Our national dish should be a verb not a noun, argues Kim Knight.
The pastry was crisp and flaky. Tiny, fatty arrows fell from his mouth and assailed the floor. Sausage roll dandruff on plush and fancy carpet.
He maintained eye contact while chewing and swallowing. When he took a step back I took a step forward, pulled by the tractor beam of his direct gaze, propelled by the rules of small talk at big functions. When more people joined us, the man looked down. Everybody looked down. It was a trap. He had manoeuvred me knee-deep into his pastry crumbs. I swear he smirked.
Sausage rolls are socially fraught. The safest are those served at the office shout - cheap and nasty but structurally sound. The best defy logic. A solid core encased in a flight of buttery fancy. Pragmatism wrapped in poetry. If New Zealanders were canapes, we'd be sausage rolls: a dependably excellent addition to any party, even when we end up on the carpet.
Our culinary identity is tied up in pavlovas and lamb but only a fool would take a roast on a road trip. Seems to me our national dish should be something we eat with one hand while the other is on the steering wheel (or handlebars). It should be something ladies might put on a plate and even vegetarians can subvert with chickpeas and a grated carrot. Not so much a noun as a verb. Think sausage, asparagus and cheese and the one word that truly completes them: roll.
Aotearoa is obsessed with food within food. In other countries, they pair fish with white wine. We put ours with chips (which we then put in sliced white supermarket bread). Consider this recent public statement from former journalist Lachlan Forsyth: "The pinnacle ofKiwi cuisine is a pie sandwich and I will hear no argument to the contrary."
To which someone else on Twitter replied: "An old flatmate makes a pie pie (bought steak and cheese pies inside a large homemade bacon and egg). It would give the pie sandwich a good run I think."
Take a moment to digest that and then ask yourself, if the last meal on Earth was pavlova or an asparagus roll, which would you choose?
Some people say rolls are derivative. That these pillars of asparagus, sausage and cheese are the inevitable, upright evolution of sandwiches and pies. I say pies are just lunch. Save them for your hangover, for it will be the sausage roll that leads to a tequila shot with Sandra from Marketing.
Locally, sausage rolls have been making the papers since at least 1867 when hotel proprietor Mr Cox posted an advertisement in the West Coast Times, informing patrons that, for just one shilling, they could purchase a "Sausage Roll and a Glass of any Generous Stimulant" (see above).
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Folk have always wrapped food within food. Helen Leach, Dunedin-based food historian, points to medieval times:
"You will find that a lot of food items had a pastry coating. These kept the contents free of contamination and, in some cases, the pastry was not eaten - the coating could be held in the consumers' hands without exposing them to the contents ... I suspect that edible food coatings were used in Roman cuisine, if not in the even older civilisations that made flatbreads throughout the Middle East."
When in Rome - or probably Invercargill - have a cheese roll. The toasted white-bread cylinder with the Worcestershire sauce-spiked filling has been traced back to the 1930s by Leach and co-researcher Raelene Inglis. Dubbed "rat traps" by the Truth newspaper, they were popular in tearooms in the 1950s and taken up by home cooks in the 1960s - at least, by those in the South Island.
It's a strange quirk of New Zealand food history that while the cheese roll slowly marched north (making it as far as Whanganui and Taranaki community cookbooks by the 1980s) it appears to have been rarely found in Auckland. One theory? Cheese rolls are excellent dunked into soup. The further south you go, the colder - and soupier - it gets. Roll on winter.
ANNABEL LANGBEIN'S LAMB, ROSEMARY AND APPLE SAUSAGE ROLLS
Ready in 45 mins
Makes 6 big rolls or 12-18 small rolls
400g lean lamb mince
250g coarse sausage meat, such as pork or beef
1 apple, unpeeled, coarsely grated
2 eggs (1 separated)
1 small onion, coarsely grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp chopped parsley leaves
½ tsp chopped rosemary leaves
3 sage leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp fruit chutney or tomato sauce
1 tsp salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
A pinch of chilli flakes
2 sheets of flaky pastry
Preheat oven to 200C and line an oven tray with baking paper. Place the mince and sausage meat in a large bowl with the grated apple, whole egg and egg white, onion, garlic, herbs, chutney or tomato sauce, salt, pepper and chilli. Mix with a large spoon until evenly incorporated.
Place the two pastry sheets on a work surface. Place half the meat mixture on each pastry sheet, forming a mound the length of the pastry about 6cm in from one edge. Roll up the pastry to fully enclose the filling. Cut each roll into 3 slices (or up to 6 slices if you want small sausage rolls) and place on the lined baking tray, seam side down.
Use a sharp knife to slash 2 or 3 lines across the top of each sausage roll to allow the steam to escape. Make a glaze by mixing the egg yolk with 1 Tbsp water. Brush over the pastry.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Check during the last 10 minutes of cooking and if any liquids have come out of the rolls, soak them up with a paper towel so the pastry stays crisp.