She turns to me, soft and warm on this bright Sunday morning, and whispers in my ear–deep, sultry. ‘I don’t suppose we have any sausages in the freezer you could defrost? It’s just that we’ve got that squishy bread, and it’s been forever since I had a sausage sarnie…’
Pillow-talk in the Wickings household. Completely understandable, on a day when the smell of grilling meat is an obvious counterpoint to the sunshine of this April day. Breakfast is important, and a sausage sarnie under blue skies in the garden suddenly sounds like a very good idea.
It’s about the details, of course. The porky lovelies are cooked low and slow (and I mean slow–half an hour at least to develop the right level of crust, and for all the god’s sakes, don’t prick ‘em). They go in my favourite cast-iron skillet, a piece of Hairy Biker merchandise picked up for a pittance in a garden centre years ago. Heavy as hell, and seasoned with the baked-on grease of a thousand meals, it will last for decades if looked after with care. I never wash it. A quick rinse with warm water and a swipe with a scourer does the job. The surface of the pan is blackly translucent, and nothing ever sticks. It lives out on the hot-plate, always ready for the next meal.
The thing about a really good sausage sandwich is the counterpoint–good sausages, cheap and squishy supermarket loaf. I bake my own bread, and can go a decent approximation of a brick of Mother’s Pride, given the time. But if I’m honest with myself, the perfect sausage sandwich needs balance that only comes from the transposition of the two key ingredients. The crunch of the crisp surface of the banger and the soft, juicy meat, soaked up by the spongy bread. Heaven. Slightly too much butter, of course. There should always be the danger of the whole structure soggily falling apart.
Sauce on your sausage? It’s an important question that I put to Clare as she pads out to lay the table. ‘Brown or red?’ When I was a picky kid, the very thought of ketchup or HP on my sarnie would have been anathema. I went through a period of liking mayo, maybe a little mustard. I know, don’t judge me. I was young. My tastebuds took a while to bed in.
These days I like the punchy combo of exotic umami that comes from the meeting of sweet dates, sour tamarind, molasses and spices. A condiment that should have a noble, poetic name. Maharajah’s Delight. Royal Spice. With typical English understatement, we just call it brown sauce. I pep it up with a little Sriracha. The vinegary bite just lifts the whole experience.
In an epiphanic moment, while freezer-digging for sausages, I come across a bag of hash browns. These craggy, savoury pucks of bliss are a joy to me, and turn a sandwich into a meal. I ask Clare if she wants any. ‘No, too much.’ I put one in the pan for her anyway, tucking them in amongst the bangers at the halfway point with a splash of oil. I know if I don’t she’ll only decide she wants one of mine, and that’s an argument that no-one needs.
In Australia, they’ll regularly do breakfast on the barbie, and it’s a practice that’s gradually making its way back to the home country. Given a sunny morning, it’s a fine way to ease into the day. You could even throw a thin breakfast steak on to join the bacon and bangers. Definitely a couple of big portobello mushrooms. Hash browns, always. I don’t do eggs, but if you have a grill big enough for a frying pan, you’re all set. It’s a smoky meal to tend, though. Maybe save your morning shower for after breakfast, unless you like the idea of smelling of eau de barbecue all day. For today, though, the skillet is fine, set to a contented sizzle. No need for any more than that.
Breakfast was everything we wanted, and all we hoped for. A simple thing made with care and attention. Not rushed, ready when it was ready. An almost meditative meal, which we ate quietly, smiling at each other.
Sometimes, all you need is a sausage sandwich to put the world to rights.