I can’t remember the first time I had bangers and mash, but if I had to guess it would be at Lily Flanagan’s, an Irish pub in Islip on Long Island, back in the early 1990s. I just remember it as generic “sausage,” with nice mashed potatoes and peas.
Later, in 1995 on a 36-hour layover in London, I had the real deal. Still pretty generic, but definitely better: It was a softish link, with warm spices and an interesting bind that made it comforting to eat.
I later learned that the unusual mouthfeel of bangers is caused by the inclusion of some sort of grain product in the link, whether crushed rusks, oats, barley or breadcrumbs. I’ve heard various theories on why British charcuterie does this — virtually no other sausage-making nation does, with the exception of the famous potato sausage — ranging from scarcity during the World Wars to, well, it just tastes good. I used to think it was some sort of scandalous cheapening of a good sausage, but I’ve come around recently.
The addition of a grain in the mix can and does add something positive. Texture, sure, but also flavor. I am partial to barley or oats coarsely ground in a coffee grinder.
Now before you Brits cross the Atlantic on some fool’s errand again (lest we forget 1776 and 1812) know that I am well aware that there is no One True Banger, just as there is no one recipe for Italian sausage or Polish kielbasa. (Although if I had to give the title of One True Banger it’d probably go to Mick Jagger…)
My version of bangers is derived from a recipe for a Gloucester-style sausage I found in a charming little book called British Charcuterie. I wish this book were more comprehensive, and if any of you know of any other British sausage-making books out there, I am all ears.
Being fresh out of pork, I used some blacktail deer I got from a hunt this past September; I’d helped my friend Ian haul his dad’s deer up 600 yards of hillside, and his dad gave me a quarter of the deer in gratitude.
We’d noticed that this deer had grown fat from eating black oak acorns, so I added that to the sausage mix. Deer fat, by the way, can be awfully good in moderation. (More on that here.)
Everything went well. The bind of the bangers was perfect — tight, almost emulsified — and had that snap when you bite into them. The filling was moist, meaty, venison-y and laced with all those warm spices. A damn good banger, if I do say so.
British Bangers Sausages
- 4 pounds venison, pork or other meat cut into chunks
- Either 1 pound pork fat (or 1/2 pound pork fat and 1/2 pound venison fat), cut into chunks
- 36 grams kosher salt, about 2 tablespoons plus a teaspoon
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons white pepper
- 1 teaspoon minced sage
- 1 teaspoon porcini powder (optional)
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon mace
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup coarsely ground oats, barley, or, alternately breadcrumbs
- 3/4 cup malty beer
- Hog casings
- Get out about 15 to 20 feet of hog casings and soak them in warm water. If you don't trust your source, run water through them to check for punctures or weak spots.
- Make sure all your equipment is cold, as in freeze the grinding plate and blades, and the bowl you will put the meat into for 30 minutes to an hour. Do the same for the meat and fat. When everything's nice and cold, mix the meat and fat with all the spices (leave out the oats and beer for the moment).
- Grind it all through a coarse plate; I use a 10 mm plate. Test the temperature of the mixture, and if it's 35°F or colder, go ahead and grind it all again through a fine die, like a 4.5 mm or somesuch. If it's warmer than 35°F, put the mix back in the freezer to chill. This miht take an hour or so if you've let the meat warm up too much.
- Once the sausage has been ground twice, test the temperature again to make sure it's 35°F or colder. I prefer to chill the mix down to 28°F to 32°F for this next stage. Chill the mix and when it's cold enough, take it out and add the oats and beer. Now, mix and knead this all up in a big bin or bowl with your (very clean) hands for a solid 2 minutes -- your hands will ache with cold, which is good. You want everything to almost emulsify.
- Stuff the sausage into hog casings rather loosely. I like bangers to be about 6 to 8 inches long, but it's your choice. To twist them into links, tie off one end of the coil you just made. Pinch off links with your two hands and roll the link between them forward a couple times. Move down the coil and repeat, only this time roll backwards a few times. Repeat until you do the whole coil. Now look at the links, which will probably have air pockets in them. Use a sterile needle or sausage pricker (set it aglow in your stovetop flame) to puncture the casing over all the air pockets. Gently compress the links together to squeeze out the air pockets and rotate the links a bit more to tighten; this takes practice.
- Hang your links for at least 1 hour if your room is warm, and up to overnight if you can hang them in a place that's 40°F or cooler. Don't let them freeze yet. If you are not hanging overnight, let the sausages continue to dry uncovered in the fridge overnight before you seal them up and freeze. Bangers will keep a week in the fridge and a year in the freezer, if you've vacuum sealed them.