I am a genius. I am a monster.
This is what the voices of the internet have told me this past 24 hours after I posted on Twitter and Instagram my method for achieving barbecue perfection for the Australian icon that is the sausage in bread.
The idea is simple. A half-loaf of bread sliced lengthways instead of sideways produces a perfectly sausage-sized slice of bread to act as a substrate for sausage, onion and tomato sauce.
Some loved it. Some hated it. One news outlet said I had divided a nation. Is this online outrage culture at its worst? Probably not.
Controversy is to be expected when addressing an issue as culturally defining as a national dish. Even more when you try to improve it, such is the yoke of progress.
If you’re reading this outside Australia and feeling confused, here are a few FAQs to bring you up to speed.
What on earth is a sausage in bread?
It’s a sausage, in a slice of bread. Usually with tomato sauce and barbecued onions.
Is your national dish really called ‘sausage in bread’?
Most of us call it that. Others call it (incorrectly) a “sausage sandwich”. Here’s a geographic distribution where you can see precisely which parts of the country get it wrong. However, we all agree that around election time the name changes to “democracy sausage”, like how ham just gets called “ham” all year round until December, when we call it “Christmas ham”.
What does this have to do with democracy?
Everything. In some countries they dye people’s fingers after they’ve voted, but if you want to know if someone has voted in Australia you just look down and see if they have a onion and sauce stain on their shoe.
Is this real? Or is it like the drop bears thing?
It’s real. I refer you to Tourism Australia’s current “Matesong” campaign referencing the sausage in bread as part of the Australian cultural canon. It’s in a song so it has to be true. Also, drop bears are real.
How is this controversial? Are you unwell?
We are perfectly fine but we take this very seriously. Our largest hardware store chain came under fire just last year for trying to force people to put the onions under the sausage. In Western Australia they make these with hot dog buns and, if the rest of the country ever found out about it, that would likely start a civil war.
“But wait,” I hear Australia ask. “Go back a second … you’re saying a sausage in bread is our national dish?”
Yes, fellow Australians, it is. The thing with a national dish is you don’t really get to choose it. It’s just what it is. It’s just who we are.
We could try to make an argument for our national dish to be a parmy, pavlova or roast chook if we were trying to project an air of sophistication, but when the entire nation is chomping down sausages in bread every weekend at their local hardware store, backyard barbecue or polling station, there is no resiling from it.
We shouldn’t be ashamed either. I’m quite proud that our national dish costs about 20c to make yourself, or $2 to charity if you want to buy one. I’m proud it can be made by anyone with basic motor skills and enjoyed by all (even vegans, who aren’t really known for enjoying much of anything).
So, finally to the issue at hand. Let’s break down why it works.
The conventional wisdom of placing a sausage diagonally spanning the corners of an ordinary piece of bread is fine but it’s not without its problems.
In that orientation, the central third of the sausage is flanked by three-quarters of the volume of the slice of bread, and the onion and sauce is similarly concentrated in the centre by necessity. The bread, sauce and onion approaches zero as it moves outwards to the ends of the sausage.
A slightly longer piece of bread achieved by slicing the bread lengthways allows the bread to wrap the sausage at a consistent pitch, as well as facilitating more onion and sauce to be added to the sausage more evenly.
Further, the consistent crust provides better structural integrity for the sausage in bread, and onions and sauce can be added either before or after the sausage without risk of spillage.
Detractors of the long bread focus on what they call the “ratio” of bread to sausage, as if there is some gold standard which requires each bite to have an inconsistent amount of bread, onion and sauce. They see a strange nobility in a bread orientation that is barely fit for purpose, spilling onions and sauce on to the ground where they create a hazard for small children and unsuspecting hardware shoppers.
These issues are apparent to all but the Luddites have no stomach to fix them. They clutch their pearls at the very thought of progress, whining “But that’s how it’s always been done!”
What kind of nation are we if we refuse to recognise our flaws? Or worse, recognise them but refuse to fix them.
We have gazed into the abyss long enough, and the abyss is starting to gaze back into us.
While you’re here, here are a few other barbecue tips for your summer.
• Apply the 20/20 rule to barbecuing. It will take about 20 minutes to heat up a cast iron hotplate appropriately, and running the barbecue for 20 minutes after you’ve finished cooking will burn off residue so that the barbecue can just be cleaned with a few strokes of a wire brush. No need to mess about with scrubbing, detergents or other cleaning methods.
• Heating a barbecue well before you start cooking will give much better results. Heated cast iron emits infra-red heat radiation which will cook whatever you’re barbecuing much faster and more thoroughly.
• Resting meat after cooking is vital for keeping it juicy and tender. Rest meat for half the time it took to cook it. If you’re worried about the meat cooling too much as it rests, you can just flash it back on the barbecue for a few seconds on each side after it’s rested.
• Don’t listen to anyone who tells you a steak should be cooked for a certain number of minutes on each side. There is far too much variation for that to be accurate. My advice is to press the steak with your finger or tongs while imagining you’re cutting into the steak with a knife. When the resistance of the steak feels right, you can take it off the heat.