will be a constant fight with molds, in addition the winter temperatures were too cold to dry meat the way Italians or Spaniards did. Consequently, English sausages tend to be of either of a fresh type that requires cooking before serving or “puddings” which are cooked during manufacture.
The majority of British sausages include a filler material, the most popular being rusk and oats. Adding filler material to sausages has been a common practice in many countries for example buckwheat groats in Polish or German blood sausages, rice in Hungarian Hurka, Swedish sausage is made with potatoes, in Asian sausages rice and noodles are added, pumpkin can be found in Spanish Chorizo de Calabaza or in Portuguese Chouriço de Abóbora de Barroso-Montalegre, however, in English sausages adding filler material is almost the rule. British sausage-has bread in it; other sausages from around the world-don’t. British sausages are full of bread and non-meat fillers. They are about 70% meat and 30% filler. Such a proportion does weaken the meaty flavor of the sausage so it is a bit of an acquired taste, that Brits really do love. Consumers in other countries prefer a higher-meat content in sausages.
Take for example Polish “sznycel.” It is a type of a hamburger where ground meat is mixed with soaked bread/rolls, egg and spices and then fried. It has a different and pleasant taste, a proof that a combination of meat with a filler material can produce an outstanding product I grew up in Poland eating “sznycel” and still love it, however, my USA born sons think of it as a poor imitation of a 100% meat hamburger. Poles are not crazy about salami type dry not smoked sausages and Italians and Spanish are not particularly fond of smoked sausages. Sauerkraut is loved by Poles, Germans and Russians, but they will find the taste of Korean Kimchi sauerkraut rather unpleasant. It requires a few tries before a person acquires a taste for a new version of a common food.
British sausages are mainly of the fresh type served for breakfast and cooked variety also known as puddings. A fresh sausage is the stuffed sausage that is not cooked during manufacture and must be refrigerated. The sausage is fully cooked when served.
Irish and English sausages are very much alike in taste, texture and presentation. They are usually made with pork, sometimes include beef, however, both include a filler as a requirement along with herbs and spices. English sausages introduce a wonderful combination of spices like sage, nutmeg, mace and ginger. Great Britain has a number of historic sausage producing regions, such as Cumberland, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Glamorgan.
There is a notable absence of smoked sausages in England which is surprising as the country has been the leading producer of smoked fish products. On the contrary in countries such as Poland, Germany, Russia, Lithuania or Portugal the majority of sausages are smoked.
Bangers – in order to be called a banger the sausage must have a filler and must be served with mashed potatoes. Without potatoes it is not a banger, just a sausage. English banger is a typical breakfast sausage served with mashed potatoes and gravy. In England, the term banger sausage is only used to refer to the dish “Bangers and Mash”; otherwise they are simply called sausages. Bangers received their nickname during the First World War, when fillers and water were added to meat to extend its value, causing them to burst as they cooked.
Saveloy – a type of highly seasoned fine textured sausage, usually bright red, normally boiled and frequently available in British fish and chips shops, occasionally also available fried in batter. Although the saveloy was originally made from pork brains, the typical sausage is now made of beef, pork, rusk and spices. The taste of a saveloy is similar to that of a frankfurter or red pudding. It is usually eaten with chips. Saveloy drives its name from French-Swiss “cervelat” which in turn borrowed its name from Italian word “cervello” (brain) as early sausages were made with brains.
Cumberland sausage – possibly the most famous of British sausages which has been a local specialty in the County of Cumberland for more than 500 years. The meat being chopped rather than minced, which gives the sausage a distinctive meaty texture. Cumberland Sausage carries PGI, 2011 classification.
British love puddings which come in two versions: black pudding and white pudding.
White pudding – cooked sausages.
Black pudding – a sausage made with blood which is really a blood sausage. Majority of black puddings consist of fat (pork or beef), blood, onions and filler material such as oatmeal, flour and barley groats.
Stornoway Black Pudding – blood pudding awarded PGI, 2013 award.
Hog’s pudding – type of a large sausage produced in the West Country. The West Country is a loosely defined area of south western England encompassing the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, and the City and County of Bristol. This West country haggis is usually based on buckwheat groats and filled into large diameter casings around two inches in diameter. It can be made with meat or pluck (heart, liver and lungs). Some sausage recipes include pork meat and fat, suet, bread, and oatmeal or pearl barley and the sausage is known as ‘groats pudding’. It is similar to a white pudding, but it is much spicier than white pudding. It may be stuffed into casings or not.
Sausages Cooked In Pastry
Sausage Roll – sausages cooked in pastry.
Battered Sausage – deep-fried battered sausages sold at take-outs.
Toad in the Hole – sausage baked into Yorkshire Pudding.
Pigs in Blankets – pork sausages wrapped in bacon and fried.
Serving English Sausages
British sausages are usually cooked by frying, baking or grilling, less by poaching in water. English sausages are usually served at breakfast, but are also used in dishes like:
Full Breakfast or British Breakfast – there are several variations depending on if you are in England, Wales, Ireland or Scotland. Canada and the US, as well as former British colonies serve their own variations that may include corned beef hash, pancakes, grits, fruits, ham, steak, potato hash browns, bacon, Canadian bacon and other forms of preserved meats. Eggs are usually served fried to order, but may also be scrambled or poached. Traditional full breakfast included fried English sausages, fried British back bacon, eggs, hash browns or fried potato chunks, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, baked beans and toast.
People in Ireland don’t call their sausage “banger”, however, the Irish sausage is called a Banger, British Sausage or English Sausage in other countries. Irish Sausage is also commonly known as “English Sausage”, “British Sausage, and as “Bangers” outside of the UK; the terms are used interchangeably. The traditional recipe consists of ground pork, a bread filler (around 20%), eggs and spices. When properly cooked, the outside is crispy and tight while the inside is juicy and soft.
Irish Breakfast – a combination plate of Irish Sausage (grilled or pan-fried), eggs, baked beans, toast or bread, bacon, white pudding and black pudding (blood sausage). Often supplemented with fried liver, fried potatoes, grilled onions, mushrooms and tomatoes.
Irish sausage is included in traditional dishes such as:
Irish Sausage Rolls – Irish sausages wrapped in pastry.
Dublin Coddle – sausages, bacon, potatoes and onions cooked together in one pot.
Timoleague Brown Pudding – Timoleague brown pudding is made in Timoleague in West Cork, Ireland. Timoleague brown pudding carries PGI, 2000 classification.
Haggis – a popular meal for the poor, as it was made from cheap leftover parts of a sheep that would otherwise be thrown away. The sheep is the most common livestock in Scotland. A traditional haggis sausage recipe describes haggis as sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal (often lightly toasted), suet, spices such as salt, pepper, coriander, cinnamon, and nutmeg, mixed with stock, and traditionally stuffed inside the sheep’s stomach, which is sewn closed.
The haggis is traditionally cooked by boiling (for up to three hours). Haggis should be cooked below water boiling temperature which prevents the risk of bursting. Commercial haggis is made from pig, rather than sheep and is stuffed in artificial casings, rather than stomachs. Cooked Haggis is normally served with Scotch whisky. In 1971 it became illegal to import haggis into the US from the UK due to a ban on food containing sheep lung, which constitutes 10 to 15% of the traditional recipe.
Lorne Sausage and Square – when stuffed into casings this Scotch sausage is known as Lorne. When pressed in a baking form it becomes Lorne square.
Scotch White Pudding – a Scotch sausage made with beef fat, oatmeal, onions and farina.
Potato scones are made from mashed potatoes, salt and flour and cooked on hot griddle until golden brown.
Scottish Breakfast – a combination of Scottish sausages including sausage links, Lorne Sausage (square sausage patties), Scottish black pudding (blood sausage), bacon, eggs, toast, baked beans and potato scones. (mashed potatoes, salt, butter and flour combined together and cooked on hot griddle until golden brown). Often supplemented with haggis, fried mushrooms, fruit pudding, white pudding (sausage) and oatcakes.
Welsh sausages are made from lamb or pork and rusk. Leeks are often added.
Glamorgan Sausage – a traditional Welsh vegetarian sausage, made of cheese, leeks and bread crumbs. The sausage is not stuffed into casings, but rather rolled in a cylindrical shape, dipped in egg and coated with bread crumbs. The sausage earned its name from Glamorgan cheese once made in Wales from the milk of a breed of cattle also named Glamorgan. There are few Glamorgan cattle remaining to produce milk for making Glamorgan cheese on a larger scale. However, Caerphilly is very similar and is used for making Glamorgan sausage.
The crucial ingredient that separates British, Irish and Scottish sausages from others is a filler which is applied at 20% or more. The filler can be bread, flour, rusk, bread crumbs, rice, oats, barley or buckwheat groats.
Rusk is a typical British product which cannot be easily obtained out of England. To the British, butcher rusk is a dry biscuit broken into particles, sorted by particle size and sold to butchers and others for use as a food additive in sausage manufacture. In other countries a rusk is a hard, dry biscuit or a twice- baked bread. In the USA the nearest substitution will be a cracker meal or plain bread crumbs.
Oats or Oatmeal
Oats can be whole, steel cut or rolled flat by heavy cylinders. Most sausage recipes call for steel cut oats which can be made in different particle size. They are also referred as oatmeal. Cooked oats are known as “porridge”, the worldwide breakfast meal. Steel cut oats should not to be confused with flattened instant oats served for breakfast. Cut oats can be obtained in American supermarkets.
Similar to all other countries to lower costs most of the sausage manufacturers in UK have cheapened their formulas and have gone from pork and beef trimmings to poultry, pork, and beef trimmings. Adding water, curing accelerators and phosphates (to lock the water in) have created products of different texture and flavor.
In the UK, millions of sausages are eaten every day and in many ways—grilled, fried, baked, barbecued, in sauces, with gravy, mashed potatoes, as bangers and mash, in a sandwich, as part of an English full breakfast, and more.
A good British sausage should be made with at least 70 percent high-quality meat, usually beef or pork or a mixture of both. The remaining content is seasoning, breadcrumbs, and fat (yes, fat). Across the UK, there are many regional varieties of sausages and these are just a few of the most easily found:
Cumberland sausage: This is a hefty, chunky sausage that’s easily identified, as it comes in a continuous spiral that is usually bought by length, not by weight. Spiced with pepper, this a flavorsome sausage, and an excellent all-around choice.
Gloucester sausage: As the name implies, it is made with Gloucester Old Spot Pork, nicely flavored with sage.
Lincolnshire sausage: It’s all herby and meaty, often heady with sage and sometimes a little thyme.
Manchester sausage: This herby sausage contains cloves, ginger, nutmeg, mace, and white pepper.
Marylebone sausage: Expect mace, sage, and ginger in this traditional London butcher’s sausage.
Oxford sausage: Savory with sage, a touch of marjoram, lemon, pork, and veal, this is a nicely refined sausage.
Pork and apple sausage: The apple in this pork sausage opens itself up to using cider in the mix, thus creating a lovely moist sausage much loved in the West Country.
Square slicing sausage: Also known as Lorne, it’s made from a mixture of pork and beef. Conveniently, this sausage sits very well in a sandwich and is often found on the breakfast plate.
Suffolk sausage: This coarse sausage is similar to Lincolnshire.
Tomato sausage: with its distinctive red color and light tomato flavor, it’s always a favorite with children.
Yorkshire sausage: Expect a sausage spiced with cayenne, a pinch of nutmeg, white pepper, and mace.
Where to Buy British Sausages
If possible, buy your sausages from your local butcher, and preferably one who makes its sausages, as they will be made on a regular basis and require less of the preservatives used in mass-produced ones. Buying your sausages locally means you have a better say in the quality, and possibly can request specific ingredients to your liking. Many online companies sell authentic British sausage if you live outside the UK.
How to Cook Sausages
As sausages are so versatile, there are many ways to cook them. Bake, barbecue, poach—but whichever way you choose, cook them slowly. Should you cook them too fast, they will not only burst, but the skin will also burn before the middle is cooked.
Why Sausages Are Called Bangers
As mentioned above, when cooking sausages, they must be cooked slowly or they will burst. Hence the name bangers—the habit of sausages bursting with a bang when fried too quickly.
Sausage wasn’t something I enjoyed very much when I was growing up. I am not sure why. I never really began to enjoy them at all until I was a grown woman and cooking my own. I liked them almost burnt on the outside with catsup for dipping. My father enjoyed them dipped in mayonnaise. As a child growing up in Canada, in my experience at least, there was only one kind of sausage. Ordinary breakfast sausage, long thin cylinders of meat, stuffed into skins, fatty and flavoured with nutmeg and poultry seasoning. That was it. Growing up in the 50’s /60’s and early 70’s in small communities meant that we were not exposed to outside flavours or choices. We had what we had, and that was that.
It was not until I was an adult that I experienced another kind of sausage. My sister-in-law who lived in Toronto had studied at the Cordon Bleu and was considered to be an expert in cooking. We spent the weekend at hers once, and she cooked sausages for us for breakfast. These were not the sausages of my childhood, they were plump and fat and had a fabulous flavour. She simmered them slowly in lemon water first and then browned them off in a skillet. That is when I learnt to love sausage, and in the intervening years have come to enjoy all sorts and varieties. What she served us that weekend were British Butchers Sausages and they were quite simply gorgeous in my opinion.
One of the most exciting foods I was introduced to moving over here to the UK was the great British Sausage, or Bangers as they are also lovingly called, and let me tell you, they have about as many different kinds as they do areas and counties here, a whole cornucopia of wonderful flavours, some of them quite spectacular. I have my favourites.
The word “sausage” comes from the Latin, “salsicius”, prepared by salting, which in turn comes from Salsus, meaning “salted.”Sausages have been produced, eaten and enjoyed in Great Britain since Roman times. The Anglo-Saxons developed their own varieties and the Normans brought French ideas into the mix, including pure pork sausages, black puddings (made with blood) and the andouille, an entrail sausage known in England as chitterlings.
You will find sausages in just about every country in the world, each with their own spin on this meat, fresh, dried and everything in between. What is it that makes British sausage stand out from the rest? What is it about British sausage that makes it so great?
For one we have such a wide variety to choose from . . . Yorkshire, Oxford . . . Cambridge, Cumberland . . . Country Pork, and those are just the basics. We stuff them with leeks and cheeses, spring onions, caramelised onions, mustard, honey, etc. We enjoy them for breakfast and we enjoy them for lunch. We love them for teatime, or high tea, and dinner. We eat them in baguettes and rolled up in puff pastry. Here in the UK, we just love our sausages, full stop!
In days of old they would have been dried and salted, perhaps even smoked, for preservation. These days for the most part however, with the modern wonders of refrigeration, we tend to enjoy them fresh. You can find them in other countries, but I have heard again and again how much people miss British Sausages where they live and how they can’t find them, so first up I am going to give you a recipe which you can use to make your own homemade Basic British Pork Sausages
BASIC BRITISH PORK SAUSAGE
Yield: Makes About 16
Author: Marie Rayner
You should be able to buy the skins for these at a butchers or from an on line sausage making source. They will have been salted, which helps to preserve them, so do soak them in cold water first, preferably running water, running the water through the actual skins, and then dry with a cloth. Also cut them into 10 inch lengths, tying a knot in one end before filling. This will give you a bit of an excess but this will shrink during cooking and help to prevent them from bursting. You will need a meat grinder, or a good food processor.
2 pounds of boned and skinned shoulder of pork
4 pig’s cheeks, trimmed
1/2 pound skinned pork back fat
1 brown onion, peeled and very finely chopped
1 1/2 TBS unsalted butter
1/4 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 tsp fresh sage, chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced (optional)
pinch ground mace
2 slices of stale good dry white bread, crusts removed and crumbled
1 medium free range egg, beaten lightly
salt and pepper
about 4 meters (4 1/2 yards) sausage skins, well washed
25 – 50g of lard for frying (2 – 4 TBS)
Put all of the meats through the meat grinder on a medium mince. This should give you a medium coarse finish. If you prefer a smoother texture, you can pass the meat through the grinder several more times. Cover and place the minced meat into the refrigerator.
Saute the onion and garlic in the butter along with the herbs and the mace over low heat, without browning for two to three minutes until quite soft. Let cool completely.
Take the meat out of the refrigerator and mix completely with the cooked onion mixture. Stir in the bread crumbs and egg, adding a few drops of Worcestershire sauce and some seasoning. Take care not to over do the Worcestershire sauce. To check your flavours, take a small amount and fry it in a skillet, taste and then adjust the mixture as needed.
To fill the sausage skins, you can use a sausage skin filler, or you can use a piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tube, filling the bag only half full for better control.
Take the sausage skin and pull it back to the knot. Sit it over the end of the piping tube and squeeze. Once the sausage skin has been filled to the size of a standard sausage, remove the piping bag and push the meat further down the skin to give a good plump shake, pushing out any air left in the skin, then tie at the end. Repeat to fill all your sausage skins. Place onto a plate, cover and allow to rest in the refrigerator before proceeding to cook them.
They are ready to be grilled or pan-fried. Pan frying is my preferred method of cooking. Melt the lard in a heavy bottomed skillet. Lay the sausage in the hot fat and fry gently, for 15 to 20 minutes, turning frequently, until they are golden brown and cooked thoroughly. Enjoy!
Created using The Recipes Generator
Note – you can replace the shoulder and cheeks with 2 1/2 pounds of pork belly, reducing the amount of pork fat by about 1/3 of a pound.
My absolute favourite of all the sausages has to be Cumberland sausage. It is said to be the meatiest of all the sausages and has a very distinctive peppery flavour that I really enjoy. At one time they used to be made from a special breed of pig, which unfortunately died out back in the late 50’s/early 60’s.
One of the most recognisable features of Cumberland sausage is that it is not twisted into links, but rather long length are shaped and rolled into a “Catherine Wheel” shape. Some of them can be quite long and in Cumbria you actually buy the by the length rather than the weight. We have had some really delicious ones when we have been staying up in Cumbria, that I have never been able to find anywhere else. Traditionally they are flavoured with a mix of cayenne pepper, white pepper, ground nutmeg and salt, a combination which I find extremely delicious. Its nice and peppery. If you want to have a try at making your own (and I hope that you do), it is best for you to just pipe the meat into two or three long sausages and then coil them into Cumberlands when done. You can then pan fry, grill or roast them as desired.