I wrote this story last week for Barbara Fairchild, who is heading up the new iPad magazine Real Eats. (It appeared in their January 20 issue.) I shot the recipe with photographer Christopher Testani, and my good friend Carla Gonzalez-Hart, who did the prop styling. You need to try this! Juicy pork sausages in thyme-infused garlic mash with the most delicious onion gravy. Remedy for any Winter’s day, (no British Pub required!)
Comforts of Home
By Dimity Jones
An Aussie extols the joys of a British classic, bangers and mash.
Comfort food is a funny thing. I have a friend who likes potato chips, but only with dill seasoning because that reminds him of his childhood in Sweden. Most people’s choices for comfort food are culturally based. For instance, when I was growing up in Australia, we had “Jaffles.” My Nanna used to make them in a huge wrought-iron clampy thing. Two slices of bread would be buttered on each side, you’d stick baked beans from a tin on the bread, and then a slice of cheddar, put it in the clampy thing, and grill it on the stovetop. It was kind of like an American version of grilled cheese, but with griddle marks (and beans). My Nanna was half-Chinese and half-English, so her comfort foods were the traditional English trifle (with custard, sponge cake and—a little untraditionally—Jell-o) and fried rice. Because they were her comfort foods, she fed them to me and they became mine. To this day, when I’m traveling and it’s hard to get decent food, I’ll find an unremarkable, if not downtrodden, Chinese place and order the fried rice. It’s cheap, filling, and wonderfully reliable. And besides, it reminds me of Nanna.
Even in January, when my mind turns to health (I chose to give up coffee this year, and cut down on red meat and wine), I still require comfort on these wintry days, and for me that means another favorite dish, Bangers and Mash, with a wonderful stout beer (like Guinness) to go with it. It’s nothing exotic: bangers and mash is just the English term for sausages and mashed potato. It’s simple. It’s real food… with a witty name: Sausages were traditionally packed with a lot of water, so when they were fried up in a hot pan, they split and went bang. The taste can have that effect, too. There is the tang of bubbly yeast as it catches the back of your throat, the snap of hot peppery pork. The silky gravy that coats the sausages bathes them in a caramelized blanket of sweet sauce, with slight undertones of beef — it’s so rich and deep that you want to swim in it. The sausage sinks slowly into the mashed potato like a tiny Hovercraft deflating — especially since I’ve created a pillowy loft of mash, hopelessly dense with butter, cream, and whole cloves of garlic infused with thyme.
After all this comforting goodness, dessert is up to you. My mum’s banana custard — another favorite of mine — would probably be too much. But pressed for a choice, I’d take that over any fancy patisserie creation you could find. Just like custard, bangers and mash are familiar and cozy. To me, the very definition of the best comfort food, in any culture.
Bangers and Mash with Onion “Gravy”
4-5 medium to large Yukon Gold potatoes
1 pint of heavy cream
half a stick, and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
3-4 whole peeled garlic, cut into halves
8 thick pork sausages
2 whole medium to large yellow onions, sliced finely
one teaspoon of raw or brown sugar
¼ cup of water
one tablespoon of flour
½ cup beef stock
pepper, to taste
For the mashed potato: Peel and boil in salted water 4 to 5 medium to large Yukon Gold Potatoes until tender.
Meanwhile put a separate medium to small heavy based saucepan, add to it: heavy cream, unsalted butter, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Bring gently to a boil, and then turn the heat off. Let the cream mixture steep for 15 minutes or longer. Keep warm.
Once the potatoes are boiled, drain and let dry out. (The secret to making amazing mashed potatoes is to make them very dry before adding the cream liquid. If you need to, put them back over the heat, and stir without burning or browning to gently dry out).
To make the sausages: Place the 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive or canola oil in a pan on medium heat. Fry up 8 thick pork sausages (preferably local, and handmade from your butcher) in the pan, until just cooked through, browned and golden. Do not spear; the juice needs to stay inside the sausage. When just barely cooked, place them in the oven on medium/low heat to finish cooking through and to keep warm. Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons of more of unsalted butter and the yellow onions to the frypan,. Stir over medium heat until the onions are softened and fragrant, not browned. Add raw or brown sugar and about a quarter cup of water (and a few leaves of fresh thyme—optional). Add a tablespoon of all purpose flour and stir until nutty and just golden. Add about a half a cup or more of beef stock and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce. Stir until the gravy becomes thick, but still runny. Season with salt and pepper.
Put the cooked potatoes through a food mill into a bowl. Strain the cream mixture, and pour into the potatoes a little bit at a time, until you get the consistency you wish for your mash. You may not need all the liquid. Taste, and season more with salt and pepper, if necessary.
Pile up the mashed potatoes, add the gravy, the sausages and then more onion gravy over the top. Enjoy with a stout or any kind of beer.