Living with an Englishman, I’ve gotten used to the strange food rules that seem to govern every meal. If I had Tuppence (if they even still make them) for every time I’ve heard: “Oh, I don’t think you are supposed to serve [whatever] with [whatever]…” What makes it worse is that England is the land of archane, weirdly named foods that can’t possibly be duplicated or even approximated in America. Where it gets even more complicated is when Englishmen themselves can’t agree on a particular food. A prime example is the Chipolata, a sausage that, as far as I can tell, has been mandated as part of Christmas dinner since the Magna Carta. I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate the Chipolata as my husband and British friends are always demanding it be served at any holiday meal. However, no one has been able to come to an agreement on what exactly constitutes a proper chipolata. So it has been impossible to source in California. This Christmas, I determined to solve the mystery once and for all.
Just to set an impartial starting point, the first stop really has to be a Google search. And off the top of the results, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Chipolatas:
a type of fresh sausage, believed to have been created in France and similar to an Italian sausage but usually prepared as a very thin, breakfast sausage-style link, often grilled rather than pan-fried or poached. Chipolatas are normally made from coarse-ground pork seasoned with salt and pepper together with such herbs — according to the particular recipe — as sage, thyme, pimento, and/or nutmeg.
I cross-referenced with a number of cooking sites which seemed to confirm: what makes the Chipolata is that it is coarsely ground fresh pork with herbs and traditionally small and thin (although no exact size was mentioned). This corresponds with my understanding of sausages. It’s the recipe that makes the sausage, not the exact size. So, an Andouille, a Chorizo or a Bratwurst — although they have a traditional size — would still be Andouille, Chorizo or Bratwurst, depending on their ingredients, at any size.
Apparently this does not hold true for the Chipolata. No sooner did I post the above picture of my Brother-in-Law’s Chipolatas on Facebook, than I was flooded by emails and responses telling me that they were NOT, in fact, true Chipolatas. The controversy seemed to center on the size. Leading the opposition was Cousin John, who is not exactly English (although with two British parents) but, as readers of this blog know, is a rabid supporter of traditional foods made with traditional methods.
Then John pronounced the exact mandated size of a Chipolata: “6 inches by .5 inches is the length of two chipolatas end to end”. He has sourced no reference, so this could be The Rule of John for all I know.
As an aside, you’ll notice that both my Brother-in-Law’s Chipolatas and the ones above are wrapped in bacon. This, apparently, is the legal serving method as determined by The Inns of Court. When they are prepared this way, they are known as Pigs in Blankets, which will confuse us Americans who know Pigs in Blankets as small cocktail sausages wrapped in biscuit dough. And speaking of cocktail sausages, another faction of Brits in this controversy is maintaining that sausages under the roughly six-inch size are actually cocktail sausages. Again, the focus seems to be on the size, not the ingredients.
My Brother-in-Law stepped back in and announced that since he was older than Cousin John, and not a stupid American, he was in a much better position to offer the correct definition of a Chipolata as he can remember, as a boy, going down to the butchers in Kent with his Granny and ordering Chipolatas. He added the further stipulation that Chipolatas must be links. That got me thinking about polling people who might remember Chipolatas Before the War, which is always the big dividing line in England between what was good and traditional and what is now crap.
My Mother-in-Law was most helpful. She confirmed that they had to be savory (or savoury as she would have it) and complement turkey and bacon. But she still seemed to be focused on the size. She was in the camp that said a Chipolata was roughly six inches and thin. My Father-in-Law added that whatever my Mother-in-Law said was right.
So I’m sorry to say that this weighty issue of our time has not been definitively answered. What makes a Chipolata? Is it the size or the particular ingredients? Is there a point where a Chipolata, even with the right ingredients, grows or shrinks to the point where it is no longer a Chipolata? I’m calling on all Brit readers to weigh in and solve this burning mystery.
Inquiring Americans want to know.
Additional fun Chipolata fact: the name comes from the French which is derived from the Italian word cipollata which means made with onions. Curiously, this does not refer to the sausage itself, but to an onion/sausage stew that typically features these sausages.
Additional fun Chipolata fact: When Pigs in Blankets (Chipolatas wrapped in bacon) are served in Scotland, they are known as Kilted Pigs. Makes sense.