There he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a simple meal, in which, remembering the stranger’s origin and preferences, he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked straw-covered flask wherein lay bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
I love where I live. I love that I can buy lightbulbs, shoes, packets of nails or buttons, chillies, guavas, curry leaves, home-made pesto, embroidery thread, books, bras, sardines, bread, cat collars and dog treats, baking tins, parcel tape, compost and pruning knives, wrapping paper, baklava and mixing bowls all within a ten-minute walk from my front door. But for years, to buy really good meat I had to get on the bus to Highbury or wait until Saturday for the farmers’ market. I’m not a wait-until-Saturday kind of girl.
A year or so ago the shutters went down on a small restaurant which had no discernible menu or, indeed, customers. Work began inside. Rumours ran up and down Church Street faster than a hipster on a fixed wheelie. Would it be another café? One more shop plundering the surely-soon-to-be-exhausted vintage clothing mines? Horror of horrors, another estate agent? Then something wonderful happened. The long, narrow interior suddenly sparkled with white tiles. Fridge cabinets appeared along the walls. A notice appeared in the window. It was going to be a butcher. If there were a single thing that would improve the quality of my life, it was this. No more bus trips, no more waiting for Saturday.
And what a great butcher it is. The meat is excellent, the staff cheerful, helpful. They open in the evenings and on Sundays. When I pop in for a chicken or a shin of beef or a bit of scrag end, they always pop a bone into my bag for the dog. Usually the bone is bigger than the dog. Often, so thrilled is Barney with his present, he hides it, burying it in some corner of the garden to be retrieved weeks later, filthy and rotting, and deposits it on a rug or (shiver) bed as the most precious of gifts.
So a nice thing happened, to make up for the filthy and rotting yet most precious of gifts. Paul Grout, one of the shop’s owners, invited me to judge The Stokey Pokey Sausage competition. Customers submitted their favourite sausage recipes and Paul and his staff whittled them down to their top five, which they made up in gorgeous, generous links.
Last Sunday afternoon, I trotted along to the shop thinking I really should be wearing a hat and gloves, the Mrs Miniver-ish uniform of the lady judge. At the garden in the back of the shop, the grill was lit, delicious, savoury smoke wafted into the damp autumn air and we warmed ourselves with the first mulled wine of the season. My fellow judge was Jane Curran, food editor of Woman & Home magazine (and fellow Gooner; when we’re together talk as much about football as we do about food). We chewed and sniffed, scribbled and debated the merits of seasonings and textures, and whether a chicken sausage could ever trump a pork sausage.
In the end, we decided it couldn’t. Even though it was delicious, we thought the combination of chicken, fajita spices, onion, red and yellow peppers and green chillis would make a better burger or meatballs. So the winner was Harry Crabb, with his pork, garlic, nutmeg, allspice, milk powder and white wine sausage. Harry told me it was his mum’s recipe, one she’d got from an Italian woman who’d been her pen friend since they were girls, whose family the young Harry and his siblings had visited and who had visited them here in England. If you’re local, Harry’s sausage will be on sale in the shop from this weekend. It’s really good. I suggest you try it.
Paul’s Sizzling Sausage Tips If you’re not local but you’d love to have a go at making your own sausages, here are Paul’s top tips for success. He knows his sausages. He also runs the excellent Butcher at Leadenhall in Leadenhall Market and used to be the butchery and charcuterie manager at Harvey Nichols. He also teaches courses in the shop if you fancy a bit of hands-on instruction.
- Always use good meat It’s very important to remember that what you put in is what you get out. It’s absolutely not true that sausages are the ‘dumping ground’ of the butcher’s shop. Go to a butcher you trust to give you well-bred animals which have lived and fed on the land. Ask for a recommendation as to the best cuts for sausages.
- Sausages need fat Don’t be afraid of the fat. This is another reason why it’s important to use good meat. We are what we eat and well-fed animals will produce tasty fats. A good, juicy sausage will have about 20% fat to meat content. Sausages with little or no fat content will be dry and unpalatable. For small batches, it should be possible to buy a cut which offers meat and fat together, such as pork belly, lamb shoulder or beef chuck.
- Don’t overwork the meat When chopping, mincing and mixing, handle the meat as little as possible and keep it cold. If the meat is overworked, or becomes too warm, the mix will become ‘sticky’ in the mouth. Mince the meat once, add the flavourings (herbs, spices, vegetables and seasonings) and mix quickly. Let the mix rest in a cool place. (NB If using root vegetables, it’s important to cook them off and allow them to cool before adding them to the sausage mix. The time it takes to cook your sausages will not be enough to cook your vegetables.)
- Always use natural casing (skins) Use pork skins for ‘bangers’ and lamb skins for chipolata or cocktail sausages. It’s never acceptable to use ‘man made’ skins – yuck!
- Let your sausages rest Having made your sausages, it’s good to let them rest. The skins will dry a little and become firm with the meat and any unwanted liquids will drain away. Too much liquid in your sausages is one of the reasons why they burst in the pan. Too much fat, or poor meat, are other reasons for exploding sausages which is why, historically, sausages were known as ‘bangers’.
Meat N16, 104 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 OLA 020 7254 0724
Open Tuesday to Friday 9.30am-7pm; Saturday 9am-5pm; Sunday 9.30am-4pm