Celebrating English Food

This is my entry for Sam’s ‘Fish & Quips – why English food is not a joke’ round-up. I started by brainstorming all the things I think of when I think of English Food, because it seems to me that it’s a pretty diverse subject:

Fresh produce / regionality Home Baking
Rhubarb, apples, cobnuts, fish, peas, round lettuce, plums, greengages, gooseberries

Smoked fish, kippers, cheeses: Cheddar, Lancashire, Wensleydale

Split tin loaves baked once a week for the family, cottage loaf, Eccles cakes, Sally Lunns, Scones with Clotted Cream
Food for workers Victorian Cooking
Pasties, Bedfordshire clangers, Steak & Kidney pudding, Sausage & Mash, Fish & Chips, Yorkshire pudding with beef Formal dinner parties, establishing dinner as the main meal, nursery food, Game, Roast beef & Horseradish, syllabub, jellies, Steamed syrup pudding, Jam Rolypoly

So, I decided to come at this from the angle of Working Food. My choice of dish to represent Working Food is Sausage & Mash. Also known as ‘Bangers and Mash’, this is a dish that spans the whole of English society – from cheap sausages, bulked out with lots of bread and fat and instant mash to elevated chefs like Gary Rhodes, and all the dinner tables and gastro-pubs in between, this dish is at home anywhere. I’ve also served it at a dinner party (albeit a pretty informal one) with a rich onion gravy, as per Nigella’s suggestion in How to Eat. At heart, this has much in common with Working Food the world over – cheap, spiced preserved meat combined with lots of filling, comforting carbohydrate.

Another major reason for choosing sausage and mash is that it has inspired some of the greatest English food writing – I refer, of course, to the majestic prose in Nigel Slater’s ‘Real Food’. And so it seemed only fitting to follow the great man’s words to create the dish:

Sausage & Mash – adapted from Nigel Slater’s Real Food

Choose really good quality pork sausages. I went for Lincolnshire sausages from Tesco on this occasion, but my favourite is Duchy Originals Pork and Herb. British sausages have a particular spice blend which is not always present in other countries, and can’t really be replicated by an Italian sausage, for instance. Gary Rhodes says the key flavourings are mace, sage, thyme,onion and Worcestershire sauce. I also think that white pepper is important.

Heat a heavy frying pan (I used my Lodge cast-iron pan) and add the sausages.

Cook over a medium-low heat for 40-45 minutes, cooking the meat through very gently, keeping it moist and developing lots of sticky goo on the outside of the sausage. Turn occasionally, but be careful not to pierce the skin – and definitely don’t prick the skin before you start! A juicy sausage depends on keeping as many of the juices in as possible, and if it’s a good quality, meaty sausage, it won’t split.

Meanwhile, peel some Maris Piper potatoes, cut them into even chunks and cover with cold water.

Bring to the boil, and simmer for 15-20 minutes (depending on the size of the chunks), until they are tender to the point of a knife. Drain and push through a potato ricer (or you can mash by hand – I have my ricer for just this purpose). Add a good deal of butter and mix into the hot riced potatoes, then pour in some hot milk and beat with a wooden spoon to make it light and fluffy. [Nigel’s proportions are 900g potatoes, 100g butter and 100ml milk, but I go more or less by eye.]

Dollop on the plate and serve with the sausages and proper Heinz tomato ketchup (although Heinz is an American company, there is something completely British in my mind about Heinz tomato ketchup).

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I’m Louise, and I’m a compulsive baker, cookbook hoarder and a bit of a food geek. I learnt to cook at home, and later at Tante Marie’s cooking school in San Francisco. With a science degree and a background in IT analysis, I like to understand why a recipe works, not just how to do it. Why the rules are there and when they can be broken.

2 thoughts on “Celebrating English Food

  1. You are right about sausages in other countries not being quite right. I can’t get any in the US that are ‘quite right’ for bangers and mash – but there are a few that suffice. I love Nigel Slater’s descriptions of sausages. He is on the same wavelength as me.

    Here in San Francisco there is an English preserve maker called June Taylor who also makes ketchup which is SO delicious – it might convert you from Heinz if you were to try it.

    Thanks for taking part.


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