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Pork of the town

I LOVE a good sausage – who doesn’t, really? So, in honour of British Sausage Week (a noble Week if ever there was one), I decided to pay tribute to the nation’s favourite pork product by going along to Boisdale of Bishopsgate to learn to make sausages with chef Neil Churchill.

Boisdale is big on sausages, having won awards for its recipes and even hosting blind sausage tastings. Despite turning them out in large quantities, the restaurant insists on the artisanal home-made approach, and rightly so.

It is surprisingly rare to find a restaurant that makes its own sausages. Even the likes of Claridges, Arbutus and the Dorchester order theirs from top butchers. But it makes all the difference – the pork, truffle and parsley sausages I made with Churchill were easily the best I’ve had – aromatic, bursting with savour and flavour, enormous and herby. “It’s understandable that most people just buy them in – it’s much easier,” says Churchill. “For me, though, it’s worth the extra effort by miles.”

I find Churchill in the kitchen in front of a tray of gluey minced pink meat. It’s pretty sickly looking. He’s taken 700g of pork belly, the same amount of shoulder and 400g of pork back fat, each ground separately then kneaded together. The meat comes from Aubrey Allen in Warwickshire, whose pork comes from Pig Farmer of the Year Jimmy Butler. The basic ingredients have to be there or else there’s no point: “You need to use the best quality meat you can get,” says Churchill. “Sausages have always been hindered by a reputation of having lots of crap in there. What we do is use good quality prime cuts – that’s absolutely essential.”

Most sausages – including nearly all those sold in packets in the supermarket, no matter how posh or organic – contain some combination of rusk (cereal), sugar and/or flour. Churchill’s do not: they are 80 per cent meat and 20 per cent fat – almost unheard of. Churchill’s advice is to try to find sausages with the highest meat content, wherever you are – and certainly not less than 70 per cent.

Next to the meat sludge are the ingredients that elevate these sausages to their godly status, along with a sausage machine around whose spout we wrap male pig intestine (they’re bigger than females’), which becomes the casing.

First we add a bowl of sweated onion, which has been cooked in garlic, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf and a pint of reduced cask ale, then glazed with honey. Then comes Churchill’s magic mix: sauteed seasonal black mushrooms – trompette de l’amour, mousseron, Pierre de Bleu – and 15g of black truffle, followed by a heaped helping of parsley. Churchill doesn’t add salt and pepper because they draw the moisture out. Ten to 15 kilos of this mixture lasts Boisdale three days.

Now the fun part. We shovel the gruesome mix into the top of the sausage machine and while one of his chefs pumps the mixture through, I tie a knot with the intestinal casing every six inches, sealing the sausage simply by twirling the meat. We make about a dozen large sausages, lay them out on a tray, brush with oil and put under the grill, ten minutes or so on each side.

The result was astounding, and the idea of investing in some DIY sausage equipment deeply tempting. “The scope is endless,” says Churchill, meaning once you’ve got your basic formula down pat, you can do anything. Favourite variations of his include porcini mushroom, leek and sage; smoked raisin, leek and tarragon and pickled blueberry, thyme and honey.

Now the only problem I have is: how on Earth am I going to enjoy a humbler banger ever again?