Beef & Old Windsor Ale Sausages
© Denzil Green
A sausage is a "tube" of meat. The outside of the tube, the wrapper, is usually called the "casing"; it can be a natural item such as an animal intestine, or it can be artificial. It is almost always edible. The wrapping holds inside it a mixture of meat, usually finely but sometimes more coarsely minced or ground, that is spiced in varying degrees, and may have some cereal mixed in with it. The mixture almost always holds some fat as well to help bind it and give it mouth feel. The meat can be presumed to be pork unless otherwise specified.
The sausage may be smoked or unsmoked; dried or fresh. The preparation process of some sausages essentially cooks them so that they can be eaten as is; most though require further cooking. Some sausages are meant to be served whole; others are meant to be served in slices in varying degrees of thickness; others are meant to be used solely as a flavouring ingredient in other dishes.
In the English-speaking world, Sausages got a bad rap towards the end of the 1900s.
First, the thinking went, Sausages were a cheap meat that has always been for poor people. Secondly, they were bad for you, full of fat and other nasty things. And thirdly, the only ones that were worth considering had Italian or German names.
In the last two decades of the 1900s, there were some cheap and nasty Sausages made when industrial Sausage makers ratcheted up the fat content to save money beyond the golden rule for Sausage of "half lean half fat meat." North American Sausages were reduced to small, thin, anaemic, breakfast Sausages in supermarkets from the 1950s through to the 1990s. These are the Sausages which gave all others a bad rap. You'll still hear vegetarians say veggie breakfast Sausages are just as good, "considering there's no 'real meat' in the meat ones, anyway."
In their haste to recover from the bad reputation brought on by those who pumped out low-quality Sausages for the past few decades, Sausage makers may in fact have overcompensated and cut back too much on the golden rule of thumb -- "half fat, half lean." Sausages don't produce enough of their own fat these days to fry up; some will sit in the frying pan and dry and shrivel before your eyes. When frying up Sausages these days, until you get to know them, fry them up in a knob or two of butter. This is where most North Americans will faint -- frying something fatty in butter? But that's just the point -- the fat has been reduced to the point where you have to add it back for the Sausages to cook without drying up entirely and sticking to the pan.
Consumers in North America and in the UK came to consider that only European-made or European-style Sausages were worth buying. Good English-named Sausages are now being made again, though mostly only in the UK where traditional styles and quality have been revived. North Americans wandering into the meat section of any supermarket in the UK look and weep.
There are a surprising number of websites dedicated to home Sausage making. These websites talk about making quality Sausages so you know what's in them. The websites show that poor old Sausage's bad reputation is still hanging around.
Sausages need either fat, cereals or a combination of both to bind the meat. European tradition tends to emphasize fat; English-speaking tradition tends to emphasize cereal. European Sausages tend to be cured, and have their meat more coarsely chopped.
Sausages can be fresh, cured or cooked. Fresh Sausages, of a Northern European tradition, need cooking. Most of these are intended to be eaten whole rather than as a sliced delicatessen meat.
Cured Sausages tend to be made in hotter climates to preserve the meat. They will be air-dried and/or smoked, and have saltpetre and / or lots of salt. Some cured Sausages can be eaten as they are; others need cooking. Many are intended to be sliced and used in pieces rather than eaten whole.
The cooked category of Sausages includes partly-cooked ones. Cooked Sausages are often par-boiled before sale, and sometimes are smoked as well. Many German Sausages are cooked, intended to be reheated before serving. Some such as Leberwurst are used as a meat spread.
To keep thick Sausages moist, you can steam them in a bit of water in the frying pan so that the meat cooks inside without overbrowning the outside. The Sausages should be finished by a browning without the water. Pot Stickers use the same technique.
The Greeks and Romans ate them; the early Christians even banned them owing to their sexual suggestiveness.
Historically, the poor didn't even have access to meat, let alone Sausage, seasoned as it was with spices such as pepper and cardamom that used to cost a king's ransom up until the 1900s.
The Romans called Sausage "salsicia" (from their word, "salsus", meaning "salted"), and mixed pork with pine nuts, cumin seeds, bay leaves and black pepper, and their beloved liquamen. They brought Sausage making to Britain, and even though the English forgot how to do central heating, they remembered how to make Sausage.
Though sausages would certainly be made at home, by the 900s butchers were also selling them ready-made. Guilds in various towns would create their own recipes for their members to use, and thus regional sausages were born.
Sausages haven't historically always been cased up in links. In fact, you were more likely to make, or be able to get, loose Sausage meat (the situation is reversed, now.) The meat would be minced, spiced and salted, packed into ceramic pots, pressed down and sealed with a layer of melted fat. Sounds awfully close to something French, doesn't it? A cloth dipped in wax would then be tied around the mouth of the pot, and it would be stored in the cellar for months, being used as needed.
Links had the advantage that they could be cured (in smoke), which better prevented spoilage.
Literature & Lore
During World War One, there was a meat shortage in England, causing sausage makers to add a bit more water to sausages to plump them up. This caused sausages to be more likely to explode out of their casings when fried up -- and the British term for sausages, "bangers", was born. 
Some speculate more precisely that it came from a corruption of "salsum isicium," "salsum" meaning "salted", and icisium meaning "minced meat." The plural of icisum is "isicia." Salsum isicium became Salsiccia in Italian. 
 Leake, William Martin. London: John Murray. Journal of a Tour in Asia Minor. 1824. Page 334.
Help me battle my SAUSAGE ADDICTION! Accountant forced to have counselling to get him off the bangers. London: Daily Mail. 26 May 2011.
Poulter, Sean. British bangers have more salt than a bag of crisps, as health experts call for a change in recipes. London: Daily Mail. 17 June 2011.
SausagesAberdeen Sausage; Baloney; Boudin Noir; Bratwurst Festival Day; Braunschweiger; Cured Sausages; Currywurst; Fresh Sausages; Glamorgan Sausages; Hack Pudding; Haggis; Haslet; Kochwurst; Liver Pudding; Lorne Sausage; Mortadella; Sausage Casings; Sausagemeat; Sausages; Semi-Cured Sausages; Stufatura; Tube Sausage; Zampone
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