I have a dear friend, Valerie, who lives near a little village in the Cotswolds. I visit her every time I’m in England. She has a charming stone cottage and runs a bed and breakfast. Years ago, during my three month walk through southern England, I fetched up at her place with a painful swollen ankle. She and her now late husband, Hugh, put me up and nursed me for a week. We all became fast friends. Nowadays, if I’m ever near their cottage, I spend the night. By way of payment, for Val won’t let me pay for my room, I take her to dinner at a lovely old pub, the Old Royal Ship in Luckington. “The Ship,” as it is known, is what would now be called a “gastropub,” its food is so good. But I always order an old standard of pub grub: Bangers and Mash.
“Bangers” are pork sausages, shorter and thicker than hot dogs, and with a bit of a taste twist. They became popular between the two world wars when supplies were short. Pork was ground up with breadcrumbs, onion, and water. The twist was in the spices, which included not the usual savory sausage herbs, like thyme and rosemary, but mace, ginger, and nutmeg. The “bang” came when, during grilling, the water inside exploded, splitting the skin…thus, “bangers.” Locally made sausage has become popular again in the US and many markets now carry English Bangers.
Ah, but that’s just the beginning! Traditionally, a pair of grilled bangers is served on a mound of creamy mashed potatoes and covered with “onion gravy.”
This is the complicated part: take a large red or white onion, cut it in half lengthwise, and then slice each half thinly crossways. Drop a good knob of butter in a pan, stir in the sliced onion, and braise on medium heat as the onions soften. Add a pinch of sugar and then a splash of red wine, a dash of red wine vinegar, a little dash of Worcestershire sauce, a sprinkle of powdered mustard, salt, and pepper, and finally a half cup or so of beef broth. Turn down the heat, cover, and let simmer for perhaps twenty minutes, watching that it doesn’t evaporate and burn. Finally, stir a teaspoon of cornstarch in a little cold water and add to the onions, stirring as the sauce thickens.
Place then bangers atop the mashed potatoes and drench with the savory caramelized onion sauce. Don’t be stingy! Buttered peas are the common side dish.
For verisimilitude, serve at a small table near a wood or coal fire (optional).
And, of course, pour a pint of good British ale…
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