I can remember trying vegetarian sausages many years ago, during my 'vegetarian' phase, and not really liking them. There's something unique about the humble sausage which necessitates that they contain meat. It doesn't even have to be pork, just some form of meat. In many ways, it's the fat, not the meat, that makes the sausage... depending on recipe, and your mileage may vary ;)
Vegetarian sausages, back in those days, were made from a fairly dry and dense mycoprotein which was packaged as a substitute for anything from chicken to beef, with varying degrees of success. The early attempts at sausages looked, felt and tasted like something you might use to get a log fire started. I steered well clear of them after that.
Cut to earlier this year, out shopping with my girlfriend (who's vegetarian). She pointed out some meat-free Lincolnshire sausages, noting that they were "a bit dry". While I was nonetheless tempted to give them a try - not least because the vegetarian sausages I tried all those years ago weren't made with any particular recipe in mind, let alone the illustrious Lincolnshire recipe - they were not among the products in my basked at the checkout.
That must have stuck with me because, while doing one of my semi-regular spins around my local Iceland, I espied their (very slim) offerings from the Linda McCartney range of meat-free foods and, in particular, the sausages. In the photo, they look fantastic - succulent, well-browned... and tossed in with lots of onions.
And it was only a matter of time before S&M Rodeo tried batting for the other team, so to speak.
Like most Iceland products, these are to be cooked from frozen, yet still only require the same time and temperature as normal sausages, purchased fresh. Moreover, they can be grilled or baked, though baking somehow takes longer, and requires a higher temperature (which reminds me - why do baking instructions always specify a precise temperature, while grilling is either "low", "medium" or "high", when lots of conventional oven/grill combos use the same kind of temperature dial for both?), so I took the usual route of grilling my sausages.
Here's where it gets a bit weird, though. Normal sausages will tend to be packaged in sixes or eights... Linda McCartney sausages are boxed in fives. This is highly irregular, and causes a significant problem in creating the right portion size: Normally, I'd have either three or four sausages - half a pack - but that option wasn't open to me with a five-pack. The package even defines a portion as 2 sausages, but that's the sort of portion my niece gets. No matter how many times I crunched the numbers, no matter which complex formulae I chose, I still came up short...
...So I cooked all five.
What I noticed during the grilling was that these sausages, like their meat-filled cousins, were giving off fat and, yes, the ingredients list vegetable oil. This suggested to me that the dryness issue had been solved, though these sausages are wheat protein-based, rather than mycoprotein, so there's likely a difference anyway.
After about 15 minutes, I served up my five meat-free sausages with a nice portion of mash and, just in case, a small serving of gravy. As it turned out, the gravy wasn't necessary but, as with plain sausages, it was a source of more flavour as opposed to the source of all flavour.
The texture of these things isn't quite what one would expect from a sausage - it kind of reminded me of spring rolls in that, when dipped into the gravy, bits of not-sausagemeat dropped out, needing to be mopped up later. They cut very well, however, and are without the tough, occasionally rubbery skin that can often ruin an otherwise excellent sausage. The flavour isn't particularly sausage-like either or, at least, I couldn't pin down a particular variety they tasted like. As far as the ingredients go, flavourings are listed as containing dextrose (AKA sugar), salt, onion, yeast extract and, just for fun, iron oxide (AKA rust) as the colouring. These sausages also contain what's called 'rusk', which is used as a cheap filler in all kinds of sausages... So... Fairly authentic, even if they don't really taste that much like a proper sausage.
I must admit that I really enjoyed these and, for £1 a box, it's nice to be free from any concerns about meat quality while eating a plateful of sausages. Quantity is certainly a issue, as I'd basically have to buy two boxes to ensure a proper portion each time but, then, at only £1 a box, that's hardly going to be a problem.
STOP PRESS: a brief perusal of the shelves at my local Tesco revealed that, weirdly, 5-packs are an Iceland exclusive. The more widely available 6-packs are vastly more expensive, however. £2.25 at Tesco, £1.89 at Sainsbury's, £1.75 at Waitrose (who, strangely, have an alternate entry on their website, listing as £1.99). This means that's it's more economical to buy two of Iceland's 5-packs than it is to buy from any of the 'big three' alternatives and while Asda are, at this moment (29/1/13), offering 2 for £3, it's still more economical to buy from Iceland, as your £3 there will obtain 15 sausages, versus 12 at Asda... and that's a whole extra portion!)