Rusk is a kind of biscuit or light bread dough baked twice until it is hard. One key use for rusk is as the cereal ingredient utilized in manufacturing ground meat products especially the great British “banger” sausage. Rusk’s unique characteristics impart the yielding texture and subtle flavor profiles expected of this British staple. There are two types of rusk: yeastless and bread rusk, though the former is more widely used with about 80% market share.
Rusk used in sausage production started in southwest Britain in the 1920’s. Until that point, sausages were often made with stale bread crumbs obtained from the local baker. However, stale bread, though cheap, did have its shortcomings. The variability of the bread led to differences in water absorption as well as uncontrolled bacterial count, leading to accelerated sausage souring and problems with color and shelf life. Rusk solved the issues through its manufacturing process, with its consistency delivering predictable outcomes. It greatly contributes to a desirable finished product texture (without being too meaty or mealy), extended shelf life, an enhanced appearance and overall value.
The Big Bang Theory
Despite the recent surge in popularity, nose to tail eating has actually been around for a long time. The phrase “everything except the squeal” was coined many years earlier at a time when two world wars and the Depression drove consumers to grapple with limited resources.
There are stories of very unscrupulous butchers using sawdust and other nefarious materials from the floors of their shops to “pad out” the meat and make what little there was go even further. More commonly however, butchers would use whatever regional grains were in abundance and a considerable amount of water to extend the product.
Sausages that were made in this way had a tendency to pop when cooked. During World War II British soldiers would put them on shovels over an open fire, and the bursting of their casing in the trenches of northern Europe were rumored to sound like cracks of gunfire. Thus, the British “banger” was born. While this tale may be more fiction than fact, it highlights one unique aspect that defines the banger, although maybe slightly exaggerated.
Once refined, rusk became an essential part of sausage processing. It not only eliminated the exploding sausage by controlling the moisture and fat migration but also helped deliver a more rounded and desirable flavor and texture.
The rusk element doesn’t technically have a protected status, but a sausage without a certain amount of “filler” is not a British banger. Heston Blumenthal seems to agree. In his book and TV show “In Search of Perfection,” Blumenthal sets out to create the perfect banger. At first he hypothesized that a perfect banger would have very high meat content mixed with some seasonings, essentially being a filler-less sausage. However, the initial result was missing the right snap and was strangely “too meaty.” Blumenthal eventually concedes and acknowledges the necessity and importance of incorporating fillers for the perfect banger.
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