Fresh sausages don’t need preservatives. So why do most sausages have additives, nitrates and sulphites? Firstly, nitrates and sulphites make better business sense. Unfortunately, the bottom line comes before making chemical free products. It is much easier to make large batches of sausages, that have longer shelf life, rather than smaller batches that only last 5 days. Why not just freeze fresh sausages? Freezing rather than preservatives is the best way to keep chemical free sausages for longer. Sausages really don’t need preservatives.
It’s why as a company, O’Hagan’s have never gone to next level and supplied big supermarket chains because we won’t put chemical preservatives in. No Artificial Anything has been our slogan since we started back in 1988 and has been drummed into me from a very young age. It something I am extremely passionate about.
Secondly, flavour enhancers and additives are just sausage makers being lazy. They could use the vast and almost infinite combination of natural ingredients, herbs and spices to create great tasting sausages, but they take artificial shortcuts.
Look don’t get me wrong, I eat stuff with these nasties in because some foods need them but never let anyone tell you fresh sausages do. For me, its common sense that products with chemical additives are not good for us. Two of the main ones used in sausages are nitrates and sulphites. Both are naturally occurring but chemically made versions are what go into sausages.
Are Nitrate preservatives Bad for Us?
Nitrates occur naturally in foods like spinach and celery, research shows there is a big difference between naturally occurring and chemically made nitrates. Chemically made ones have all sorts of links to harmful diseases like cancer. When they are eaten, they convert to nitrites from bacteria in the mouth and enzymes in the body. The main problem with nitrites comes when the product they are in, cook at high heat and nitrosamines form. Nitrosamines are said to be a high risk to health and cause cancer.
To be fair the UK sausage industry has made huge steps forward compared to when we started in 1988. Then sausages were rife with nitrates but now a very small amount of UK fresh sausage makers use them. If you see fresh sausages with nitrates in, I would avoid.
Move to sulphite as preservatives an improvement but not ideal
Unfortunately, although nitrate use has declined, other chemical preservatives have taken their place. Look on the back of all supermarket and most butchers’ sausages and there will still be a list of sulphites or E numbers. Sulphites to be fair are a better preservative than nitrates, if such a thing
From all the research I’ve done, far less studies link cancer with sulphites then nitrites. I have found some that say, ‘the sulphites and other additives may cause colorectal cancer’, however none clearly prove a direct link.
Sulphites do naturally occur in some foods and the body, in fact they are needed by the body. However, what is proven, like nitrates, the chemically made versions are very different. They are an allergen and can seriously irritate asthma sufferers and those with kidney and liver problems. I should note any of our sausages with wine in have a small amount of sulphites because of the wine. We add none!!! No preservatives are added what so ever!
Prefer mine with wine and salami please!
Just because experts say things are bad for us, doesn’t mean we have to stop eating them. One week, a few glasses of wine are good for us. The next, it’s devils’ water that’s eating away at our body.
I’m a great believer in balance in life. Too much of anything is bad. Even doing too much exercise (so I tell myself when I am meant to be at the gym). Having some chemical nitrates and sulphites in a diet is not going to kill us. It’s about not having too much.
Just because fresh sausages don’t need preservatives, other things do. I would much rather have that intake from things like wine (definitely not giving up wine), and salami. Wine tends to use sulphites and salami nitrates. Both have process that mean drying and fermentation take place over a long period. The chemicals are crucial in that process to stop spoilage. Sausages don’t have that process, they are made and then ready to sell. Have your chemical intake in things that need them, not things that don’t.
Studies drive me mental
Processed food is under the cosh from studies that are linking high intake to cancer. What drives me crazy is they don’t differentiate between processed food with preservatives and those without. I am positive sausages without chemicals are better for you than those with.
As I’ve said, I am certainly not one for believing all food scares. It’s about having a balanced diet. I would just rather have preservatives in things that need them. Not things that don’t, like fresh sausages. Fresh sausages don’t need preservatives!
Who doesn’t like Sausage and mash and a fried breakfast
There are so many different sausage recipes. You could eat sausages everyday for a year and eat a different meal. Unfortunately, people often only associate sausages with the cheap rubbish that are regularly served as hot dogs, with breakfasts or in sausage and mash. Don’t get me wrong, when those 3 are made with decent sausages they are heaven! Sausage and mash is still my favorite meal and has been since I was 5. You can’t beat good quality sausages with a creamy mash and rich meat gravy. Although, the rubbish sausages that are served in too many places often limit peoples view on sausages. They are actually one of the most versatile foods around. Sausage recipes can be created for comfort meals, fast food or a fine dining experience
Wow wow wow what did you say about my sausage!
I recently took samples into a restaurant, when I was told, this is a high-end place and they don’t do sausages. This is wrong on so many levels and very frustrating. Firstly, it proves many still associate sausages with the dreadful mass produced and cheap offerings. A real sausage using the finest cuts of meat and packed full of flavor using great ingredients, herbs and spices could sit on any fine dining menu. Good producers agonize for hours getting the right balance of flavors into a skin. Secondly, sausage and mash can be made by a good chef to be a great culinary experience with creative thinking or just good ingredients and execution. Thirdly and most importantly sausages are hugely versatile. They go in so many other dishes around the world. A good cassoulet, fantastic sausage pastas and the numerous Merguez couscous dishes are just a few. Not only this but when you consider all the diverse types of sausage from around the world and vast range of flavors in them. Creative chefs can make infinite innovative delicacy’s.
It is the mantra of many top chefs to turn good quality everyday ingredients into culinary masterpieces, sausages should be no different! They shouldn’t just be thought of as bread in a skin that cheap catering wagons or cafes sell. As the old saying goes, ‘there are 3 types of bread, white, brown and sausages!’ The fact that those types of sausages, opposed to the high-end ones good producers make, have the same name is misleading. It means superior quality sausages get pigeon holed as cheap and just fit for low end fry ups, hot dogs, bangers and mash. A good sausage, makes any of those so so much better, but also can do a lot more!
A curry what?
One of my good friends and chef Adam Sparshatt http://www.the-personal-chef.co.uk/ did a fantastic dish at one of his pop up restaurants. Using one of our Goan curry sausages he did ‘Goan curry sausage, arancini and bantam egg’. It was amazing and just highlights how creative thinking can propel the ‘humble’ sausage into a fine dining course.
Why not try something new, great sausage recipes
As I said at the beginning, I am not knocking the fry up, hot dogs or sausage and mash. There is a reason, they are Britons favorite way to eat sausages. It is just the fact that to many people associate sausages with cheap ones often served in those dishes. Using quality sausages would elevate those British classics beyond believe. Sausages can also be used in so much more. Below are some of my favorite dishes on-line. Enjoy one of the most versatile foods in something new!
The humble sausage is a food that we see almost everyday and we eat it often. In my case probably a bit too often! Wonderful, juicy and succulent sausages are part of everyday diets. From Breakfasts to BBQs sausages are one of the most versatile foods around. In Britain we eat about 190,000 tons of sausages every year. It’s not just us Brits who are crazy about them. Most countries in the world have their own variations of sausages and often it’s quite a few variations as well. In the UK it is now said there are 470 different types of sausage (we make 170) We know the English name ‘sausage’ comes from a Latin word ‘salsisium’ and means something that’s salted and preserved but where and how has the humble sausage became so varied and popular in modern life?
Sausages date back well before the Greek or Roman Empires. It is thought they date back to the Middle East in Babylon times. This could have been anytime from 2300 BC. However, it is during the Queen Sammu-Ramat (also known as Semiramis) rule 811-806 BC, that it is thought the sausages were first made. Being so long ago, it is difficult to know exactly when and who the genius was but it is thought they stuffed intestines (skins) with chopped meat and roasted them. However, the humble sausage first appears in the history during the Ancient Greek times…
Sausages come up numerous times in Greek history. Fifth century literature refers to salami. It is thought to have originated from a small city called Salamis on the east coast of Cyprus. Cured and dried sausages would have been an essential way of preserving meat without the luxury of refrigeration.
In the famous Homer’s Odyssey believed to have been written 675-725 BC, he says ‘As when a man besides a great fire has filled a great stomach with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it roasted.’ Early black pudding!!
Sausages were so in vogue there was even a play in Greek times written about them. ‘Orya’ the Greek word of the time for sausages was also the name of a play written by Epicharmus. The sausage as you can see was an important food with the accounts in their literature, it was seen as a gourmet food and was always served to important guests.
The Romans also enjoyed the humble sausage and are said to have brought them to Britain some time before 400 AD. Sausages were a staple part of Roman festivals. However it wasn’t all just sausage eating, partying and fun. The Roman Emperor Constantinus I and the Catholic Church banned sausages due to their association with pagan festivals. This remained in place through several Emperors reign. Like alcohol during prohibition in the States, the sausages went underground and with back street trading rife and after huge protest, they were finally reinstated. I am thinking about writing a screen play about a Roman style Al Capone that was the king pin of the illicit sausage trade. A cross between Gladiator and The Untouchables… I’ve seen worse!
Spice Wars Attack of the Colonies
The huge impact of spice routes and famous explores like Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus play a huge part on modern sausages around the world. There are a number of factors that go into regional variations of modern day sausages. Climate, local taste, availability of spices in the early days and colonial imperialism all play a role.
Climate and taste impact can be seen when looking at hot countries. Most hot countries ironically eat spicy food. Therefore lots of their sausages are hotter. Established spice routes meant these areas had access to spices before others and sausage recipes seem to reflect that. Finally, colonialism and migration has also had a huge impact. Ideas, methods and recipes of sausage have travelled with people across the globe and became part of local recipes.
Here are a few great examples of how the various factors interplay and fuse in modern sausages. The Goanese Curry sausage we make is one of my favourites. It’s a traditional recipe and blends Indian flavours with Portuguese. Goa was a colony of Portugal 1510-1961 and the fusion of the two make a brilliant sausage. South America sausages all have very similar ingredients to Spanish Chorizo due to Christopher Columbus and the colonial expansion under the crown of Castile. They vary due to local tastes. The Argentine Chorizo is very similar to Spanish but uses beef as well as pork and is spicy. Cattle farming is big in Argentina and makes sense it would be used.
In the UK we have lots of traditional variations of the humble sausage. Southern sausages seem to be milder with more herbs while Northern sausages have less herbs and more spices like cayenne pepper. This could just be local taste, Northerners might argue southern softies couldn’t handle food that was slightly spicy. My theory is that spices like cayenne were first brought into the country through northern ports and therefore taken up by local sausage makers.
The Cumberland sausage is an interesting British regional sausage. It should be made with no filler. It is the only traditional British recipe that was. It also should be slightly spicy. They say the reason this sausage is so meaty and has more pepper than other British sausages is because of German miners brought to Cumbria in 1564 by Queen Elizabeth I. They created jobs and revived a mining industry around Derwent Valley and Keswick. The Cumberland sausage is therefore a blend of German and local Cumbrian tastes. It almost helps me get over of all the times they’ve knocked us out on penalties. The Cumberland is definitely my favourite British regional sausage.
Britain’s Dark Ages and the return of the humble sausage
Although historically the Dark Age was between the 6th and 14th century, it is after the Second World War to the late 1980’s that sausages in the UK had their darkest times. Due to rationing, sausages where pumped full of filler and water with little actual meat. This is where the name ‘banger’ came from. Because the sausages were full of water, when cooked, the steam would make them explode. Unfortunately, as the country recovered from post-war food rationing, butchers saw a chance to make more profit and kept the cheap nasty recipes created just after the war. It is where the saying, ‘there are 3 types of bread, white bread, brown bread and sausages,’ came from. All the fantastic recipes that had evolved since the Romans conquered Britain were forgotten about. We became the laughing stock of the continent. Luckily since the late 1980’s British sausage making has had it’s revival. The quality has massively increased and many old recipes are coming back. All our traditional recipes that aren’t our own creation date back to the 1800’s before the dark times. We are once again making some of, if not, the best sausages in the world!
Home sausage making is fun, especially with a family…
A couple of weeks ago my sister-in-law asked if I would help with her son’s school project. My nephew was asked to cook an American style meal. First thing that came to mind was Hot Dogs! A great excuse to get the Kenwood out and do some proper home sausage making. The dish we did was Smoked frankfurter hotdogs, home made paprika wedges with a South Carolina red slaw.
It was such a fun day and brought back some great memories. It really took me back and I won’t lie I got a bit emotional when making them with my nephew. It only seems like yesterday when I was a five year old and my Dad started to teach me how to make sausages in our garage in Croydon. This was pre business and something we just did for fun. It was a great way for father-son bonding. Obviously at that stage I was far too young for bonding over a pint, although that is something we did on many occasions when I got older. Enough of the reminiscing! Home sausage making can be such a fulfilling and creative experience that I thought I would write an article with a few tips.
What is needed for home sausage making?
Basically, apart from standard kitchen equipment, you need something to mince the meat and fill the mixture into skins. I mentioned Kenwood above because it’s just what we’ve always had, unfortunately I am not on commission. Their Kenwood chef is great and has an attachment that will do the mincing and filling. There are other brands out there like the kitchenAid artisan that do the same thing. These electronic machines just make life easier with a lot less hand turning. If you haven’t got one and don’t want to spend £300-£400, you can just get a traditional table top hand mincer/fillers for a fraction of the price although they can be a slow and tough grind (excuse the pun!). We even found this handgun filler. Can’t remember where we got it but good fun to use. Although, if you found one don’t expect to make big batches with it.
Always use natural skins! For big size sausages there are hog casings, for chipolatas use sheep skins and for salami or really big size there are beef bungs. You should be able to get them from a local butcher or otherwise you can buy them online also. The skins are made from animal guts and will come in brine or salt. To use them, first rinse the salt or brine off thoroughly under cold water. Then soak the skins in luke warm water to soften up for 1-2 hours.
Of course the meat is the most important part of a sausage. Unless you are a vegetarian! The meat you use is crucial to a good banger. Don’t just use trim like most butchers. Any animals will make good sausages but it’s the fat content and the cut that’s important. Most sausages have a fat content of 30%. That’s far too high, we only put about 15%-20% fat in. This will give enough juice for succulence and flavour. So what ever cut you use make sure there is about 15-20% fat. The only exception is chicken sausages. You can use skinless thigh meat, that will make a very low fat sausage (don’t use breast though as it will make the sausage too dry and have less flavour). The texture in chicken sausages is different and not as juicy but they are really good. Our chicken and garlic or chicken and blue cheese are the two favourites of mine. Other low fat meats like Venison or Ostrich tend to need pork fat added as the texture is just not right without. Below are some main meats for sausages and best cuts:
Pork-Shoulder or hand and belly
Beef-chuck or flat brisket with fatty flank
Lamb-Leg (Mutton legs are particularly good for flavour also could mix in a little fatty beef flank)
Chicken-skinless thigh meat
Apart from properly made Cumberland sausages, all other British sausages tend to have filler. I prefer all meat sausages but it comes down to a personal taste. Some don’t like dense meaty sausages. To be honest if you want lots of filler and pasty texture go and buy some cheap sausages in the supermarket. If you’re taking time to make your own, try and make something a bit meatier with not as high % of filler. If you do use filler the most common used in English sausages is rusk. This is unleavened bread that has been baked and dried before being ground. You can also use oats, breadcrumbs or cooked rice. We use oats because we believe it gives a better texture and you don’t need to add as much liquid, keeping the meat content higher. They are also healthier and high in a fibre called beta-glucan. If you use rusk you will need to add 1.5 to 2 times the amount of liquid.
I’ve decided not to put any recipes in the article for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I am very secretive of our recipes. Between Dad and I, there has been about 50 years of research and creating recipes. Having had recipes stolen in the past I am very protective. Secondly and more importantly, the fun of home sausage making is in the creativity. If you’re a home cook you will know some of the best meals come from moments of inspiration. Throwing in a bit of this and a bit of that can be hugely satisfying when it comes together. I was never artistic or creative at school. I could make a drawing of a stick man unrecognisable. In fact I spent most my art lessons in trouble but cooking and sausage making has given a creative release I never thought possible.
It’s just fun playing with ingredients and herbs to create great flavours. If you don’t want to experiment there are plenty of recipes online. Start with some sea salt and pepper then play around with the rest. Sage and thyme are classic herbs in English sausages (mainly use dried herbs as you will get a stronger flavour.) Never use nitrates or preservatives! Why pump chemicals when not needed. Sea salt is a great natural preservative and the sausages will last in the fridge 2 or 3 days and then can be frozen. If using liquids you can put in alcohol another great natural preservative. As dad use to say ‘its preserved me for many years.’ Just play around be adventurous with herbs, spices and ingredients.
As an example, a good basic proportion if using filler but still with a high meat content is 85% meat, 5% rusk, 7.5 % liquid, 2.5 % seasoning. If not using filler 96% meat, 2.5% seasoning, 1.5% liquid
Making home sausages
Prepare you skins as discussed above. Then chop your meat into bits that will fit into the mincer. Pop the meat into the freezer for an hour or so. You don’t want the meat frozen but really chilled. Every process will raise the temperature of the meat so it needs to be very cold to keep it safe and stop spoilage while making the sausages.
You need to choose what plate to mince through. The smaller the holes, the finer the texture. I prefer course sausages so would use a plate with big holes. Often sausages are a fine texture to hind cheap cuts of meat. If you want to eat paste buy paste! However for my nephew’s project we used the smallest holes and minced twice as we were making authentic frankfurters and they have a very fine pasty texture.
Once the meat is minced its ready to mix in the ingredients. If using an electric machine that has a mixing bowl, it can be done in this. Even though my Kenwood had one we still put in a normal bowl and mixed by hand. It helps with the texture and my nephew and I found it great fun getting messy, although my wife wasn’t overly happy with mess everywhere. Mix the dry ingredients in first, including filler. Once this is mixed in, add the liquid and carry on mixing till it’s all transfused nicely. You want the mixture to be sticky but not too watery and runny. If not using a filler, you can only add a little bit of liquid. Too much and the texture of the sausage wont be right. If using filler make sure you add enough liquid but again not too much. This bit is crucial, too much liquid with filler can make the sausages expand and burst when cooking!
Once the mixture is done its ready to fill and link. Wind the skin on and away you go. I am planning on doing some instructional videos on filling and linking but not had time so far (we have just had the birth of my first child!). I will try and get something done in the next couple of weeks. If you don’t want to wait or don’t fancy trying linking you can just twist them or just have as one long continuous sausage like a Cumberland ring. Cook in a ring then cut up when ready. Rings are nice for cooking as the juices flow all the way through the sausage.
Finally, another crucial point is to refrigerate the sausages overnight. Don’t just eat them straight away. You wouldn’t make a marinade, put meat in it, then eat straight way. Let the flavours you have put in the sausage blend into each other and the meat. What is it they say about curry, ‘it’s always better the next day.’ The extra time also gives the liquid issue time to adjust. If your massively out with the liquid, you don’t have a chance but if it’s just a bit too much, it will have more time to soak in.
The final link
It might be strange to blog on something that could be detrimental to our sausage sales. This blog is not about selling sausages, its because I am passionate about them. I got this from my Dad, its never just been a business. That’s probably why we’ve never made any money. They say its difficult turning a passion and hobby into a profitable business. To the disgust of my account it’s never been about profit margins and bottom lines. It’s as much about educating and rising standards. Telling people you don’t have to put up with a lot of the crap people sell as so called sausages. To make the nicest sausage its about using the best ingredients with a high meat content from good cuts.
If you have the time and inclination, have a go at it in the comfort of your home. It really is brilliant fun and they will be better then most commercial sausages! However, if for any reason home sausage making is not your thing, you can always order any of our freshly made sausages for home delivery at www.topsausages.com.
While helping with my nephews project I was inspired and also reminded of how much fun home sausage making can be. Therefore, in this article I’ve talked about a few things we did that day and tried to give some basic tips on home sausage making. I hope it’s of use. Those of you that noticed, I did say we made smoked frankfurters. I haven’t talked about the smoking process as I am going to write an article nearer the summer on bbq and smoking. By the way my nephew got an A for the project……….I would have been devastated if he hadn’t!
This article might not be the one for you if you are a vegetarian. Although, I suppose you are unlikely to be reading a blog from a sausage maker if you don’t eat meat.
Today I want to talk about one of the life’s fantastic delights if you are a meat lover – the hog roast. More importantly I want to talk about hog roast revival in the recent years.
The hog roast or any animal cooked slowly on a spit is a jubilant attack on the senses. The smell, taste and sight are enough to get any meat eater drooling, but it’s only recently that hog roast has become popular again. So why is this centuries old cooking method back in vogue again?
What are the reasons for revival of hog roast?
A Great British Party
O’Hagan’s as a company have been doing hog and spit roasts for about 20 years now. When we first started we were one of only 2 or 3 in our area that did them. In that time the industry and consumers appetite for hog and spit roasts has soared. The number of different machines and designs for roasters being made by lots of companies is phenomenal. The huge increase in the manufacture of machines is because so many caterers now offer hog and spit roasts. The last 5 or 6 years has seen a dramatic increase in catering companies, butchers and people as a weekend side line offering whole animals cooked on a spit. The number of roasters has risen to 20 or 30 in our area alone. Yet all seem to be doing well and the industry is thriving.
Consequently the sight of a beautifully cooked pig, lamb or boar has become a huge part of many weddings, parties and gatherings in modern Britain, taking a centre stage at celebratory feasts. Its strange to think, that something centuries old goes out of fashion and then suddenly comes back in.
Our rediscovered love of outdoor cooking
Maybe it’s our thirst for outdoor cooking that is driving it. It’s probably no coincidence that at the same time spit roasting is gaining popularity the BBQ industry is growing at a fast rate. I remember dad saying when he first moved from South Africa in the 70’s most of his English friends had never been to a BBQ. Being born 10 years later I didn’t believe him, for my generation BBQs are part and parcel of the summer social scene. You only need to walk into a supermarket or garden centre to see how outdoor cooking is now a massive part of British culture. As a nation we certainly love cooking outdoors (now). That in itself is impressive, taking our climate into consideration. Its one of the reasons I love being British, that resilience and stiff upper lip – if we want to cook outdoors we will, we won’t let the weather stop us!
Anyway, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to link the popularity of the BBQ with the rediscovered love of hog roasts. At the end of the day a Hog Roast is a posh a BBQ, a BBQ with that wow factor.
A bit of history – taking us back to our ancestors
Maybe the joy of a hog roast is that it’s steeped in our heritage? It takes us back to a time when life was simpler and cooking whole animals on an open fire was part of a culinary life.
This goes as far back as the Palaeolithic age, when caveman’s high protein diet would rely on hunting for their meat. Their prize would then be cooked on open wood fires and eaten for substance while celebrating their hunting skills. Maybe in a modern life the sight of open flames and whole animals takes us back to our Neanderthal instincts.
My wife would tell you in my case this might be more true than in others, she often comments I am a Neanderthal and asks why haven’t I evolved with the rest of the human race. I always feel it’s a little harsh… but sometimes fair…
As you go through the history, there are numerous accounts of whole animals being cooked on open flames. From the Romans to Saxons, all enjoyed a good spit roast. (excuse that line it sounds like something from a carry on film) This article is nowhere near long enough to look at every period in history but roasting whole animals has been a part of British cuisine throughout the times.
By the middle ages, methods were evolving and timber frames were used with a pole to spike the pig. This would then be turned by hand, often for hours till the meat was ready.
If we take the Tudors and Henry VIII as a great snapshot in time, you can see paintings with a whole boar as the centre piece at the royal court functions. Often these would only be enjoyed by the rich as the cost of cooking the whole animal would be too much for the ordinary person. Paying a boy to turn a pig for 14 hours was costly and so was the extra fuel needed. It is said that Henry VIII would have a whole boar or pig roasted at every meal. It was a sign of his huge wealth. Ordinary people did get to enjoy the delights sometimes. When villages had special occasions a whole animal was cooked. I suppose as a boy in the village you didn’t want to get lumbered with turning duty. It can be a tedious process these days, sitting and watching the pig cook for six hours let alone having to turn it by hand for 14!
It’s clear we have a long history with hog and spit roasts but maybe it is too big a leap to think a romantic nod to the past is driving its revival. As much as anything it’s probably due to the practicalities and the wow factor.
The practical, tasty pig with the wow factor
The pig, lamb, boar or whatever is being roasted, is a practical, cheap and amazingly tasty way to feed many. These days you don’t need to be a king to be able to afford one and a 50kg pig will feed 150 guests. Fantastic for all sorts of functions, whether causal or formal. Also having a whole animal to use means you get the choice of cuts. I prefer the fatty belly, whereas others might like the meat from the leg. There is a cut to satisfy all…. apart from the veggies of course!
The real joy of the spit roast is in the cooking process. The animal is cooked low and slow (so beautifully tender) with the naked flames sealing the outside early to keep in all the juices. The animal is constantly basting itself, as it turns with all the juicy flavour. The most important bit to some is the crackling and from the naked flames the salty crunchy treat is another level to anything done in domestic ovens.
The flavour and the practicalities are fantastic but where these great feasts come into their own is with their wow factor. When the pig or animal is lifted from the coffin (it’s where the pig is cooked. I told you, you wouldn’t like this article if you are a vegetarian) up to its serving point it offers a dramatic and glorious sight. One that will have the guests salivating and rushing to eat. Apart from that a spit roasted animal cooks brilliantly, it’s truly a focal point for any party with style and it’s a cheap way to feed large numbers of guests. Perhaps it’s not a surprise after all that appetite for the hog roast is growing again.
The final cut
In the last few years we have seen a massive rise in public’s thirst for hog roasts. For whatever reason, it’s great that something that goes back so far through our history is becoming popular again. In America, Philippines, Spain, South Africa and many other countries spit roasts of different forms are also part of their cultures. It’s great we are also embracing it again in the UK because more than anything, they just taste real good!
How do you cook perfect sausages? A question often discussed around the barbecue so don’t start trolling me for my comments! A cooked sausage is very much the personal preference. I know many people enjoy them cremated and that’s fine. However if you do, don’t read on. This article is about cooking a sausage to the perfect temperature and how you go about doing it. The reason for this is that sausages, are at their best, for flavour and juiciness when not over cooked. Lots of the flavour is in the juice so the longer they are cooked the more you loose. To test different methods my wife, sister-in-law and I spent an evening with a few bottles of wine eating sausages, cooked in the different ways… all in the name of writing this article of course!
Preparation is the key…
Never prick a real sausage
When cooking a ‘real’ sausage you should never prick it. It was common to prick sausages due to the bad state of the industry after the Second World War. As a result of rations sausages were full of bread and water to the point, where they would expand and explode when cooked, hence the name ‘bangers.’ Unfortunately after the war butchers saw it as a way to maximise profits, and kept the low meat content. It wasn’t until my father, the late Bill O’Hagan, started the business in the late 80’s that the standards started to improve again. Now you get lots of sausages that are of a high standard and don’t need to be pricked. Simply, if you prick a sausage, they loose the majority of flavour that’s beautifully cooking away inside them.
How to calibrate and use your probe
In my previous article I pushed the importance of using a probe to know when sausages are cooked. A probe is also fantastic tool because it can stop sausages from being overcooked. To make sure your probe is reading the right temperature, you should calibrate it for accurate readings. It is good practice to do this on a regular basis so you know the probe is reading correctly. To calibrate the probe simply put it’s into ice water and readings should be between -1oc and 1oc. You can also put the probe into boiling water and it should read between 99oc and 101oc.
Once you know the probe is reading correctly you are ready to go. Only probe the sausage towards the end of cooking, as explained above, pricking sausages when not necessary will make it lose it’s flavour. When the sausages look ready, probe them with the tip at both ends and in the centre. When the reading shows 75oc throughout the sausages they are cooked. Sausages should be at this temperature for 30 seconds but you can take them off the heat straight away as they will still hold the heat once out. The timings below are for pork sausages and may vary depending on your kitchen. If you are cooking beef or lamb sausages probe them earlier and I advise only cook those to 65oc. Beef and lamb sausages are fantastic, however they can dry out very quickly when overcooked. Remember to always probe towards the end of cooking time – the exact cooking time for different methods is explained below.
Methods of cooking perfect sausages
This method is one of my favourites as it helps seal all the moisture and flavour in. As well as water you could boil in beer (this was a particular favourite of ours when testing the methods.) as the ale really does add an extra depth to the flavour. Put your beer or water on and bring to the boil. Then reduce to a simmer and put the sausages in, making sure they are covered. Check with the probe after about 10-11 minutes. Once at 75oc remove and fry or grill on a high heat very quickly until brown.
I never used to like sausages cooked in the oven until I started putting water with them. Place a small amount of water in an oven dish and then put sausages on a resting rack. Place the rack with sausages in the oven dish. The water should not be touching the sausages. It is just there to help steam while cooking. Cook on about 160oc (fan assisted oven) for 15-20 minutes and then check to see if at 75oc. If not brown you can always increase the temperature for a couple of minutes.
This will give a more greasy sausage but one with great flavour. With frying it’s all about being gentle. Put a very small amount of oil in the pan or with a good non stick pan you can cook without. A little fat should come out of the sausages to cook them in, but not too much. If the pan ends up full of fat and water they are not great sausages. Remember, life’s to short to eat cheap sausages! I cook mine on a medium heat turning occasionally for 22 minutes. When probed they were perfect!
Grilling is a good way if you like the skins crisp. Again don’t cook on a high heat and only turn occasionally, probing after 15 minutes. Look out in the summer I will be writing a separate article about the BBQ, my very favourite way to cook perfect sausages.
George Forman Grill
I’ve included this because it’s the way we cook our sausages at farmers markets. We often get comments about how well they are cooked. Also it is a healthy way to cook sausages. The fat is drained out. It does mean they will be a little dryer but if not OVER COOKED they will still have enough moisture. Probe after about 8 minutes.
So which method is the best?
These timings are a rough guide. Always probe the sausages to make sure they are at 75oc. The closest you can get to not being way over this temperature, the more moisture and flavour they will have. When I did this with the girls we disagreed on our favourite top 2 methods. However we did all agree the boiled in beer was lovely. If you are going to give one method above a go, try this one. If nothing else it’s a good excuse to open some beer. Standard kitchen rules, some for the food some for the chef!
I’m often asked – is it safe to eat sausages if they are pink inside? Yes, if they are cooked – is the short answer. This may sound like a contradiction, because we have always been taught and told by government agencies that if pork sausages are pink, they haven’t been cooked. Factually this is wrong, colour is not a true indication of whether sausages have been cooked. There are various US university studies (easily found online) which explain it in greater detail.
Colour is not an indication if the meat has been cooked
Meat is cooked when pathogenic bacteria is killed and becomes safe to eat. Internet forums are full of people posting that, they have cooked sausages for ages and they were still pink, can they eat them? Sausages and meat that has been minced, can stay pink when cooked. It can also brown prematurely, which is just as worrying. Premature browning means they can look ‘cooked’ (not pink) but in fact the pathogenic bacteria has not been killed. Therefore, colour is a terrible indication of whether a sausage has been cooked. However don’t stress, there are definite ways to know when meat has been cooked.
How to ensure the meat has been cooked?
Probing is best
Whilst the heading for this section may have other connotations, it’s the electric probe thermometer I am talking about. Don’t be put off eating sausages, there is one definitive way to tell if your beautiful juicy breakfast sausages are cooked. It’s not internal colour, the core temperature is the key! In this day and age all supermarkets and kitchen shops sell electronic probes. They are not expensive either and cost around £8 for a basic model, which is perfect for a home kitchen. Although, I do recommend an electronic one as readings are very accurate. My probe and a bottle of wine are the first things I make sure are to hand when cooking at home. I always cook with mine, and this doesn’t end with sausages. Meat like chicken I always probe before serving to my family to make sure it’s safe to eat. This is just personal preference but I don’t like my meat being over cooked as I think it loses flavour and juiciness. Probes are perfect for making sure you get the meat to the perfect internal temperature before it gets over cooked.
So this leads to the next question, what temperature should it be?
Cooking temperature – the magic number
75 degrees centigrade for 30 seconds is where your sausages need to be. When they hit this magic number all pathogenic bacteria is killed and they are safe to eat. Enjoy your sausages whatever colour they are internally and know all bacteria are dead and they are good to eat.
The science – so why sausages can stay pink when cooked?
Now I don’t profess to be a scientist, however I am proud of my science GCSE. The only time I wear a white jacket is to make sausages. I am just a simple sausage maker from Sussex that enjoys the finer things in life, like rugby and real ale. However I will give an explanation a go, as I understand it. To put it simply, cheap sausages (I’ve been told, I’ve never eaten one) can stay pink because they are full of nasty preservatives and nitrates. Good quality sausages, without preservatives and nitrates, like ours can also stay pink when cooked because of myoglobin. Myoglobin is responsible for the colour in muscle foods like shoulder. Shoulder by the way is the very best cut of meat for sausages. Sorry back to THE SCIENCE! When pork is minced the myoglobin has a chemical reaction with oxygen which can produce a different colour when exposed to heat and can create three different forms: deoxymyoglonin purple, oxymyglobin red and metmyoglobin brown. This won’t happen with joints, chops etc as the centre has not been oxidised like mince. Therefore meat with more myoglobin, once minced can stay pink when cooked or brown before its done! Just remember this doesn’t happen with all sausages. Meat is from living animals so can vary. Some cheap sausages are so full of bread, its like cooking toast in a skin and the meat science is irrelevant. However as mentioned if there is pink in the sausage don’t be worried, just make sure it’s cooked!
If you are not sure and don’t have a probe – don’t eat it. However in different circumstances, for example when eating out, don’t let colour put you off. You can ask the question ‘have they been probed.’ All restaurants, caterers and commercial kitchens have probes by law and will be checking their sausages. Just ask if they have, you now know what temperature they should be! I hope you have enjoyed my first article and you’ve found it informative. Look out for my next one, where I will discuss the methods of cooking sausages.