Never mind your traditional British bangers - sausages have gone global. Mark Hix picks the best (and wurst)

The French, Italians, Germans and Spanish all put us to shame in the sausage department. In a typical butcher's shop in, say, Spain, you are confronted with dozens of high-quality sausages. Different types of chorizo for cooking or slicing, meaty sausages for sizzling, black pudding for grilling or slicing raw, and more dried varieties for snacking on than you can shake a sausage on a stick at. Often as not the butcher will have made many of them himself. Here, even if the butcher makes his own, he might not manage more than a choice of chipolatas or fat pork sausages.

The French, Italians, Germans and Spanish all put us to shame in the sausage department. In a typical butcher's shop in, say, Spain, you are confronted with dozens of high-quality sausages. Different types of chorizo for cooking or slicing, meaty sausages for sizzling, black pudding for grilling or slicing raw, and more dried varieties for snacking on than you can shake a sausage on a stick at. Often as not the butcher will have made many of them himself. Here, even if the butcher makes his own, he might not manage more than a choice of chipolatas or fat pork sausages.

The good news is that more and more foreign sausages - from Spanish chorizo to North African merguez - are now available in British delis. And this opens up a whole world of possibilities. Sausages are starting to shed their image of being the economy option for supper.

But of course, there's nothing wrong with British sausages - it's just that you don't need me to tell you how to cook them. Before we get on to the exotic stuff, here's a thought: if you love your traditional British bangers, you might want to make them yourself. It isn't that eccentric - more and more people are doing it. If you take good rare-breed pork shoulder, mince it and make your own sausages, they won't be cheap, but they'll be the finest sausages you'll ever eat. First off you need casings. The Natural Casing Company (01252 713545) supply casings for everything from chipolatas to hog's pudding and also saltpetre for keeping your pâtés or cured meats pink. You can may have the kind of butcher you could ask to mince the meat for you. If not you'll need a mincer on your food processor. Then you can fill the casings by forcing the meat through a funnel. But it's a messy fiddle. A machine's best. The Natural Casing Company also sells a sausage-making machine at £136.50 (including delivery), and if you want to invest in a mincer, the smallest is £177 also including delivery. You could make enough sausages for a small shop with that, but think of the fun the family can have, the relief of knowing exactly what's in your sausages, and the pleasure of eating the best bangers ever.

Chorizo salad with chickpeas

Serves 4

Chorizo is a versatile sort of sausage. One minute you're eating it thinly sliced with olives, the next grilled in a bun stained with the pimenton-tinted fat. I love it, especially the type you cook. It goes particularly well with shellfish, especially razor clams or squid. Or do what I did a couple of months ago and serve chorizo with barbecued lobster on board a yacht. Now that turned a few sailors' heads.

120-150g small salad leaves, including some sprigs of coriander
200g cooking chorizo, large or mini ones

for the chickpea dressing

100g canned chickpeas, or half the weight of dried ones, soaked and cooked
2 small shallots, peeled and finely chopped
A small piece (10-15g) root ginger, scraped and finely chopped or grated
2tsp tomato ketchup
1tbsp white wine vinegar
4tbsp olive oil
1tbsp chopped coriander
Salt and a pinch of paprika

First make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients and season to taste with salt and paprika. Grill the chorizo for 4-5 minutes for large ones, then let them cool a little and slice into 1/2cm pieces. If you are using mini ones, then leave them whole. Arrange the salad leaves on a plate with the chorizo and spoon the dressing over.

Bratwurst with rosti and onion sauce

Serves 4

Bratwurst can be bought from some specialist delis and you occasionally see them in supermarkets. They make a change from normal bangers as they have a smooth but meaty texture. With a good onion sauce and crisp potato rosti they make a change for supper. Anton Mosimann often serves them at his chef reunion dinners and they always hit the spot with hungry alcohol-fuelled chefs.

4 large bratwurst sausages weighing about 150g each
2 large floury baking potatoes
1-2tbsp olive oil

for the onion sauce

2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1tbsp vegetable oil
A good knob of butter
3tsp flour
1tsp tomato purée
1tsp Dijon mustard
100ml red wine
250ml beef stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a thick-bottomed pan and gently cook the onions for 8-10 minutes with a lid on until lightly coloured. You may need to add a splash of water if they are catching on the bottom of the pan. Add the butter, flour and tomato purée and stir well over a low heat for a minute. Add the mustard, stir well then gradually add the red wine, stirring to avoid lumps forming, before gradually adding the beef stock. Season, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes until the sauce has reduced by about two thirds and thickened. If the sauce is getting too thick, add a little water. Remove from the heat and cover with a lid to keep warm.

Meanwhile put the potatoes in a pan and cover with salted water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes so they are cooked no more than two thirds of the way through. Remove from water and leave to cool for about 15 minutes, running them under cold water if you need to speed up the process. Scrape the skin from the potatoes with a knife and grate them on the coarse side of a grater. Put them in a bowl, season and mix well.

Heat a non-stick frying pan about 20-22cm in diameter (or you can make individuals in non-stick egg or blini pans) with about a tablespoon of olive oil in and add the grated potato. Press the potato down lightly with a spatula and cook on a low heat for about 4-5 minutes until the bottom is lightly golden and crisp, then flip them over and cook for another 4-5 minutes on the other side until crisp. Keep them warm in a low oven.

To cook the sausages, grill them in a ribbed griddle pan or under a medium to hot grill for 4-5 minutes on each side until lightly coloured.

If you've made a large rosti, quarter it and serve a bratwurst on each quarter with the hot sauce spooned around.


Makes 2kg of sausages

If you haven't already got Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Meat Book, then go out and get it. Even if you don't use the recipes for curing, even if you don't cook, it is a good read and could inspire you to start living the self-sufficient good life.

Cotechino is a large, rich Italian pork sausage made with as much rind and fat as lean meat. You cook it by boiling, and it's usually served in slices with lentils. As Hugh says, the factory-made cotechinos are generally pretty good but, if you're the have-a-go type, they're not that difficult to make. This recipe comes via Hugh from the legendary Mauro Bregoli. When he owned the Manor House in Romsey, Hampshire, he was a guru for gastronomes who wanted to get stuck into the Italian way of finding, making, cooking and eating food. Mauro was a mushroom gatherer and a master of the art of Italian sausage making.

For your cotechino, choose casings according to the shape you want your sausage to be. Ox middle casings (5-10cm wide) for a salami style cotechino so you get slices, or ox bung (about 15cm) for a haggis style sausage, if you want wedges. You'll also need butcher's string.

1kg fairly lean pork shoulder
400g back fat or fatty pork belly
600g pork rind
50g fine salt
10g saltpetre (optional)
1 glass of red wine
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp freshly ground black pepper
A good pinch of grated nutmeg
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground cloves
A good pinch of ground mace
1/2tsp dried thyme
4 dried bay leaves, ground up

First soak the casings for about an hour in a large bowl of water, then rinse them thoroughly to get rid of the salt and run the tap through their insides to flush them clean.

Ideally, you should finely dice the meat and fat by hand into petit-pois-sized cubes. If not, mince it coarsely or get the butcher to mince it for you. The pork rind must also be finely chopped by hand as a food processor probably couldn't cope with it. Now combine the chopped and minced meat with all the ingredients in a large basin, mixing thoroughly with your hands.

Using a sausage machine or food-mixer attachment - or, if you have neither of these, by forcing the meat through a funnel - fill the skins until you have sausages about 25cm long, tightly packed. Double knot your cotechino at either end with the butcher's string, then hang it in a dry, airy place, such as a draughty outbuilding or covered porch. Or the fridge, if yours happens to be big enough. Make sure they don't touch each other. They are good for boiling any time after about 5 days but perhaps at their best at around 15-20 days. By about 40 days they will be pretty dry and hard. If you want to keep them any longer, wrap them in clingfilm and refrigerate for another month or so. To keep them for longer still, freeze them.

To cook a cotechino, completely immerse the sausage in a pan of fresh, cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer thin ones (stuffed middles) gently for about 11/2 hours or 21/2 hours for fat ones (stuffed bung). Cut into thick slices and serve with the sauce.

for the sauce

2 large or 4 small shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1tbsp olive oil
250g cannellini beans or similar, cooked
500ml chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently cook the shallots, garlic, thyme and carrot with the bay leaf in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes without colouring, giving the occasional stir. Add the cannellini beans and chicken stock, bring to the boil, season and simmer on a medium heat until almost all the stock has evaporated and the sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes.

Chachouka merguez

Serves 4

Relax. I'm not expecting you to make your own merguez. You can buy these beef sausages spiked with harissa fairly easily these days. If you know a butcher who makes his own sausages they might be persuaded to make some. Don't be put off cooking - or eating - this North African dish, even though it looks a bit like it sounds. It's delicious for breakfast, as a lunchtime snack or as a mezze dish.

2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3tbsp olive oil
2 red peppers, quartered, seeded, skin removed and thinly sliced
4 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 merguez sausages
2 eggs, beaten

Gently cook the onions in a heavy-bottomed pan with a lid on, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes until soft but not coloured. If they begin to darken, add a tablespoon of water. Add the peppers and continue to cook with a lid on for another 4-5 minutes on a low heat, then add the tomatoes. Season and simmer for another 5 minutes with the lid on until the tomatoes have broken down.

Meanwhile cook the sausages under a hot grill for 4-5 minutes, then remove and cut each into 3 and add to the pepper mixture. Turn up the heat, stir in the eggs and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring a couple times so you end up with streaks of eggs through the mixture, but don't cook it for too long or you will end up with an omelette. Serve immediately.