How Bangers And Mash Got Its Explosive Name

Images of iconic British pubs include glossy dark wood, cozy lighting, a mug of dark beer, old-timey script on the sign, and of course, warm, comforting, and filling pub food favorites. Bangers and mash is one such plate. It is a simple dish that includes sausages (bangers), mash (mashed potatoes), brown onion gravy, and often a side of peas (not usually mushy, as with fish and chips) — but why isn't it called "sausages and potatoes" instead?

The term "bangers" emerged around the Great War, as the British call WWI. To combat the food shortages and stretch meat as much as possible, fillers such as extra water were incorporated into the mince for sausages. When the sausages were cooked, the water content would cause them to explode with a bang as the casing burst thanks to all that extra steam. "Mashed potatoes" is often shortened to "mash" in British English, so the name bangers and mash has stuck around.

If you are trying to prevent an explosive situation when making bangers and mash yourself, you need to make sure that the water inside the sausage casing doesn't get too hot. Cook the sausages briefly over high heat to get a nice sear, but reduce the heat to medium to finish cooking them at a more moderate temperature. Of course, the stringent food shortages of the World Wars are behind us, and sausages don't have as much water these days, so they're less likely to explode on you in general. 

What are bangers actually made out of?

There are tons of varieties of sausage, and different pubs and home cooks will use sausages made with various cuts, fillers, and seasonings. Fresh Cumberland pork sausage, a protected food coming only from the northwestern English county of Cumbria (think the Lake District), is a typical choice. They are somewhat spicy and seasoned with a blend of white pepper, black pepper, salt, thyme, sage, nutmeg, mace, and cayenne.

The most classic version of a bangers and mash with onion gravy recipe uses unaged pork sausages, but lamb, beef, or veal sausages are also options. If you are trying to replicate this pub mainstay at home, any fresh sausage will do the trick. Stay away from smoked sausages for this particular preparation, though. The texture is firmer and dryer than fresh sausages, and the smoky taste overpowers the delicate balance of creamy mashed potatoes and sweet and rich onion gravy that makes bangers and mash so craveable. Add a side of garden peas and a pint, and you'll feel like you're on the rainy, emerald shores of the British Isles.