Dear Mrs. Contessa:
Can I call you Barefoot? No, I won’t. That’s just silly. I’ve never met you, so I’m going to stay formal.
First of all, please don’t take anything that I say here personally. I’m sure you’re a lovely person. Hey, anyone who guest stars on “30 Rock”, my favourite TV show, totally rates in my book. But what I’m about to say might be a bit harsh.
When I saw your recipe for “Bangers & Mustard Mash” in your “How Easy Is That?” cookbook, I thought, “Great. That’s perfect. We eat that all the time, so that truly will be, ‘How Easy Is That?” But it was a TOTAL disaster, and would have been even worse if I had followed your instructions to the letter.
In your introduction, you say that you went to a wedding in London where they served “bangers and mash” at their wedding reception. You said, “It was the best wedding food I’d ever eaten and it had so much style.”
Style? Bangers and mash? Maybe I’ve really gone native, having lived in England now for 14 years, but I don’t see it. Don’t get me wrong, I love bangers and mash. They just don’t seem particularly stylish to me.
Also, I totally understand being beguiled by mustard mash. It seems so exotic for an American. Mashed Potatoes! With Mustard! How interesting! The exact same thing happened to me as I had my first mustard mash when I was reviewing London restaurants for Lonely Planet. I thought they were the Best. Thing. Ever. At the time, I had only been a Londoner for 9 months, so I felt the same as you. But what I didn’t appreciate then, but do now, is that mustard mash is a pretty bog standard mash offering.
Where did things go wrong, Mrs. Contessa? Bangers and mash. Trust me, it couldn’t be easier. I’m willing to bet this is one of the dishes they teach in Home Ec or Food Tech or whatever they call it these days. Let me take a moment to provide a recipe autopsy, perhaps so you can see the error of your ways.
First, you call for fresh veal or chicken sausages to make your bangers. Are you kidding me? No. No. No. If you’re going to call them bangers, they have to be pork sausages. If you want to get fancy, you could always go off-piste and get some flavours, such as Cumberland or a Drings Sausage of the Month. A veal or chicken sausage is not a sausage. I’m sorry. And being brutally frank, it’s difficult to find a veal or chicken sausage here in Merry Old England, so why not get the real thing?
Also, now that we’ve got the type of sausage out of the way, we also need to discuss how you want us to cook them. Sure, it’s fine to put them under the grill/broiler. But frankly, the best way to do it is on a medium-low heat on the hob with a splatter screen over the top of it and cook it slowly and evenly– with occasional turnings– for about 20 minutes. That’s the way you do it.
Finally, we need to talk about the mash, Mrs. Contessa. Given that I ignored your direction on the type of bangers (only pork sausages in this house, thanks) and how to cook them, this is where things really got ugly. You advise your faithful followers to “beat the potatoes with a hand-held mixer.” Really? Can I say again, “Are you kidding me?” Everybody knows the only way to true mash perfection is to get a masher and do it yourself. Again, I disregarded your advice and did it the old fashioned way.
The central problem was the amount of butter and milk and creme fraiche you told me to add. Our beloved mash became a glutenous mess, which was an utter disaster. The way I was taught to make mash by my Irish-American father, who certainly is an expert on all things potato, was to eyeball the amount of butter and milk that you add. If I had done that here, perhaps the potato disaster could have been avoided, but maybe the problem for you is how to explain that method in a recipe, where exact measurements are the order of the day.
“What’s wrong with the mash?” the boys asked as they put the first fork in their mouth. I had to apologise. Sure, as their mother, I’m used to apologising for things. But honestly, I like to avoid that if I can, and having to do it for mash– something that I make with ease all the time– seemed beyond the pale.
For what it’s worth, the roasted cauliflower seemed overly complicated. It was a good idea to roast the cauliflower florets with the garlic, but then you got fancy and decided to add parsley and pine nuts and lemon juice at the end, which was totally unnecessary. Again, it just didn’t work.
So in summary, Mrs. Contessa can I advise you to stick with what you know: good food using healthy ingredients with an American bent. Please leave the bangers and mash to the limeys who love them.
Yours in Food Goodness,