Cooking Featured

How sausages conquered the globe!


Sausages are no joke. Jamie Oliver learned that lesson when he rashly included chorizo in a recipe for paella. “WTF, Jamie Oliver?” outraged Spaniards asked the Naked Chef in a Twitterstorm of indignation.

By  Rebecca Earle.

While the much-loved Spanish chorizo – spicy with smoked chilli pepper – is less than 500-years-old, sausages themselves have been around for thousands of years, so they deserve a bit of respect.

Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, composed perhaps 10,000 years ago, describes luscious goat sausages glistening on a grill: “As when a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted …

But what exactly is a sausage? Sausage expert Gary Allen notes that to be a sausage – as opposed to a ham, or some other sort of charcuterie – the meat must be chopped up. Beyond that, anything goes. The chopped-up flesh can be stuffed into a casing, or smoked, or fried, or fermented, or boiled – and still be a sausage.

Sausages emerged independently in many different parts of the world because they are an exceptionally good way of using up small scraps of meat and because they offer a means to preserve perishable flesh from rot and decay. European sausages such as the aforementioned chorizo or the Portuguese linguiça spread around the world from the 16th century, as European traders and explorers ventured ever further beyond their familiar coastlines, taking their sausage predilections with them. You can now find linguiça in India, Angola and Brazil, and chorizo in Mexico, Goa, the Philippines and East Timor.

Around the time that Homer was evoking the delights of grilled goat sausages, cooks in China were elaborating their own versions, from pork, lamb and also from goat. Commercial production using mechanised equipment dates from the 19th century, but the sausage trade goes back much farther. Greek playwright Aristophanes mocked a luckless sausage seller in his satirical play, The Knights.