Ask people around the world what English cuisine is most famous for and many will suggest the traditional English fried breakfast. And of the many components that go to make up the English breakfast, the most iconic is the humble sausage.
In fact the English sausage is something of a super hero across all types of English cuisine. You can find sausages in a variety of foods, including famous toad-in-the-hole, the ubiquitous sausage roll, bangers and mash, and even battered and served with chips.
It is fair to say that England is a nation of sausage eaters, with more than 400 different types of sausage produced in the UK. We consume millions of these delicious meat products each day and over the centuries we’ve even bred varieties of pig specifically for their sausage-making qualities.
Sausages are not unique to England of course. Most European countries have their own sausage traditions. Some make sausages from cheaper cuts of meat, and bulk out the sausage by adding barley, rice, breadcrumbs, rusk or oatmeal, which provides a cost effective but tasty meal .
Other countries and cultures opt for more expensive cuts, and also have strict rules about processing, disapproving of using anything other than pure meat and spices. Over time this has resulted in a sense of national pride in many countries when it comes to their sausages. While Germans are proud of their sausage laws, which date back hundreds of years, and Italy is known as the birthplace of salami, the ‘British banger’ has its own style and tradition.
Sausages are one of the ultimate English comfort foods. For many of us, they were part of childhood and spark memories of happy family barbecues, camp fire food, rainy weekends and big breakfasts. Their versatility and taste has made them a family favourite for generations.
Although the emerging trend of artisan charcuterie has seen the development of some excellent English sausage styles over the last few years, there is no real history or tradition of making dried salami-style sausages here. English sausages are generally either fresh or cooked puddings. The typical English sausage is produced by adding breadcrumbs or rusk to a sausage mixture, which means the English sausage has a softer texture than the German versions.
Traditionally English sausages were linked by hand into bunches, their length determined by the width of the butcher’s hand, and while size variations are now common across the sausage making industry, historically the typical English sausages were thick with 6-8 in a pound.
Although the typical sausage is made from pork and a blend of herbs and spices, the precise mixture can vary widely and there are many closely-guarded recipes that have been passed down through the generations, ensuring that there is a huge variety of sausage throughout the country. So, which is your favourite? Here’s a quick guide to the very best types of English sausage:
In some people’s eyes the most famous of all English sausages is the Cumberland sausage. This has been a local speciality in the traditional county of Cumberland in the north of England for more than 500 years. The Cumberland sausage is distinctive mainly because the meat is chopped instead of being minced, which gives it an extra meaty texture. In fact, this sausage is such a vital part of English cuisine, that it was given Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status back in 2011, to ensure that no cheap imitations are allowed to harm the reputation of this dish.
The other big name in the English sausage world is the Lincolnshire sausage. This is a widely available type of sausage, with a strong and distinctive sage flavour, which helps to separate it from the usually peppery flavour that is common to other regional English sausages. You will sometimes come across Lincolnshire sausages that have been made with thyme and parsley, but in the sausage making world, these are often not considered to be true Lincolnshires. These sausages are also known for their chunky texture, which is the result of a coarse grinding rather than mincing process.
Pork and Leek
Most popular in Wales, the combination of pork and leek has plenty of fans throughout England, where it is widely sold. This is a delightful sausage, which combines the sweetness of leeks and the savoury taste of pork for a unique and memorable flavour.
The Manchester area may be best known for its blood sausage, which is not strictly speaking a sausage in the traditional sense, but the city also boasts another sausage tradition. The Manchester sausage is a distinctive and unusual creation, produced with nutmeg and mace. It has a long history, having been mentioned in a recipe book dated from the early 18th century, and it is assumed that the use of nutmeg was due to the nutmeg trade that flourished in Manchester at that time.
There is no mistaking the saveloy! This is a red, smooth-textured, well-seasoned, smoked sausage, that is roughly comparable to a large hot dog. It has become popular in the North of England in the last century and is found in many fish and chip shops, which sell them battered and deep-fried.
Oxford sausages offer an unusual twist on the traditional sausage recipe, by introducing veal to the mix. The Oxford sausage also usually features a high degree of spice seasoning. There were references to this style of sausage as far back as the early 18th century, and it was widely popularised after being included in the famous 1861 cooking book Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. These days, the Oxford sausage is a mix of veal and pork, seasoned with herbs and lemon, though some recipes favour seasoning with pepper, mace and cloves.
The Newmarket area is well known for its horse racing links, but the town also has a strong reputation as one of England’s most significant sausage regions. The tradition of sausage making in Newmarket may have been related to the tradition of keeping pigs around the stables to dispose of the stable scraps, helping to keep the area clean. The sausage making industry in Newmarket became so successful that today three separate recipes have earned PGI status. There are some similarities between all three of the types, though two use rusk as a filler and one uses bread.
Sausages are usually made with pork, but this doesn’t always have to be case, in fact, there are many fans of the beef sausage in England. Usually deep pink in colour, this form of sausage has a strong meaty flavour, and is also very popular north of the border in Scotland.
The Gloucester or Gloucestershire sausage is notable mainly for the type of meat used to make it, which traditionally comes from the Gloucester Old Spot pig. The county of Gloucester is also famous for its apple orchards and cheese making, and pigs in the area were reputed to eat the by-products of these crops, which was said to boost the flavour of the pork. In fact, one legend has it that the black spots came from falling apples. Whatever the truth of the source of the Gloucester sausage’s flavour, this is one of the most distinctive and popular varieties in England.
London may be best known for its gin and jellied eels, but the capital has also produced a distinctive sausage product. The traditional Marylebone sausage, which is still made from original recipes by some London butchers, is flavoured with mace, sage and ginger, giving it an unusual taste.
Speaking of unusual tastes, one of the strangest of English sausages, popular in the Midlands, is the tomato sausage. Made by adding tomato to the pork, which gives the meat a distinctive reddish orange hue and an unusually sweet taste, this sausage also has a smooth texture and is popular with children and with those who want a less savoury sausage.
While we’re in the Midlands, we need to talk about the faggot. This meat dish is not what some would consider to be a sausage, but technically it is a form of sausage pudding made using all the offal of the pig, which is then flavoured with sage or other herbs. Shaped into a patty, it is usually served baked with onion gravy. This is an acquired taste, but having originated in the Black Country, you can find fans of this remarkable dish all over England.
Finally, a reminder that traditional sausages can come in any shape. The Lorne sausage, which is sometimes also known as square sausage or slicing sausage, is a sausage meat made from either pork, beef or a combination of the two, shaped into a brick and sliced into squares. Lorne sausage, which has a relatively high fat content, is a delicious treat, best enjoyed at breakfast.