In pursuit of the perfect sausage

THERE are few children in this world who do not love a sausage, but whether they like the same sort as their parents is debatable.

Karen Hindle

THERE are few children in this world who do not love a sausage, but whether they like the same sort as their parents is debatable. Karen Hindle goes in search of a healthy, yet satisfying banger

Now I like a sausage, but not just any kind. As I have aged my tastes have become - I am hoping - more refined. Out is the rather smooth, let's face it tasteless sausage favoured as a child and in comes the courser, herb-filled meat delight on offer in most butcher's these days.

Luckily for me my children eat the same sort of sausages as we do but they do draw the line at Mexican style bangers with lethal pieces of chilli running through the middle.

So, given that tastes vary how can you determine what is a good sausage and what is not?

In actual fact it is not that difficult because as award winning butcher Gary Garnham, of EW Revett & Sons, in Wickham Market, says, you can spot a good sausage from thirty paces - at least he can.

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Gary has worked in the shop for 30 years, man and boy. He started off as a butcher's boy when you spoke when spoken to and did not venture onto Maurice's top block unless you were invited so to do.

“Now you come in and the boys take the Mickey and everything. It's a different world,” he says, but I get the impression he quite likes it that way.

So, now 30 years later Gary is the boss having bought a 75% stake in the business six years ago.

This is a man who knows his bangers, for it was one of his shop's sausages which was pronounced the winner of the 2008 Swan Suffolk Sausage Awards. The recipe is a 40-year-old recipe handed to him by the previous owner of the shop - the man himself Edgar Revett.

It is a recipe that has stood the test of time and has not been changed in any way by Gary and his team.

As far as Gary is concerned simplicity is best and this proved the winning formula during the ceremony, held at Lavenham's sumptuous Swan Hotel.

The competition is in its infancy, this being only the second year the awards have been held. But good support from producers and sausage makers meant it has had a second outing this year.

The remit is huge - to find the best sausage produced by Suffolk's artisan butchers, yes, but also to highlight the crisis currently facing the county's pig farmers.

An obviously delighted Gary said: “Our winning sausage, whose recipe dates back 40 years, is made from top quality casings and shoulder and leg meat sourced from local free-range pork.”

There were some impressive judges including Michelin starred chef Galton Blackiston, local farmer, artist and food adventurer, Jason Gathorne Hardy and Julie West, chief executive of Tastes of Anglia. Archant's very own Suffolk magazine editor Richard Bryson also joined the table for a morning of sampling some 32 sausages.

Gary's entry was not a one-off signature sausage specially created for the occasion, it was the one and only recipe he uses for his sausages - any size - his chipolatas and his sausage meat.

“The key is to keep it simple and be consistent. You can't just say 'I've got this and this left over at the end of the day, I'll bung it in the sausage machine.'

“I think you have to be consistent, decide your recipe and stick to it. We measure everything out and use the same ratios all the time. People know what is in our sausages and that is exactly how it should be.”

Revett's sausages are made with a declared figure of 82% local pork, although when last tested they were 89% pork. The remaining percentage is made up of seasoning, rusk and fat.

He explained: “You have to have a certain amount of fat in them for the flavour. I remember a woman complaining to me because her mince lacked flavour. She had bought lean mince. She tried some of the other mince and soon tasted the difference.

“Meat needs the fat while it is cooking, take the fat off once you have cooked it, yes, but leave it on to cook.”

Gary is a traditionalist and does not hold too much store by the fancy “novelty” flavours and is quite vocal about “rank” sausages because he has had a few.

“Me and the wife got thrown out of a hotel restaurant because we complained about the food. I had a meat platter to start and the meat was on the turn. Then I had sausages for the main and they were on the turn too.

“It was rank. They kept sending out their little waiters and then when the bill came I said we wouldn't be paying for this and that so they asked us to leave.

“We didn't get as far as pudding.”

While Gary is not necessarily on a mission to educate the masses about sausages - he would like people to realise that it is not true to say a sausage is a sausage is a sausage.

“You get what you pay for. If you are going to pay 2p for a sausage then what do you expect it to have in it?”

All his meat is sourced locally from pig producers Jimmy Butler at Blythburgh and Mark Haywood's Dingly Dell pork.

He uses fresh cuts of loin, shoulder and a little belly pork for the fat content and seasonings. This is all mixed together but he will not reveal for how long as this is one of the secrets of a good sausage.

“If you mix it for too long the ingredients will start to emulsify.”

Then the mixture is put in the mincer and again this is an art because if you mince for too long the mixture becomes too warm and will start to warm up and go mushy.

That mixture goes into a machine which churns out at present 24,000 sausages a week.

Gary said: “You get what you pay for when it comes to sausages. There are products out there which are truly awful that you wouldn't feed to anything never mind your children.

“I have never had children but I wouldn't give them anything to eat that I wouldn't eat - and anyway they eat enough rubbish as it is with all the junk food around.

“I heard someone saying the price of chicken giblets had gone through the roof because they found a loophole and you could put them in burgers. They were going to buy up all the giblets and grind them up for burgers.

“You have to know what you are eating.

“If you are looking at the pink sausages or the ones which are really smooth the chances are they are the ones which do have anything in them.

“For a lot of those the whole head goes in, brains and all. I'm not sure if they take the eyes out.

“It's all ground up and minced and minced and minced. That's why you get hard bits of bone and cartilege in your sausage.

“You are allowed 2lbs of rind to a certain amount of meat, I am not sure what it is but if you put rind in then that is the ears and all sorts. As long as no-one is going to choke on the pieces, that all counts.

“We take all our rind off and discard what we don't put it in sausages as it has a real taste to it that's not nice.

“I remember a supermarket doing a promotion and selling sausages for 2p each. Some people I know who tried them said they were pretty awful, but what do you expect for 2p each.

“You cannot scrimp on quality and a sausage does not have to be full of rubbish.

“There are of course EU regulations which dictate what you can put in a sausage and that is a good thing because it has got rid of a lot of dodgy places.

“But it really is simple as long as you stick to the same method.”

And as he has done his bit to provide us with the perfect sausage then the least we consumers can do is treat it well.

Grilling or frying is okay and each to their own, says Gary.

“I like them grilled, but the wife likes them done in the pan. She does the washing up so I don't mind,” he laughs.

But the smile soon evaporates from his face when he recalls the places where they deep fry a sausage.

“The Blaxhall Ship has our sausages and she cooks them to perfection. She does them in a pan and they are brown all the way round. But these places where they are deep fried. You could start with a sausage that is four inches long and it ends up half the size.

“It's just because it is quicker, but, well it's soul destroying.

“If you did mine that way you would not know they were the same sausages. The taste would be there but the presentation would be awful.”

Sausages are a great British staple. I don't think they make you fat. You have to remember lifestyles have changed quite a bit. Years ago people were doing a lot more on the land or physical jobs. Now they are sat in front of a computer all day or in telesales. They are not working up the appetite to justify these hearty meals.

“Anyway all things in moderation. If you eat them all day every day then you are going to put on weight.”

Sausages for tea then?

Top tips about sausages:-

-When you buy look for sausages which are slightly curved as this will denote a natural casing

- They should be bright but not pink

- Find out how often your butcher makes sausages. If you are unsure how old a sausage is ask to touch one as they go a little sticky if they are a little old

- Artificial casings do not go sticky so the only way you will know the meat inside is on the turn is when you eat it

- You should be able to see the meat through the casing, if not the casing is likely to be artificial

- As a basic rule the courser the filling the better quality sausage

- All meat needs a level of fat to add to the flavour

- Always ask a butcher the ratios of meat, fat and rusk

- Sausages need a certain amount of rusk as a binding agent

- Do not leave them in the car to get warm and sweaty

- When you get them home open the bag to let in the air if you are putting them in the fridge

- And lastly to prick or not to prick: Gary doesn't

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