|toad-in-the-hole with rich onion and mushroom gravy|
It is probably best not to think about how the Toad got its name. I think it is most likely that someone looked at the smooth shiny sausages nestling in crisp but pillowy batter and thought it reminded them of something . . . it doesn't really bear considering that a few bucolic peasants might have skipped around the English countryside espying a few warty amphibians squatting in their hidey-holes and thinking to themselves "now I know what to call today's supper" . . .
In Norfolk, the Toad-in-the-hole is known as Pudding-pye-doll, a name whose origins are equally obscure. What is less arcane is that a variation of this dish has been popular since the eighteenth century, although early versions were also made with lambs' kidneys, chops and leftover chunks of cooked meat.
Of Toad-in-the-hole, Jane Grigson writes in English Food that it has come to be associated with the meanest of dishes and that done well "it makes an excellent family dish which no one has any call to feel ashamed of". I don't think I have felt ashamed of anything I have eaten. I feel no shame at one of my favourite snacks of salt 'n'vinegar chipsticks with taramasalata - so if that doesn't lead me to contrition I suspect nothing will. What does shame me is that I have never been very good at cooking Toad-in-the-hole - my sausage and pudding batter is usually far too soggy. I knew I was doing something wrong!
Yorkshire pudding batter is a minor miracle of cooking; it has the ability to make something small and insignificant into something deliciously substantial. The secret is in not over mixing the batter and ensuring that your cooking fat is smoking hot.
For best results, use a quality butcher's sausage (with a good combination of meat, herbs and spices) and robustly flavoured gravy. I used Lincolnshire sausages (from outdoor bread, rare breed pigs . . . you get the picture) with a high meat content (over 80% pork) and a nice rough and open texture and which were flavoured with good things from sage, rosemary and thyme to coriander, nutmeg and pepper. The base of my gravy came from last Sunday's roast chicken. Perfect.
Skill level: Easy
1 tbsp olive oil
8 x quality sausages
1 x large onion, cut into eighths
fresh herb leaves (such as thyme or sage - whatever goes well with your sausages)
yorkshire pudding batter
180g plain flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 x eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
1 x English onion, finely chopped
2 x garlic cloves, finely chopped
100g chestnut mushrooms, quartered and finely sliced
400ml stock or consommé (I used leftover gravy from the Sunday roast)
1 x bay leaf
1 x sprig of fresh thyme
a splash of brandy or wine
- Preheat the oven to 200C / Gas Mark 6.
- Add a tablespoon of oil to a deep metal roasting pan and preheat in the oven for a couple of minutes. (Don't use a china or glass dish as the batter won't rise as well. You need the metal to better conduct the heat).
- Add the sausages. Roll them in the oil to coat and return to the oven for 10 minutes, turning occasionally until lightly browned.
- While the sausages are cooking, make the batter. Put the flour, salt and pepper into a bowl.
- Create a well in the flour and break in the eggs. Break the surface of the eggs.Add a splash of milk and begin to draw in the flour to combine. Add more of the milk and draw in more of the dry ingredients until all has been combined. Making the batter this way means that the texture of the cooked batter will be less tough.
- Give the batter a final quick whisk to ensure all of the ingredients have combined, then set aside.
- Remove the sausages from the oven and turn the oven heat up to 230C / Gas Mark 8 and return the empty pan to the oven. You may need to add a touch more oil, but the chances are some of the fat from the sausages will have escaped into the pan. Heat the pan for another 10 minutes, until the oil is smoking hot.
- Add the sausages and pour over the batter.
- Scatter over the onions and fresh herbs. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the batter has risen and browned.
- While the toad is in the oven, make the gravy by frying the onions in the butter and oil until beginning to soften (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and continue to fry for another 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the chopped mushrooms and a sprinkling of salt. Stir to combine. Put a lid on the pan and cook for about 8 minutes, until the mushrooms have completely softened.
- Add the stock, herbs and brandy. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes before serving.
- A vegetarian version can be made with veggie sausages too . . . I am rather fond of Linda McCartney vegetarian sausages for both flavour and texture.
- Add a teaspoon of dried mustard powder to the batter for extra flavour or coat the sausages in Dijon mustard before pouring over the batter.
- Reserve 1 to 2 tablespoons of the batter and add to the gravy to thicken it.
- Use last Sunday's gravy from the roast as a basis for today's gravy!