WHEN I WAS in England recently, everyone seemed to be complaining that things were bad all over. But the food was as good as ever. Not necessarily in hotels and restaurants -- I did not try a single one on this visit -- but in the homes of friends and of my sister-in-law, Marie, where I stayed, in a small country town on the south coast.
These were not fancy dishes. The goodness was in the supreme quality of the basic ingredients -- Scottish Aberdeen Angus beef, Southdown lamb, Tay salmon, English Channel lemon sole and, perhaps above all, the wonderful country-style port sausages I had every morning for breakfast.
In England, country-style means the finished sausage mixture is not pushed into a skin, but is shaped into a small patty that is then fried in a pan. After all, the sausage skin is only a form of packaging, which makes no difference to the taste or texture of the filing. Eliminating the skins saves time and trouble and has some other advantages. You can wrap the individual patties in foil and freeze them for several weeks or months at a time. Then, when you want to eat one, there is no need to defrost it. Just unwrap it, and put it frozen into a hot frying pan. The bouquet of herbs that instantly bursts into the kitchen is enough to drive your hunger up the wall.
Because we are all so familiar with commercial pork sausages (in which, in some cases, up to 50 percent of the mix may be a cereal filler and in which as much as a third of the meat may be fat), these homemade sausages may come as a surprise. There is no filler, whatsoever, the amount of fat is the minimum required for the requisite richness, and the aromatic herbs are of top quality, properly balanced and blended.
Considering how easy they are to make and knowing that my food processor will grind up the pork within a few seconds, I doubt that I will ever again use store-bought pork sausages.
Incidentally, the recipe that follows is quite flexible. After you have tried my balance of herbs and fats, you can make as many variations as you please to suit your own taste. Some minimum fat is always needed in the mixture, if the patties are to brown properly and cook efficiently. The pork mix also can be used, of course, in all recipes requiring stuffings with sausage meats. I have used it, for example, as part of the filling for a turkey.
There is one trick you can try while mixing your first batch. As you are doing the final blending of the herbs, keep a small frying pan hot on the stove, its bottom lightly greased with pork fat. Then, every few minutes as you mix, pull out a small lump of the sausage meat, shape it quickly into a patty the size of a half dollar, and brown it on both sides. Then you can taste it in its cooked form.
This will give you a continuous, running control over the balance of the aromatic herbs. You can also judge whether you have enough fat relative to the lean meat to suit your personal taste. (I use a proportion of 1 pound of fat to 5 pounds of lean pork.) Never add breadcrumbs, cereals or crumbled biscuits, of course. This is exactly what we are trying to get away from. Do it my way the first time, and I think you will agree that this is the supreme version of pork sausage. ENGLISH COUNTRY-STYLE PORK SAUSAGE PATTIES (16 servings) 5 pounds boneless pork fillets or loin, completely lean, ground by butcher or at home 1 pound white pork fat, no rind, ground by butcher or at home 2 to 3 tablespoons coarse crystal or kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper, to taste, but plenty 1tablespoon whole caraway seeds 1/2 cup crumbled dried sage leaves, usually requiring 3 or 4 small packages 2 cups loosley packed, finely chopped parsley leaves, no stalks 2 cups loosely packed green onion, tops finely chopped, bulbs coarsely chopped 2 cups loosely packed, finely chopped watercress leaves, no stalks 1/4 cup each other fresh herbs, chopped, as available, according to season including dill, marjoram, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, or 2 teaspoons each dried, including dried oregano.
Kitchen equipment: Food processor, or meat grinder, if you grind pork and fat at home; very large mixing bowl; wooden spatulas and spoons; measuring cups; large wooden board; aluminum foil.
Grinding and mixing: Grind the lean pork and fat in food processor in batches of about 1 pound each, keeping it all fairly coarse, running the motor about 6 to 8 seconds for each batch, which then goes into large mixing bowl. When it is all in the bowl, sprinkle it with the salt and plenty of pepper. Also sprinkle on caraway seeds, crumbled sage, 2 cups each of chopped parsley, scallions, and watercress, plus all the other chopped fresh or dried herbs, as they are seasonally available.
All these must now be evenly blended into the pork, and I know of no more efficient tool for this purpose than clean fingers. After all, your fingertips tell you, as no spatula or spoon can, where there are lumps still to be broken up, where there are small pockets of herbs still to be spread around. b
Shaping, freezing, cooking, and serving: When everything is evenly blended, transfer the mixture in batches to the wooden board and rope in as many pairs of hands as are available for the shaping into one-portion patties, each tightly wrapped in aluminum foil and deposited in the freezer. Later, when you want to fry one, there is no need to thaw it. Just unwrap it and put it into the ready-hot, lightly greased pan. Your first reward will be the aroma of fresh herbs that will fill the kitchen. Then will come the deep pleasure of the browned, crisp-crusted, almost-perfect pork sausage.
Working notes: There are quite a few other ways in which these pork sausage patties can be served. If a few of them are imbedded in a beanpot -- in a French cassoulet, for example -- during its long, slow baking in the oven, the aromatic flavors of the pork patties will be diffused throughout the pot. You can cover the patties with brioche or short-crust pastry and bake them into English sausage rolls or French saucisse en brioche. You can bury a patty in a small, baked batter pudding for a variation of English toad-in-the-hole. You can use the pork mix to stuff a cabbage in the style of Provence.