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Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Sausage and Mash: How to Cook The British Classic

Preparing this meal starts, as with any cooking, at the shops.  You will be buying good butchers’ sausages, not those generic rubbery tubes that come in supermarket packs and appear to be filled with stodgy pink toothpaste.  You will also need the correct potatoes; floury varieties, not waxy types.

Every meat-eating culture must have its own version of the sausage; once you’ve roasted or grilled all the prime cuts, braised or stewed all the tasty hard-working muscle meat, and even tucked into the offal, there’s still an awful lot left, and it would be a shame to waste it.  Grind it up, with its fat, perhaps not too fine, add some seasonings, spicing and herbs and push it into those useful intestines which were just begging to be used for sausage casings.

I adore the spicy sausages of other cultures: the merguez, the chorizo (I could probably eat chorizo until I turn brick red from all the paprika), seekh kebab (ok, it’s on a stick and is skinless, but it’s a sausage, ok?), salamis, keilbasa etc.  I love haggis, which is, of course, effectively a large round sausage, and can always find room for a slice or two of black pudding, boudin noir (not quite the same thing), hogs pudding, white pudding, liver sausage, garlic sausage, mortadella (not the type made with donkey meat, though) and all the rest of them.  But, for sausage and mash, or, as I should capitalise it, Sausage and Mash, you want good, by which I mean excellent, British (or Irish) Sausages, where the seasoning may contain herbs, and spices such as mace, but otherwise rarely anything more exotic than plenty of salt and enough ground white pepper to make your tongue sing.

British and Irish sausages also contain filler, which can be breadcrumbs, rusk or similar.  This is a good thing, if it is not abused by unscrupulous sausage stuffers and the ratio weighted too far towards the carbs.  The filler helps with the texture, and absorbs some of the fat in the cooking, allowing the sausages to remain juicy without bursting or exploding into smithereens – for you should NOT prick the sausages before cooking, whatever you have been told.  Cooked carefully, a good sausage will not burst; pricking holes in the casing just allows all the good stuff to drizzle out.  The improperly cooked exploding sausage, as mentioned above, is the source of the word banger, as in Bangers and Mash, the other name for this famous dish.

Cooking the spuds for mash is pretty easy, as long as you follow a few simple points.  The first is that you will never get good mash from the wrong potatoes.  Waxy potatoes are not suitable for mash, whatever some TV chefs will tell you.  Yes, you can make the crushed spuds, with a rosemary, garlic and olive oil dressing so trendy a few years back, but this is not mash.  Mashed potato is fluffy and lump-free, and should only be made from floury potatoes.  Maris Piper, King Edward, Desiree, Wilja, Rooster etc all make excellent mash.  If you’ve ever wondered why at certain times of year your mash just turns out lumpy, or worse, gluey, whatever you do, it’s because you’ve been supplied with the wrong spuds – the so called “general purpose” potatoes available at this time of year are, frankly, not good for much, in my opinion.  If you want mashed potatoes from late spring to summer, then you have only a few choices: buy expensive imported floury potatoes from another part of the world where they are still in season; buy a good quality frozen mash (or freeze your own in season); or, do without mash altogether for these months.  You’re not even thinking of powdered mash, are you?

Another thing to be aware of when cooking spuds for mash is that it isn’t as difficult as some writers make out: I have seen too many methods where you are sternly told to cook the potatoes whole and in their skins.  Nonsense!  I mean, have you ever tried to peel a hot potato?  I have pretty tough, battle-scarred hands from my time spent in kitchens and as a musician, but I don’t need to add blisters and take further skin off them this way.  Peel the raw potatoes, cut them into not-too-large similar-sized chunks (so they cook consistently), bung ‘em into cold or hot water (doesn’t matter), bring to the boil, then simmer until they begin to break up.  Tip them into a strainer or colander, put a clean tea-towel or cloth over them, and leave them to drain for at least five to ten minutes – this gets rid of any excess water, and allows the steam to escape, leaving you with lovely dry spuds for a light, fluffy finish.

A final point is the mashing process itself.  Some writers and TV cooks (Saint Delia, for one) favour the use of an electric whisk.  In my experience, this only works well if done very lightly, and the potatoes are the right type and so perfectly cooked that it would only be the work of a few minutes to hand-mash them anyway.  Otherwise, the whisk or food-processor method is risky.  Cooked potato has a cell structure of starch grains (rub a bit of mash between your fingertips or over your tongue and you’ll feel it).  You do NOT want to break or burst these cells, or you’ll end up with the aforementioned glue.  These cells or grains are not the same as lumps.  If you’ve chosen the correct potatoes and cooked them well, the lumps will come out without bursting the cells.

A potato ricer is a brilliant device: if you’ve never used one, it’s like an over-sized garlic crusher.  You put the spuds in, one or two at a time, squeeze the handles, and perfect, airy mash is produced.  Or, you can use an old-fashioned hand-masher.  If some lumps persist, don’t be tempted to use the food-processor or electric whisk (see glue, above).  Instead, push the mash through a sieve (“passed,” in chef-speak), using the back of a ladle or similar.  This can be tough on the wrists, but the results are excellent.  No lumps, but no glue either.
Sausage and Mash is an easy meal to prepare, but it does take some time, and is a little labour intensive, what with the peeling, boiling and mashing of the spuds.  You are rewarded for your efforts, though, with a thoroughly tasty, comforting and more-ish supper that will not break the bank.

For accompaniments, a very traditional English side dish would be a tin of Heinz Baked Beans.  Nothing wrong with that, and that’s a childhood taste that I’ve certainly never shaken off, and beans of any type go wonderfully well with sausages and pork of all kinds.  I often make a bean casserole to go with the Bangers and Mash, rather than open the blue tin.  However, a simple veg or two would go very well on the side.  Last night, I had broccoli and red cabbage, both just simply simmered (separately) until just tender.  The colour combination looked great on the plate, and the tastes were very complimentary.

Well, after that essay, the actual recipe and method is going to be short and sweet.

Sausage and Mashed Potato a.k.a. Bangers and Mash


Approximately 4oz/110gram good pork sausages per person (more if you like)
Approximately 8-12oz/240-360gram floury potatoes, unpeeled weight
Optional: 1 small to medium onion, peeled and roughly sliced
2oz/55gram butter
Salt and ground white pepper
A little oil for frying or roasting

Vegetable accompaniments of your choice.
Gravy, if you like (recipe here)


Peel the potatoes, and cut into chunks.  Bring to the boil in plenty of water, then reduce to a gentle simmer until breaking up.  Drain and allow to dry out as above.  The sausages can be fried, grilled/broiled or cooked in the oven, but the idea is to cook them slowly, turning them from time to time.  They do need to be thoroughly cooked right through to the middle; a long, slow cooking allows this, and for the outsides to gently caramelise, with no risk of bursting or exploding – the aforementioned “bangers”.  The whole process could take forty minutes, and they can safely be left ticking over for longer while you get on with the rest of the meal.  If you like onions, tuck them, roughly chopped, in among the sausages.

When you are nearly ready to serve (and whatever other vegetables you have are draining) mash the potatoes as above, adding the butter and plenty of seasoning. Mashed potatoes can take a lot of salt and pepper, so add, taste, and repeat until seasoned to perfection.  Be warned that ground white pepper loses its power quite quickly, so if you’ve just bought a fresh pot to replace the one that’s been sitting in the back of your cupboard for a while, it may be hotter than you expect, so go carefully. I am not a fan of adding milk to mashed potatoes, as, for me, they go too sloppy, but you could add a dash of cream for a bit of luxury.

Plate up and enjoy.

As a variation, you could stir into the mash some chopped spring onions/scallions, or baby leeks, that have been gently sautéed in butter, giving you a version of the Irish potato dish known as Champ.  Or, add some finely chopped chives for an alternative oniony flavour.


  1. ooh I love a good sausage and mash and I like to serve mine with a good red-wine and onion gravy...yum!

  2. Mmm, nice call, Dom, although funnily enough, despite adoring a good gravy, I don't generally like it with mashed potatoes - and I know that makes me weird! A chef buddy of mine makes a red wine, red onion and demi-glace reduction with a hint of chilli that he serves with his slow-cooked pork belly, that would also be pretty good with sausages, I reckon.

  3. It's a tradition down under that I've learned to embrace. We have our sausages with onion gravy and peas. I was told that's just how it's done here.

    I'm a yank, what did I know?