British Sausage: Proper Sausage – Part 2
In British sausage – Part 1 I said proper sausage making in Britain was subject to strong influences from the Romans. Confirmation then that, British sausages evolved from the traditional favourites of the Roman soldier and gentry alike. Popular of the time and still sought after today were Italian varieties such as Lucanian or Luganega.
What is a Proper Sausage? Fundamentally real sausages need to be made using traditional (artisanal) techniques and the provenance of locally grown ingredients. This is whats called Slow-food, it’s higher in nutrients and has far better flavour.
Proper Sausages also need high-quality muscle meat with a good connective fat ratio – this is important! Shoulder, chuck, picnic, belly, and brisket are all examples of Pork & Beef cuts with generous marbling and connected fat (approx. 15-30% in total). This makes them perfect for sausage making.
The ‘Low Fat’ thinking
Is sausage high in saturated fats unhealthy? All things being equal the answer may surprise the majority of us. After all, we’re almost predisposed to think of fat as bad, the enemy! This is because most of us believe Fat = weight gain…right? Not so fast…
Sadly, this thinking is based on the old, but erroneous conclusion that gluttony and sloth are the cause of things like obesity, heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes etc. Furthermore, it’s so deeply ingrained in today’s thinking, its now the norm to think of saturated fats as bad and polyunsaturated fats as good – that consuming a high-fat diet makes us fat.
This was founded on the hypothesis of Ancel Keys and his much disputed seven countries study. For decades successive governments have consistently adopted the findings of the Seven Countries study and the over simplified principles of gluttony & sloth. This, in turn, was the catalyst for the wholesale replacement of fats with sugar throughout the developed world. Unfortunately, this still remains commonplace today, as is reflected in current NHS advice and evident from the UK government’s Eatwell Guide. However, we now know that Key’s depiction of the Seven Countries Study was fundamentally flawed and had no basis in fact.
Despite this, the Eatwell Guide and NHS advice remain steadfast. Why is this? we can only wonder! If only our leaders had listened to the contradictory findings from the author of Pure, White and Deadly – the very credible Professor John Yudkin.
In summary, high levels of saturated animal fats are essential for optimal health and well-being, it is after all the diet responsible us as humans. In terms of healthy sausages, saturated fats bring flavour, texture, juiciness and good overall mouthfeel.
Original or Proper sausages then are simply high-quality meats – chopped, salted, then mixed and stuffed into the cleaned animal intestine. We know too that offcuts, offal and otherwise waste parts were also used in sausage making, though this was predominantly the reserve of the less well-off. This uncomplicated principle has become intrinsic to sausage making all over the world. Later herbs, spices, berries, fruits, and even vegetables were introduced according to local availability. Consequently, many recipes were influenced by seasonal variation as well as the available trade routes.
Sausage – A type of Bread?
In post-war Britain with rationing in full swing, meat was ever more scarce and British sausage became an unwitting casualty. Butchers originally had little choice but to substitute quality high-fat muscle meats with trim, offal and the more readily available non-meat ingredients. A particular favourite being bread or rusk, with meat in such short supply this was the perfect solution. Being able to absorb more than twice it’s weight in water makes it ideal both as a filler and extender.
Though remarkably it has other benefits too. The hydration process further releases glutenin and gliadin proteins. Thus increasing gluten content to that already present. Consequently, this new process of making sausages identified cereal products derived from wheat, barley, rye or oats as a very effective binder. Though perhaps not such good news for consumers and sufferers of food intolerance.
The British Banger
It came as little shock that perception of British sausages became one of popular ridicule. Even giving rise to the term ‘Banger’, due to its tendency to explode on heating. Invariably due to the expansion of gases released from all that absorbed water turning to steam!
Unfortunately, as the country began recovery from post-war food rationing. Traditional sausage makers led by the now dissolved Dewhurst’s chainsaw an opportunity to maintain margins and subsequently kept the cheap cereal based recipes – who could blame them! It is where the saying, ‘there are 3 types of bread, white bread, brown bread, and sausages,’ came from. All those fantastic recipes that had evolved since the Roman occupation being more or less forgotten. The great British bread sausage was born and here to stay – at least for a while.
Luckily since the late 1980’s British sausage has seen something of a renaissance with small artisan producers rediscovering those traditional recipes and reintroducing them back into local communities. Though progress was slow at best, mainly due to the sheer volume of cheap commodity sausages flooding the UK market. Driven perhaps by our perception and demand for increasingly cheaper food and variety.
Unfortunately, in general, Britain sausages are nothing more than a commodity to the biggest producers. To the smaller producer, sausages are often seen as a convenient product to facilitate higher yields and increase margins. Ask any butcher what makes a British sausage – I’ve spoken to many in my time. Most will tell you that British sausage needs to have bread or rusk – that it helps create the correct taste and light consistency even. In reality, this has no basis in fact.
Without a doubt, Butchery is a skill requiring competent, experienced craftspeople. Nonetheless, in terms of creating proper sausage, there’s some potential for conflict. It concerns the model of your typical butcher’s shop. Generally speaking, the core business is about selling high-quality joints of meat in low volumes to individual consumers. At this, I have to agree they’re indeed excellent. Encouragingly a small number of butchers have become more specialist, offering various cured meats and even proper sausages! Though, for many sausages remain an efficient and effective method of using leftovers and increasing margins.
In an effort to make ever cheaper sausages, many of the traditional sausage makers no longer make their own seasonings. It’s now common for this to be bought-in, in the form of readily mixed plastic sachets for each recipe. This is all very well, though whilst we lose invaluable knowledge and skills. We also inadvertently hand over increasing control to the large manufacturers whom may, in turn, see our own personal health and well being as the lowest common denominator.
Provenance – what’s in a name
Both loyalty and trust are fundamental to provenance. In principle, this would be knowing the person who created your bacon or made sausages for that matter, by name. Provenance is about the integrity of the raw ingredients and confidence in controls applied in creating the end product. In the long term, your quality of life and physical existence may just depend on it!
As recent improvements gather real momentum, due in no small part to the increasing focus on health and well being. We see also, an increasing recognition from consumers of biological intolerance to certain modern day foods. Reassuringly, legislation now requires that manufacturers declare all allergens such as gluten and other anti-nutrients in pre-packaged foods. However, there remains a gap for natural (preservative free) foods prepared on the premises and sold directly to the consumer.
Gluten Free – It’s not as simple as that!
Resulting demands from consumers now see an increasing selection of gluten free sausages becoming available on our supermarket shelves. One or two even made with Pork shoulder and natural casings. However, as a factor of all this convenience, by default supermarket options include various synthetic chemical ingredients. Phosphates to retain water, Sulphites to extend shelf life and colour, some even with Monosodium glutamate (MSG) to enhance flavour, Soya and other legume flours to act as bulking and binding agents. Also, the traditional casings of hog and sheep are now increasingly rare. Instead, collagen casings commonplace. Manufactured from the hides of cows, pigs, fish, and poultry; bones and tendons permitted – collagen is cheaper, more robust and straight! (natural = curved). As a result, collagen is now the preferred option of almost all manufacturers.
Above all, despite the recent resurgence and resemblance of Proper or Natural Sausage coming to the fore, we should not expect our experience of the previous seventy years to change overnight. With the UK sausage industry worth an estimated £1bn a year, a not insignificant number may be resolute in retaining the status quo.
…if we do nothing – then nothing will change!
In the long term maybe we simply have to accept that our food isn’t a commodity, that we are what we eat and food quality is primary in maintaining genetic health. That the true cost of food is far greater than we previously realised. Above all, that we recognise the story of British sausage is in many respects representative of previous mistakes. Finally, that Proper Sausages are symbolic of a true health food that we need to keep hold of.