Nice to meat you
The best-tasting sausages are always the ones you’ve made yourself, discovers Emma Hughes, as she learns how to perfect a banger
When, years ago, I became a vegetarian (bear with me), everyone told me that bacon would be the thing I’d miss. ‘You just wait,’ they’d say knowingly. ‘You’ll smell it frying one morning and that’ll be it.’ But, in the end, it wasn’t rashers that made me switch back. It was sausages. Specifically, sausages in November.
For me, Bonfire Night equals bangers. When I was growing up, we had them in bowls of the palest, fluffiest mashed potato as golddust from the fireworks rained down in the distance. They were the real deal: herby and meaty and burnished in the pan, bought from an aproned butcher who addressed my parents as Sir and Madam. And, as summer turned into autumn, I couldn’t stop thinking about them.
Perhaps it was the leaves starting to crackle underfoot or perhaps it was a suspicion that my dislike of cheap, constantly available meat might be better addressed by supporting responsible producers. either way, I decided that, if I was going to start eating sausages again, I wanted them to be ones I’d made myself.
Flash forward to October, and here I am at The Ginger Pig, butcher to the stars (Nigella Lawson has been spotted in the queue), dressed like Rosie the Riveter in overalls and a headscarf, for a sausage class. The business was named after the three coppery Tamworths founder Tim Wilson started out with in North Yorkshire and good husbandry is still at the heart of what it does.
‘happy animals taste excellent,’ declares senior butcher Daniel Dumitrache, who’s been in the trade for 25 years and is endlessly enthusiastic. ‘The most important thing, when you’re making sausages, is their quality of life and what they’ve eaten.’
That being said, there are some basic dos and don’ts. ‘You can make sausages with more or less fat, but never no fat,’ explains Daniel, unveiling our (literally) raw materials. We’re going to be using shoulder of pork—a hardworking and highly flavoursome muscle— combined with fattier belly pork, and back fat, which will baste the sausages from the inside out as they cook.
When sausage shopping, Daniel confides, we should look out for a coarse texture, which means the meat inside will only have been minced once. Less scrupulous butchers will put their sausage mixtures through the grinder four or five times to disguise the skin, tendons and worse that technically fall within the legal definition of ‘meat’. he splits open a blamelessly chunky Ginger Pig sausage to show us what he means.
And, with that, it’s time to get cracking. We’re each given a huge tub of freshly ground pork mince and told we’ll be turning it into Italian sausages, seasoned with salt, pepper, minced garlic and fennel seeds (‘Delicious! Perfect!’ beams Daniel). Kneading everything together with my bare hands is oddly soothing; it feels like baking, but with meat. I make a terrible joke about The Great British Steak Off and everyone laughs obligingly.
I’m having such a good time, I barely register that the conker-sized piece of cooked mixture Daniel is proffering (so I can check the season- ing) will be my first bite of meat since the last Labour government. I take a deep breath and pop it into my mouth. It tastes intensely of itself, in the way only meat from well-reared animals can. And because it hasn’t been bulked out with breadcrumbs, the texture is first rate.
Next, we’re introduced to the handsome stainless-steel sausage machines The Ginger Pig sources especially from Italy. Stuffing our mixture into the drum (imagine loading a cannon), we screw everything into place, then thread what will become the casing onto the nozzle at the end. It’s all natural, made from a thin layer of the pig’s intestine. Frontline stuff, yes, but it’s a carnivore’s duty to make sure nothing from an animal is wasted and being reminded of that is no bad thing.
Daniel starts cranking the machine’s handle and, before I know it, I’m wrestling comically with a 6ft sausage. he shows me how to twist it into perfect links, as if he were making a balloon poodle at a children’s party. By the time I’ve finished, the string looks like something a terrier would run off with in an ealing comedy. I feel enormously proud—and hungry.
At the end of the night, when everyone’s efforts have been strung and safely stowed in bags, we sit down to wine and a feast: three different types of sausages, herby slaw and—my heart fairly bursts—a huge dish of buttery mashed potato. I’m first in the queue and clear my plate.
When it comes to meat-eating, it looks like I’m back—with a banger. The Ginger Pig’s sausage-making classes (£155 per person, including food and wine) run on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at the London shops, from 7pm to 10.30pm and Sundays from 4pm to 7.30pm. To book, telephone 01751 460802 or visit www.thegingerpig.co.uk
It’s a carnivore’s duty to make sure nothing from an animal is wasted