According to one estimation, you could eat a different British sausage every day for 10 years.
According to one estimation, you could eat a different British sausage every day for 10 years. We consume around a quarter of a million tons of sausages every year. That means 10lb, or 60 sausages – more than one a week – per person, with a national expenditure of around £500m. The Latin word salsicium, meaning "prepared by salting", introduces a complex subject. Another one for the banger spotter: the longest sausage ever stretched 35 miles. It's anyone's guess how much ketchup that called for.
Apart from changing tastes in flavouring, sausages have changed little since Roman times (though the first recorded mention is in the Greek play Orya, or "The Sausage", of 500 BC). They pandered perfectly to the Roman love of highly seasoned food that conveniently disguised any "off" flavours. As did the process of smoking them, which, together with the liberal use of pepper, deterred bacteria. Shrines in what was then Gaul depict the pig at the slaughter and the proceeds thereof – strings of sausages (which didn't appear in Britain until the 17th century), blood puddings and pigs' heads. Equally popular were chitterlings, these days replaced by andouilles and mortadella. While the fortunes of sheep and cattle farmers were affected by invasions and the economics of the land, pigs did not need to be farmed, existing as they did in the forest.
Not that sausages are made solely with pork. They consist of chopped or minced meat – it could be pork, wild boar, venison, beef, veal, turkey, or lamb in the case of Jewish and Arab sausages. The Romans also enjoyed horse meat – today, you can still buy horsemeat sausages from old-fashioned horse butchers in France. In some cases, sausages are not meat at all. The modern abomination of TVP (textured vegetable protein) performs the same service for the vegetarian as the nicotine patch for the ex-smoker.
The mixture is stuffed into skins that are either natural, deriving from cow, hog, lamb or sheep intestines stretched to a tough transparency, or man-made. One recipe lists salt, water, collagen, glycerine and cellulose as the ingredients for making your own casing. But preparing skins is a time-consuming, messy business and there have been many experiments with skinless versions over the centuries. In the 17th century, potted meat was rolled in egg or flour and fried in lard. The Elizabethans experimented with hollowed-out carrots and cucumbers which, strangely enough, never caught on. Today, China is the biggest exporter of natural sausage casings.
So many and various are the types of sausage around the world that it is impossible to narrow them down to one per country. Particular types of sausage have come to be associated with particular areas, towns, or in the case of Britain, counties. But there are undeniable national traits. Dried sausages are common in hot countries, while fresh sausages prevail in northern Europe, where the climate is colder and meat keeps for longer. The Brits will always be associated with the pork banger, which usually consists of around 70 per cent meat, with the remainder being made up of rusk and other flavourings. According to 1984 Meat Products and Spreadable Fish Products Regulations, if a sausage is called "pork" it must have a meat content of not less than 65 per cent, and a lean meat content of at least 50 per cent. The French don't bother with the namby-pamby bread padding; the juicy Toulouse is nearly 100 per cent meat. Spanish chorizo is as spicy and garlicky as you would expect from a land that prides itself on flamenco and bullfighting. Across another border, the Germans' frankfurters are as immaculate in appearance as their litter-free streets.
British Sausage Appreciation Week ends on Monday. Tastings, competitions and menu specials have raised money for the Cystic Fibrosis Society. Should you find yourself on a Thameslink train this weekend, you might try one of the Cumberland sausage sandwiches available from the buffet in honour of the week.
The ten trendiest
Chorizo: the original scarlet sausage, a Spanish and Mexican art form that comes liberally spiced with paprika and wafting garlic. Chorizos range from mild to fiery and may be cured for eating raw or cooked.
Toulouse: just about anything from the south of France makes it in the food fashion stakes. These sausages are as big, meaty and garlicky as you might expect.
Cumberland ring: as circular, if not quite as long, as the M25. A continuous ring of coarse-cut and spiced meat.
Merguez: popular throughout the Maghreb, these are usually made with lamb, highly spiced and flavoured with harissa.
100 per cent free-range pork: a classic British banger, the finest of which boast a meticulous pedigree of pig.
Venison: a dry, meaty sausage fashionably served with red-onion marmalade.
Wild boar: that much more attitude than a pork banger.
Black pudding: the Irish and French continue to fly the flag, long after blood sausage has made the quantum leap from breakfast to the dinner table, where it is a favourite served beside oysters.
Chipolata: something of a girl's sausage. These dinky mouthfuls sit alongside the turkey at Christmas.
Cocktail sausage: children are merely an excuse; any adult who claims not to like cocktail sausages quite simply doesn't like sausages.
Champion of champions
This year's best banger comes from the north of England. Lishman's of Ilkley won the accolade of champion of champions, jousting with 30 regional winners to win again after its 1999 victory. Its pork and chive sausage is produced with its own fattened saddleback pigs, a slow-growing breed that is naturally reared, and has a fuller flavour to show for it. About 70 per cent meat, the rest is made up of bread rusk, nutmeg and chives. David Lishman, a farmer's son, took over the butcher's shop 16 years ago, and has developed his winning recipe over the years. "Though I say it myself, it's out of this world," he admits. The judges looking for the country's best sausage agreed. Lishman's other sausages include pork with apples and hazelnuts, pork with black pudding, and lamb with rosemary. Lishman's of Ilkley, 25 Leeds Road, Ilkley, West Yorkshire (01943 609436).
Make your own
Most of us rely on our butcher and other experts to supply us with sausages. But, for the Seventies hair-shirt brigade who led the way in home-brewed hooch and all those hangovers, you will find everything you need to know at www.britishbarbecue.co.uk. From mincing, spicing, stuffing and storing, to the finer details such as the difference between the Prague No 1 and No 2 cures, it goes into all aspects of DIY sausage-making.
Hot cooking tips
There are far easier and better ways of cooking sausages than slavishly tending them on top of the stove, unless, that is, you are married to a pot of cream cleaner and are unfazed by having to wipe every surface in sight clean of spattered fat. Even if you are, you still won't get evenly coloured bangers in the process. Better by far to slowly coax them to an all-over bronze in the oven.
How to cook a sausage
1.5kg sausages: Serves 6-8.
Preheat the oven to 170C fan oven/ 180C or 350F electric oven/ Gas 4. Without pricking the sausages, lay them on two baking trays or roasting dishes spaced about 1cm apart to ensure they caramelise evenly. The exact time it will take for each type of sausage to cook will vary. Cocktail sausages may only take 30 minutes, whereas fat Cumberland rings can take an hour. A classic banger takes about 50 minutes. Turn the sausages halfway through. You can also switch the trays around if the top tray is cooking more quickly.
Hot mustard sauce
So good and so instant.
300ml double cream
4 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
few drops of lemon juice
Gently heat the cream in a non-stick saucepan until it reaches simmering point. Simmer it until it reduces by about a third, thickening up in the process. Stir occasionally to ensure that it doesn't stick. Remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining ingredients until the sauce is smooth and evenly coloured. This sauce is just as good rewarmed.Reuse content