The British Love of Sausages

By Seren Charrington Hollins

There is little debate that Britain  is a nation of sausage lovers. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner you can always rely on a good old fashioned banger. But when it comes to the Great British banger, do we really know what we’re getting?

It’s estimated that 86% of households in the UK buy sausages every month, so it stands to reason there are going to be variations across different brands and price points. But how much meat are you actually getting in your sausages?

Well, to be legally called a ‘pork sausage’ in Britain the product needs to contain a minimum of 42% meat.  However, there is more to a good sausage than just high meat content, so don’t just buy sausages on the basis of a higher percentage of meat because you may be disappointed by the taste.

Sausages will often be bulked out with an ingredient called rusk, but rusk isn’t just a cheap bulker, it actually plays a vital role in the sausage making process.  Indeed Sausages containing rusk hold their form better and the rusk absorbs pork fats and juices released during cooking.   So a lower meat content sausage with higher rusk content might actually be a better tasting banger.

For example  you have a 95% pork sausage the fat can simply drip out of them, leaving the sausage feeling dry in the mouth and not give a good finish on the pallet.  Sausage makers often add additional fat to their sausage meat mix by using lower grade meat,  and this can result in a very good tasting sausage, because when cooked the extra fat interacts with the rusk, instilling flavour and succulence into the sausages. Furthermore, the fat seeps through the skin during the cooking process, infusing ingredient flavours, tenderising the skin, cooking the sausage thoroughly from the inside out.

So whilst sausage makers might be able to save a few pennies by adding rusk, adding extra fat content and using cheaper meat, these cost cutting practices are not always undesirable as it can results in a more succulent sausage than something with a super high pork content.

As with all recipes its a simple case of balance and good recipe development. Whilst contemplating what makes the perfect sausage you may want to consider that the British banger is  actually losing their bang because modern recipes have become leaner and healthier.

Today’s sausages tend to make much less of a sizzle when being cooked than in the past because they generally contain less fat and water than traditional recipes from the depths of culinary history.

Sausages became known as bangers because of the loud sizzle and pop they made when being cooked.   During wartime the humble sausage was often bulked out with ingredients other than meat which was scarce, leading to the sausages cooked in the trenches having a high fat, cereal and water content which caused them to jump around the pan, sizzling, hissing and on occasion exploding; thus they were nicknamed ‘bangers’.

The ingredients in sausages has long been a topic of debate as they are one of the first processed foods, leading suspicious Victorians to refer to them as ‘little parcels of mystery’.

So whether, you love a plain pork sausage, a beef sausage, lamb sausage or a traditional style of sausage such as Oxford or Cumberland, be sure to raise a fork to a culinary legend as battered, rolled in pastry or served up with mash the British love affair with the sausage is a long one that shows no signs of dwindling.

 

Author

  • Seren Charrington Hollins

    Seren runs a catering business and delicatessen in Mid Wales, but she is not your run of the mill caterer or deli owner. She is a mother of six and an internationally recognised food historian who has created banquets and historical dinner parties for private clients and television. Her work has been featured on the BBC, ITV & Channel 4 and she has appeared in BBC4’s Castle’s Under Siege, BBC South's Ration Book Britain, Pubs that Built Britain with The Hairy Bikers, BBC 2’s Inside the Factory, BBC 2’s The World’s Most Amazing Hotels, the Channel 4 series Food Unwrapped and Country Files Autumn Diaries. Her work has also been featured in The Guardian, The Times, Sunday Times, Daily Mail and The Telegraph. Her two most recent books are 'Revolting Recipes from History' and 'A Dark History of Tea'

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