Although the concept of savory chopped meat wrapped in dough exists in every cuisine, in one way or another - fried, baked or boiled - the British have claimed sausage rolls as their own. Or so says my friend Caroline, an expat Briton who considers herself an expert in such things.
What is she cooking for the holidays? I asked. Sausage rolls, she said, tons of them. For Caroline, it's no bother at all to throw together a bit of puff pastry and a batch of sausage meat; she doesn't even have to measure ingredients, so accustomed is she to the routine.
And it is fairly simple. Form the sausage filling into a long log shape and wrap it with dough, slice into pieces, brush with egg wash and bake till golden. If you don't feel up to making puff pastry, any flaky pie dough will do. Or use frozen puff pastry. It's not unheard-of, and the sky won't fall.
Your kitchen will fill with the heavenly scent of commingled butter, pork, sage and spices. When a platter of these savory bundles hits the buffet table, they are instantly devoured. Indeed, it's possible to inhale two or three of them in the midst of an olfactory rush without noticing.
Sausage rolls, a British holiday staple, are prepared in New York, Dec. 16, 2014. The dish originated in the Dec. 26 tradition of Boxing Day, when servants were given the day off and upper-class families had to fend for themselves.
Given the chance, I like to let them cool, for I find sausage rolls taste best at room temperature. That way they seem more like little meat pies - very British. In Britain, sausage rolls make an appearance on Christmas Eve, on Christmas Day or on Dec. 26, Boxing Day, the traditional servants' day off. On Boxing Day, upper-class families had to fend for themselves and subsist on leftovers. Now, it is a bonus secular holiday but still dedicated to leisurely consumption of leftovers.
While most of the nibbling may be confined to cold turkey and fruitcake, Caroline says that sausage rolls, freshly baked or briefly reheated to crisp the pastry, are a necessity. Yankee cooks ought to emulate this tradition. They are by far the best pigs in a blanket going, any time of year.
Boxing Day Sausage Rolls
Time: 2 hours
For the pastry (see note):
2 cups/250 grams all-purpose flour, more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons/50 grams pork lard
4 ounces/113 grams cold unsalted butter (1 stick), cut in 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup/118 milliliters ice water
For the sausage filling:
2 pounds/900 grams pork shoulder, not too lean, ground coarse
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon mace
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
2 tablespoons chopped sage
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
1. Make the pastry: Put flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Work in lard with fingertips until completely absorbed. Add butter cubes and ice water and mix with a wooden spoon to form a sticky dough. Dust dough with flour and pat into a rough square about 1 inch thick. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
2. Make the sausage filling: Put pork in a mixing bowl. Add salt, pepper, cayenne, coriander, nutmeg, mace, thyme, sage and parsley. Working quickly with wet hands, incorporate seasoning evenly. Divide mixture into 4 equal pieces (1/2 pound each) and roll each piece into a 9-inch sausage length. Cover and refrigerate.
3. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll pastry into a rectangle 9 inches by 24 inches. Cut rectangle in half lengthwise and crosswise to form four rectangles 4 1/2 inches by 9 inches. Lay one sausage in the center of each rectangle and moisten one of the long edges with a bit of water. Wrap dough around sausage and press edges together to make a log. With the seam side down, cut each log into 6 pieces.
4. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Arrange 12 pieces on each sheet and brush each piece well with egg wash. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until pastry is crisp and golden and sausage is cooked. Cool for 5 minutes before serving, or serve at room temperature.
Note: You may substitute 1 pound store-bought, frozen all-butter puff pastry for the homemade pastry here. Thaw completely before using.
Yield: 24 sausage rolls
And to Drink ...
Sausage rolls are pub grub essentially, so why not seasonally appropriate bubbles, especially if they follow a theme? English sparkling wines, made in the Champagne mode, can be superb, although they are hard to find this side of the Atlantic. Champagne itself would be great, as would any other dry sparkling wines, whether American versions, good cava, the various crémants from all corners of France, sekt from Germany and Austria or Italian spumantes. Dry Lambrusco, a red sparkling wine from Emilia-Romagna, would be delicious. If you prefer still wines, almost any red of high quality and low pretension would go well. And if you really want to follow the pub grub theme, beer would be a terrific choice, especially English-style ales like extra special bitter, brown, porter and restrained India pale ales.
- ERIC ASIMOV
© 2014 New York Times News Service