Faggots are a traditional British dish similar to meat balls but using more offal. They are a healthy, hearty, cheap dish that was popular from the 19th century right up until the end of rationing after the second world war. It has slowly fallen out of fashion since, partly due to the public’s squemishness over offal and no doubt due to its name’s other, offensive use. Considered to be one of the first takeaway foods in this country, these meatballs were served hot in gravy with peas from butchers shops.
In old English, ‘faggot’ referred to a bundle of sticks tied together with string for firewood. In culinary terms it refers to the English version of a bouquet garni (a bunch of herbs tied together with string.) Its clear then, that this dish became known as a faggot of meat. Tied together, not with string but with caul fat, a fatty membrane that surrounds the stomach of pigs, cattle and sheep. Faggot simply means parcel.
In 2004, Ofcom banned a commercial for Somerfield, in which a man rejects his wife’s suggested dinner saying “I’ve got nothing against faggots, I just don’t fancy them.” It was found to have breached advertising codes. The telegraph article on the story is here
In November 2013, Facebook users were blocked for using the word, in its culinary sense, on the website. Facebook said that the word had been “misinterpreted.”
All very sad.
I hope I am not banned from wordpress for this recipe! Its a shame that the offensive American-English slang has tarnished this great dish’s name. Maybe we should re-brand it as ‘Savoury Ducks’ as they are known in Yorkshire. Unfortunately that might put us in deep water under the trades description act.
Now that ‘nose to tail eating’ is back in fashion and my generation is far more adventurous with food, I hope that faggots makes a comeback. It really is an ideal winter dish full of wholesome ingredients and using parts of the animal that are often overlooked, It also freezes extremely well so make up a large batch and you have an easy meal that will stop you from ordering take away on those cold, dark nights.
Caul fat is not easy to get hold of. You can order it online and some good butchers do stock it but not many. If you do find it hard to get, the recipe works perfectly well without it. The caul is there to keep the meat from drying out so as long as you don’t overcook it you will be fine.
Makes 8-10 portions
- 50g butter
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- handful fresh sage leaves
- 1tsp dried sage
- 2 tsp ground mace
- 3 tsp ground pepper
- 2 tbsp fine salt
- 1.5kg minced pork belly*
- 1kg minced pork shoulder*
- 4 lamb’s kidneys trimmed and finely chopped*
- 500g pork or lambs liver, finely chopped*
- 300g breadcrumbs made from stale bread
- 400g caulfat (optional)
*You can play around with the meat quantities as much as you like, substitute more offal for pork shoulder etc. There is no hard and fast rule. You can add heart too if you like!
- 2 large onions, finely sliced
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 4 tbsp plain flour
- 2 litres beef stock
- salt and black pepper
Melt butter and sweat the onion for 10 minutes, until very soft. Add the onion to all the other ingredients (except the caul if using) in a big bowl, mix together with your hands until really well combined. Fry a little of the raw mixture to see how it tastes, correct the seasoning accordingly.
Open up the caul and spread over a clean worksurface. Take a fistful of the mixture and place it on the caul. Fold the caul over the top of the meatball and trim so it is nicely enveloped. Repeat until all are done.
Heat the oven to its highest temp, place all of the faggots in a deep roasting tray and roast for 30-40 minutes, turning once until nicely browned, drain away any excess fat released during cooking. Meanwhile make the gravy.
Fry the onions a little oil over a medium high heat for 20 minutes or so until nicely browned. Add the sugar and vinegar to the pan cook until the vinegar has evaporated and the sugar has caremalised. Turn the heat right down then sprinkle in the flour and cook gently, stirring, for a minute or so. Add the beef stock, a ladle at a time, stirring constantly, until all is incorporated and you have a nice thin gravy. Season lightly.
After 30-40 minutes in the oven, the faggots should be nicely browned. Add the gravy so that the liquid comes two thirds up the sides of the faggots. Drop the oven heat to 160 and cook uncovered for 1 hour. Check every 20 minutes or so, turn the faggots if they are getting too brown.
Serve with good mash, peas and hot English mustard.