In British cuisine, a faggot is—quite simply—a large meatball. Faggots essentially are an old-fashioned British food and one that has sadly fallen out of favor in recent years, though they are seeing something of a revival. (However, in Birmingham and the area around Midlands—which is considered the home of faggots—they have always been a very popular food.) With their revival, they are now being eaten all over the U.K.
History of Faggots
Faggots were created as a dish that would utilize several parts of the animal—traditionally pig—including the heart, liver, and belly. The ball of ground pork originated in Western England as cheap food for the common country folk, and the first record of the dish in print was in 1851. Faggots became a typical meal for the farmers who then worked in the mines as that industry progressed. The popularity of faggots grew during the food rationing in World War II when the use of offal (internal organs and intestines of butchered animals) and leftover meats was not limited while cuts of meat were scarce.
With the resurgence of "nose-to-tail" eating, the British delicacy has shown itself once again. Waitrose, the British supermarket chain, began selling pre-made beef faggots in 2014, mostly the frozen, mass-produced Mr. Brain's brand made of liver and onions and sold in a sauce. These are, however, very different from the traditional faggots as they have a smoother texture and contain more water.
How Faggots Are Made
Traditionally, faggots are made from offal, usually pork, and from the bits of the animal that are generally discarded (the heart and the liver), making faggots a cheap and nutritious dish. The meats are then mixed with a selection of spices and herbs—most commonly mace, allspice, sage, and parsley—and sometimes breadcrumbs (this depends on which part of Britain they come from) and onion. The meat mixture is then rolled into large balls and wrapped in caul fat (the lacy, transparent membrane found in a pig's stomach) to hold them together. It is this use of caul fat which makes the faggot unique.
The traditional way to serve faggots is with peas, commonly mushy peas, often accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes and a good dollop of onion gravy. Classic British faggots are easy to make, as the method is similar to meatballs—but faggots need a longer cooking time, simply because of the offal. You can also wrap the ball of meat in bacon instead of caul fat, or use beef instead of pork.
Other Meanings for Faggots
The word faggot has a few different definitions. (Unfortunately, the word faggot is also a derogatory term for homosexual men.) Its original meaning is a bundle of sticks tied with a piece of string, which leads to the origin of the word faggot when used in food, as a meat faggot is a bundle of meats and offal wrapped in caul fat. However, sometimes faggots may be referred to as rissoles, meatballs, or Frikadelle, which are all incorrect. None of these are made the same way as a traditional faggot. In some parts of England, faggots are known as "ducks" or "savory ducks."