What Is Bangers And Mash And The Best Way To Make It
Among the many foods and dishes with unusual names that don’t necessarily tell us what they really are (we’re looking at you, sweetbread, Rocky Mountain oysters, and toad in the hole) is bangers and mash. While many of these mystery plates appear on rankings of unusual or bizarre foods you need to try before you die, bangers and mash is actually a bit more on the ordinary side of the culinary spectrum.
Not nearly as brow-raising as controversial food combinations like spaghetti with ketchup or pickles dipped in chocolate, bangers and mash is a humble pairing devised more as a practical comfort food combination, rather than a creative effort in innovation. And, unlike pizza or a hamburger, a plate of bangers and mash is a comfort food that’s actually good for you, relatively speaking. It’s no superfood, but it’s not junk either, and it’s been feeding families for generations — though not necessarily in your neck of the woods if you grew up in America. If your curiosity has been sufficiently piqued, read on to uncover everything you need to know about what bangers and mash really is, and the best way to make it for yourself.
It’s sausage and mashed potatoes
The name bangers and mash refers to this plate’s two main ingredients, which you may know better as sausages and mashed potatoes. Lest you think you’ve now uncovered the mystery and that’s all there is to know here, recall that nothing is ever that simple and understand that there’s plenty more to learn about this humble dish. Culinary food scientist and founder of Zestful Kitchen, Lauren Grant, told Mashed that the sausages in bangers and mash were originally made with an excess of fillers to stretch meat supply — making it a more affordable ingredient for families — but that today’s sausages remain reasonably affordable even though they’re made with far fewer fillers, and therefore have better flavor too. Grant adds that bangers and mash are an accessible dish for even novice home chefs because the recipe is simple and comprises common ingredients, but more on those specifics to come.
While there are many variations you can make while whipping up your own bangers and mash, Brooklyn chef and food writer Alissa Fitzgerald told Mashed that the succulent meatiness of real pork sausages pairs best with the creamy texture of the potatoes. "Look for raw pork sausage, mild or spicy, that comes in a natural casing for the real snap and texture that will make the meal a hit," she advises.
It’s a British dish
If you’re wondering why this allegedly common meal hasn’t graced your own dinner table throughout your life, then you probably grew up in the U.S., where this combination is far less familiar. Fitzgerald did enjoy this dish in her childhood and even says it was one of her favorites, but that’s likely due to her Irish heritage, where slight variations on bangers and mash remain popular today. "My Mom, though, made this with some suburban American twists like the pork sausage found in the local supermarket and skin-on mashed potatoes," she says.
Grant explains that bangers and mash became a popular British dish during World War I because of its affordability and the ability to stretch sausage with fillers at a time when resources were scarce, but it’s still a popular pub plate today. "Bangers and mash are synonymous with drinking and pubs for the Brits (and the Irish, too). It’s an inexpensive sausage dish that fills up a beer-soaked belly," she explained. So, why aren’t bangers and mash as popular in the U.S.? Grant says not many recipes featuring sausage as a main dish are, and that’s largely due to the fact that high quality, fresh sausages are harder to find in many areas. An average American supermarket typically falls short, and you’d probably have to go to a proper butcher.
It often includes peas
Sausage and mashed potatoes may be the eponymous ingredients of a bangers and mash plate, but they’re definitely not the only components. The traditional accompaniment to bangers and mash is a side of peas, and while Fitzgerald notes that mushy peas are a common British side, especially in the pub scene, this dish uses whole peas (probably because there’s already a mash on the plate). Far from fancy, Grant explains that the peas served with bangers and mash are often simply seasoned with salt and pepper and topped with a pat of butter. "It sounds delicious to me," she says, "but I love peas."
If peas are not your favorite vegetable, you might want to try sprucing them up a bit to add some more flavor to the standard side. Grant suggests adding some freshly chopped dill when cooking your buttery peas, and notes that even a dash of dried dill will work. Fitzgerald says you can kick them up further by cooking them in the sausage fat and adding a quick squeeze of lemon. "The acid plays off nicely with the big round flavors," she continues. As for final touches, she suggests topping your peas with a bit of good salt like Maldon (also from the U.K.) for the perfect finish.
Bangers can be made with beef or lamb
While pork bangers are the most traditional and common, they’re far from the only variety of these special sausages, and you can really change the flavor of your finished dish by simply swapping out pork sausages for one of these alternatives. Both of our experts say that beef and lamb are good options for bangers and mash, but Grant stresses that the quality of the sausage is more important than the animal within. "It’s key to find really good, high-quality fresh sausages that feature no fillers," she says. "Ask your butcher if you aren’t sure." She also advises avoiding low-fat sausages. "They just aren’t nearly as flavorful, and don’t give you enough drippings for a rich gravy," she explains.
If pork isn’t an option for you and you’re trying to decide between beef or lamb bangers, Fitzgerald says availability may be the determining factor for you. "While beef hot dogs are pretty easy to find in the United States, a beef sausage may be more difficult," she says. Conversely, she notes that, "lamb sausages are readily available in most butcher’s sections of local stores, as well as tons of other specialty varieties," so you’re more likely to come across these. If beef is your goal, though, we recommend hunting around for proper beef sausages and not trying to make bangers and mash out of beef hot dogs. A hot dog is not a sausage.
It’s traditionally served with onion gravy
If you were beginning to fear that the mashed potatoes in bangers and mash were going to be served without gravy, you can now rest a bit easier. This gravy isn’t quite the simple brown liquid you might typically pour from your gravy boat, but it’s close. "Onion gravy is very similar to gravies that are made for pot roasts, roasted lamb, Thanksgiving turkey, and even roast chicken," Grant says. "The difference is that onion gravy, not surprisingly, features thin slices of onion." The onions definitely add a new flavor component to the gravy, but Grant says their big benefit is bulking up the gravy so it really smothers the sausage and mashed potatoes.
Fitzgerald explains that, "onions of any sort are browned in a bit of fat and then the browned bits and onions themselves are used to give the sauce a complex flavor and deeper color." She describes the finished taste as similar to a rich pot pie filling, but made with just onion, and says it also helps to tie the occasionally dry ingredients together. If you truly despise onions, you can opt for a simple brown gravy recipe instead, but you’ll be missing out on a key component of true bangers and mash, so give it a go if you’re just on the fence.
It can be served with fried onions
Among the American foods that baffle foreigners, some fried foods often make the list. There’s no denying that we love our fried foods more than we should, and there’s no shortage of creative uses for fryers in the U.S., where everything from deep fried sticks of butter to fried pickles dominate our state fairs and snack menus. If you’re one of these superfans of fried food culture, there’s good news for you: You can top your bangers and mash with fried onions.
Grant says that if you make bangers and mash with crispy fried onions as a substitute for onion gravy, you’ll actually make the dish less heavy than its traditional preparation (bet you didn’t expect that from adding a fried food). "I personally love the idea of crispy fried onions because it adds some much-needed textural contrast to this dish, which can be pretty one-note in regard to texture," she says. A note of caution, though: "Instead of making a gravy, you’d be tasked with frying up thin slices of onion. Pretty simple, but it does require standing over a pan of hot oil." Fitzgerald adds that the amount of oil you’d need in order to fry your onions could be prohibitive for some, and points out that store bought fried onions are a quick way to achieve the flavor and texture without any added work.
They’re called bangers for a fun reason
Calling sausages "bangers" isn’t just a random word choice on the part of the British population. There’s a reason these sausages have been given this name, and it makes perfect sense once you hear it. Emphasis on hearing. In fact, if you’ve been paying close attention and have a decent level of cooking experience, you may already have figured this one out. For the rest of us, here’s a brief history and culinary lesson from our experts.
You may recall Grant’s earlier note to be wary of sausages with excess filler, and lack of quality and flavor aren’t the only reason for this. Fitzgerald tells that WWI-era sausages contained a lot of meat scraps and water to help bind the ground meat together inside of the casings, and that excessive liquid was prone to exploding while cooking. That’s the bang that gave its name to these British sausages and, as Grant explains, while the British sausage industry has largely shaken the extreme levels of liquids and fillers, they’ve never been able to leave the noisy name behind. Most commercial sausages today are unlikely to explode and surprise you with a bang, but Fitzgerald cautions home sausage makers to learn from history and be careful not to overfill sausage meat with too much brine or liquid.
Bangers can be baked or fried
When it comes to cooking your sausages for bangers and mash, you have two options for safely cooking the meat: You can pop them in the oven and bake them, or you can fry them in a pan on the stovetop. If you’re just wanting to go with the most traditional preparation, you’re unfortunately out of luck here, as there is no national consensus on this one. You’ll find a fair share British families who use each method. According to our experts, there are pros and cons to each, and it may just come down to your level of experience in the kitchen.
If you’re a newer chef with less culinary prowess, you may want to opt for the oven baking method for your bangers and mash. Grant says baking is "more hands off and less fussy," which leaves less room to bungle the bangers, and Fitzgerald adds that it creates a regular char and cooks the meat more evenly. Still, Grant prefers the fry method, noting that this is the only way to acquire the delicious drippings that will build your best gravy. Fitzgerald agrees and adds that frying also provides a more well-charred exterior to the sausages, but does note that it can be more difficult for less experienced cooks to know when the sausage is safely cooked all the way through.
The onion gravy takes the most work
It’s not that making an onion gravy is particularly difficult, but making a good one will take a bit more effort than the other parts of your bangers and mash. Still, avoid the temptation to skip it. As Grant says, "any gravy can be a labor of love, but it’s always worth it!" She advises cooking down your thinly sliced sweet onion in the sausage drippings with butter and kosher salt until they begin to brown, then adding clove and minced garlic. After stirring in some flour and adding beef broth, simmer your gravy until it thickens to the point of coating the back of a spoon, then season with salt and pepper.
Fitzgerald adds that you can experiment with other vegetables in the onion family, like leeks, red onion, and classic white onions in addition to sweeter varieties like Vidalia, which all play well together. "Other ingredients like mushrooms or bacon can add depth of flavor as well," she says, but her most critical pointer is to "make sure you pull up all of the delicious brown bits, since that’s where you’ll find most of the flavor." As you’ll recall from above, you’ll only be able to successfully pull off this last tip if you used the stovetop frying method to prepare your bangers.
Use your family favorite mashed potato recipe
No matter where you grew up or who did the cooking in your home, if you ate homemade mashed potatoes, then you are almost guaranteed to be partial to your own family’s recipe. After all, they’re obviously the best mashed potatoes in the world! So, we’re not even going to suggest you try something new here, because we want you to love your first crack at bangers and mash. "The potatoes are the base of this dish," Fitzgerald says, "which means that the type of potato you prefer will be the most successful. Like creamy whipped potatoes? Go for it! Smashed russets? By all means."
Grant’s sentiment is similar: "I always say, ‘the best ingredient or dish is one that you love.’ No matter what us food industry folk tell you to use, at the end of the day all that matters is that you enjoy what you cook. So use your go-to or family favorite mashed potato recipe." If you don’t have a family recipe that you simply can’t live without, Grant recommends starting out with Yukon gold potatoes whipped with loads of butter and cream.
You can jazz it up
Sure, bangers and mash is a traditional British dish with a long legacy of providing a hearty meal without a ton of kitchen complication, but that doesn’t mean you can’t jazz it up. Just about every element can be enhanced, and our experts have scads of suggestions for how to vary your preparation to keep things fresh at your dinner table — no matter how old this dish may be.
Fitzgerald says you might want to explore the sausages at your local butcher even further beyond beef and lamb. "It’s pretty common to find everything from chicken to seafood, depending on what they specialize in at that particular store," she says. She also suggests spicing up your onion gravy with simple additions like fresh herbs, and experimenting with topping your bangers and mash with unique flavors like chopped chives or even some salsa verde. "Try one new ingredient each time and see what tastes the best," she advises. If you can abandon your favorite classic mashed potatoes, Grant recommends flavorful alternatives like a cheesy gouda recipe, or celery root mashed potatoes, which would pair especially well with the onion gravy. Zestful Kitchen offers recipes for both. And speaking of the gravy, this is probably your biggest opportunity for variation. Grant suggests using half beef broth and half Guinness beer, or deglazing your onions with a splash of red wine. You could also add Worcestershire sauce or whole grain mustard to the gravy for a more savory finish.