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.
Interesting! I’d never even heard of them. Also, I wasn’t hungry when I started this post, and now I’d chew off my own arm if it was wrapped in bacon.
And only the British would say “before the War” and assume you know exactly which War they’re talking about. 🙂
I had never heard of these sausages and had to ring my mother to learn more. Her perspective is Edinburgh from the 1930s – 1950s. Chipolata were small pork sausages about the size of your little finger. They were not link sausages. Her family had them occasionally. She had never heard of Kilted Pigs and thinks of Pigs in a Blanket like you, Lisa – sausages wrapped in pastry. I reminded her they are also a breakfast dish – sausages and pancakes.
I see you are teasing me with a flicker of a cracker in the Chipolata image. Hope you got something fun.
Your mother will have to receive extra points in the debate because of her before the war experience.
I am a post-war (WWII) baby and my memory is clear about the chipolata. It is about 6 inches long, half and inch in diameter and is usually served fried (British low class) or grilled (toffee nosed upper class). My local butchers ground pork with salt and pepper and other herbs then used a machine that would push the ground meat mix into a clear skin that was then twisted every 6 inches or so, hence the term “linked”. You bought them by the pound, about 16 “linked” sausages. Pigs in a blanket were called sausage rolls and were either small, cocktail sausages (lazy way) or hand made rolled sausage meat(best way). Now I am hungry. I will have to take a run to the local British food store, blizzard permitting or maybe just have some more Christmas Pudding and Custard.
Thank you Mel for bringing the important element of Class into the discussion.
Chipolata’s, small skinny little sausages, slightly bigger than cocktail sausages but tastier, not a touch on breakfast sausages which were much bigger & either pork/beef, pork or plain beef, great way to start the day specially with black pudding which is a whole different adventure into British meats. All these different types of sausages along with many other types of meats, specially Pork Pies came from the local butchers. About the only time we ever had chipolata’s was at christmas, wrapped in bacon either grilled to start, then baked alongside the turkey, then they were served with the turkey which was fresh bird, either one of our own if any were left, or from one of the local farms where us local kids could get one in payment for for a couple of night’s of turkey plucking.
Sausage rolls, were made before christmas & ate through out the festive season as long as they lasted along with mince pie’s. I in fact got out of bed long enough to make my darling wife her favorite sausage rolls as I at last have found the right mix of American ingredients to make fairly passable ones. The search, baking & tasting that this has involved has taken a few years but now the right amount of sausage mix & the almost correct pastry has contributed to a very tasty English Christmas snack. The search for decent mince meat to make mince pies goes on & as for that disgusting thing called a ‘fruit cake’ you have here in America well, after reading the list of ingredients it contains I can see why it is hated to such a degree. That is nothing like real fruit cake & as Andy has (hopefully) guided you whilst in UK to a real fruit cake, you will now know the difference.
Envy Andy having lamb, was it Welsh?