This week it is guts. Intestines, if you like. Those bits that are yards and yards longer than you ever thought possible. Chitterlings are the British way; in France, they are fashioned into les andouillettes; at perhaps their most worrying, the restaurant Checchino dal 1887, in Rome (directly opposite the gates of the old abattoir on via Monte Testaccio), turns innards into the most delicious of all dishes. Simply crisped in their own fat, rendering them meltingly tender, these are the diminutive intestines from a milk-fed lamb. But - and this is a very big but - still with the mother's milk within. If you like this sort of food, you should go there forthwith, as you will not eat a finer plate of offal anywhere. Well, maybe in Spain, but I cannot direct you to such a table just now.
Those who are feeling weak should read no further. But, as I write, I am very, very excited indeed by something I have been making over the last couple of days. It all started when I was having one of my early morning chats with my local butcher Sid, who - along with his sister Rosie and their father Michael - continues, traditionally, as a truly local purveyor of quality meat and poultry at Olympia Butchers in Hammersmith, London. He just happened to mention chitterlings one morning.
"Chitterlings!" I exclaimed. "I don't suppose you could get me some?"
"My father can," he said, "if he puts his mind to it. There are some good Armenian butchers near to us in north London."
I assumed that the chitterlings Sid was talking about were pig's chitterlings (the only variety I know in Britain). But, his family being Armenian, I should have realised that lamb was the language Sid talked in.
A week later, Michael had come up with a consignment of these deliciously fatty strands of digestive tract.
"Now you know you have to turn them inside out, don't you?" chirruped Rosie. "I understand that a knitting needle is the best way to do this, do you have one?"
"I've got a slippery chopstick. Will that do?" I said hopefully.
Now that I was in lamb mode, my gastro-juices began to churn. "I think a few lamb's sweetbreads and a small breast of lamb might go towards making a good stuffing for these tasty tubes," I ventured.
"Make sure you add some bulgar," Rosie insisted, "it adds bulk to the mix."
You see, it really is interesting, all this. We in Britain add rusk to a sausage, whereas in Armenia it's bulgar wheat. Fab. And while we are on the subject of good sausages, the finest ones from your butcher are always packed inside lengths of real intestinal tract. If you think of intestines as simply sausage skins, all your hang-ups over innards should melt away in an instant. Does that help? Possibly not.
Hoppy's very tasty lamb sausages
makes about 12
This truly is an original recipe, which, given the combination of obscure ingredients and a fair amount of ignorance on my part, is hardly surprising (the first haggis can't have been a huge success). I really did spend a lot of time perfecting it, tasting experimental stuffings and generally failing a great deal of the time. However, I am very happy with the end result. I don't necessarily expect you to jump at the chance to make these things, though if you do manage to search out some lamb chitterlings, the recipe works really well and is more delicious than you could possibly imagine. A smear from a tube of hot harissa paste is quite marvellous spread upon a forkful of this sausage.
For the skin
300g lamb intestines, well cleaned and very fresh, cut into 20cm lengths and soaked in cold, salted water with 2-3tbsp vinegar
For the stuffing
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
150ml whipping cream
400g lamb sweetbreads
400g fatty meat from a breast of lamb
2tbsp bulgar wheat soaked for 20 minutes in 125ml boiling water
3 heaped tbsp chopped parsley
2tsp freshly ground white pepper
2tsp Maldon sea salt
First make the stuffing. Melt the butter in a small frying pan and fry the onions until pale gold. Add the cream and allow the mixture to bubble and thicken to a thick sauce. Put aside to cool completely. Mince the sweetbreads and breast of lamb through the coarse blade of a mincer, directly into a mixing bowl. Tip in the soaked bulgar wheat (including the soaking water), the parsley, seasonings and cooled onion/cream mixture. Mix together thoroughly, spread out into a shallow dish and put to chill in the fridge.
Now the messy bit. Take a length of intestine and allow water to run through the inside of it until well drenched. Inspect each end of the tube, and start to invert the larger aperture over the end of a thin, blunt instrument (I used the bulbous end of a long cocktail stirrer), wiggling the intestine a little so that the outside begins to run up the inside, tightly against the chosen implement.
Once this operation is working well and you are beginning to get the hang of it, run a steady stream of cold water into the part you are working on. The pressure of the water will complete the inversion with surprising ease. It takes practice, but I managed it, so you should be able to also.
Remove the blunt instrument and, once again, rinse water through the insides of each length of intestine. Clamp one end (the narrowest) with, say, a clothes peg or bulldog clip (I actually used one of the two clips on a Marks & Spencer trouser hanger; it has since been thoroughly washed, but talk about inspirational!). Now fill a piping bag with a manageable amount of the stuffing, screw it down with your hand and then force-fill one of the intestine casings with approximately two tablespoons of the stuffing. Squash the filled sausage around a bit to disperse the mixture, folding and tucking in the end-flaps. Secure each end with a wooden cocktail stick, stitching them together as neatly as you can.
Poach the sausages ever so gently in a pan of lightly salted, simmering water for 30 minutes. Switch off and leave to cool completely in the cooking liquor. Once cold, lift the sausages out with a slotted spoon and put to drain on a clean tea towel. When quite dry, fry in butter until golden on all sides. Dish up with either mashed or boiled potatoes. And if you want some of that harissa, uncap the tube and squeeze away.Reuse content