Feb 12

Cheap food we love: bumper edition

FT10 comments • 444 views

Image taken from Channel 4

Together at last

It’s been awhile since we last reported on wonderful things you can eat almost for free but as the Cooking For People Who Don’t blog carnival is on food security, it seemed a good time to revive the series. And as it’s arctic and your correspondent just staggered back from Sainsburys through settling sleet, my own revival happily coincides with some of the best things in life that are cheap.

This entry is sponsored by the letter ‘s’ and could possibly come under the catch-all of ‘stew;’ what I’m actually here to talk to you about, though, are SWEDE and SAUSAGES.

Oh sure, Sausages aren’t always cheap per se- at two 8 packs for a fiver in most supermarkets’ upper-end range they’re no tomato sauce for absolute value extraction but there are few foodstuffs that actually count as widely nutritious and which the very most expensive form of was a £20 pack made of fillet steak and champagne. In fact, there’s realistically no meat to rival them.


At dark times in my life, value-brand sausages are what’s kept me alive. They’re not classy and they shed more oil than an incontinent deep fat fryer but by god they tasted good. Doing a week’s shopping with a five pound note in winter 2009, these (then) 49p wonders were a revelatory treat in my value pasta.

Even if you want to go more upmarket, though, you’d still have to have a pretty substantial brood to not be able to feed an entire table with leftovers for about £3. No mince is that cheap, pork belly would be a mean offering and you’d struggle to get enough mackerel within budget.

The sausage is undoubtedly cheap and although probably not the single healthiest thing you’ve ever eaten, genuinely nutritious. You can make any meat into it, you can even make them involving no meat at all- the wonderful combination of breadcrumbs and some kind of fatty protein, herbs and pepper is consistently delicious. There’s not a lot you can say that for, that’s cheap; I’ve had some rank old chick peas in my time, some dodgy burgers (admitedly, mostly from ~gastronoms~ hanging the meat too long before mincing) and yet never, ever a sausage I didn’t like. Pork ones, beef ones, venison ones, vegan ones, Linda McCartney’s strangely fibrous vegetarian ones, saveloys, frankfurters, chorizo, Bernard Matthews, toulouse, cumberland whirls and those glorious little sweaty cocktail ones you can get as a delicious protein hit, ready-cooked in the cold meats section. Untraceable provenance, unusual colour, found down the back of the freezer, bought from Gregg’s in a moment of hungover bliss and always a mouth-burning, fatty explosion of joy.

Which brings me to the slight controversy of swedes. I don’t mean the desire of some to call them rutabaga, I mean that they perhaps do not have the taste consistency of sausages. The swede, for a basic root vegetable, is a difficult proposition and there’s no doubt that it’s if not an acquired taste, a required skill to make it taste good rather than agedly rooty.

It’s definitely cheap- the canonical offering in any teen narrative where home economics suggests food budgeting but it’s not necessarily all that lovable in many of its forms. For a start, there’s the need to hack into it, which requires specialist tools and a strong arm.

When I lived in a bedsit with few kitchen accoutrements I once managed to peel and slice a swede using a butterknife and sheer desperation that this had to somehow to be turned into dinner but I’m pretty confident the physical effects of this act will haunt me in later life. While I’m sure some industrial-strength peelers exist that can face the 3mm thick armour plating of the turnip. Like squashes, the delicate flesh inside is contained by something best addressed with a meat cleaver.

Unlike squashes, said delicate flesh is also a ball of fleshy, fibrous matter that has been packed so densely as to perplex physics. After you have smashed, hacked and grunted your way in the worst fact of it is that what you have is, undeniably, swede. Due to the aforementioned density, it needs boiling or roasting for longer than most root veg and realistically requires a parboil before frying. Then again, at least it doesn’t need soaking overnight, then boiling for forty minutes before you can do anything with it.

The best way to get your swede is of course to hang around by the pre-prepared vegetables waiting for bag of it to be reduced to 19p; if you’ve got no time for that though, it’s still worth the sweat and tears to prepare the damn thing to curry it. I think swede might be the only root vegetable that (I suspect) would cook well in a tandoori oven and if you haven’t parboiled some, drained it, thrown it back into the pan with a splosh of fat (oil/ghee/butter/whatever) with some fenugreek seeds, chilli and garlic then you are missing out.

Tangy and tough, it holds its own against even the most overwhelming spices; no point in going easy on it, hammer it into the roasting pan with mace and ginger and throw cayenne all over it. It works as an accomplice to buttery potato mash, which can dilute some of the woody flavour but why try and trick it into things rather than using it?

One of the best things about swede is it can take a lot of fat near it without becoming greasy, which may give you an idea of where this is going. The marriage of delicious sausages and delicious swede is the cheap equivalent of a steaming piece of aged venison; flavoursome and warming no matter how cheaply you’ve had to buy the constituent parts.

Alternatively, tis the season for a ruddy enormous stew you imagine you’ll have leftovers on:

Spoiler: there will not be leftovers


  1. 1
    Emma on 5 Feb 2012 #

    I used to do swede purée when weaning Harry – one swede does at least 10 baby purée portions. Unfortunately I can’t stand the taste (school dinner flashbacks, shudder).

    Sausages on the other hand – also a big fan and when we tire of standard cooked bangers i skin’em and make them into meatballs / patties etc. Nom.

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 5 Feb 2012 #

    I’ve never understood the bad rep that swede enjoys.
    I like it mashed with butter, salt and lots of black pepper

  3. 3
    Carsmilesteve on 5 Feb 2012 #

    It’s a turnip…

    (and I don’t see why this is even controversial, what else are NEEPS???)

  4. 4
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 5 Feb 2012 #

    NEEPs are delicious lovely swedes, the neepest of the nips (except in Ireland, where they’re normal = not-very-interesting turnips)

    Caveat: i learned this^^^ fact about Ireland on the internet

  5. 5
    thefatgit on 5 Feb 2012 #

    Swede/turnip mashed with carrot, butter and lots of pepper was and still very much is a necessary Sunday Roast staple in my family. Also it’s a miracle I still have knuckles left from peeling them with a vegetable peeler. I have since learned a peeling technique with a usuba bocho (pronably not the ideal tool to be fair). Swede/turnip is divine as a soup ingredient as well.

  6. 6
    Hazel on 5 Feb 2012 #

    I find a cerated knife is my chum for peeling swede.

    I am actually very keen on mashed swede but ever since I discovered I could curry it I find myself unable to resist. Swede, dill and tarragon also creates a divine herby mash. Mmmmm nom.

    Emma- I had actually never thought of sausage meatballs but will now probably think of nothing else until tomorrow’s dinner.

  7. 7
    Emma on 5 Feb 2012 #

    You can roll them neatly or as one recipe I have says ‘pinch off small nuggets’, fry with fennel, add red wine & tomatoes et voila – serve with pappardelle or similar. Or mashed swede :)

  8. 8
    Hazel on 5 Feb 2012 #

    Carsmile- its a particular type of turnip tho innit? Like a King Edward as opposed to a potato? I have certainly eaten different turnips.

  9. 9
    Hazel on 5 Feb 2012 #

    #7- this sounds legitimately amazing, must pick up some fennel tomorrow.

  10. 10
    Emma on 5 Feb 2012 #

    (seeds not the veg I mean – though if you are inclined to experiment that’s groovy!)

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page