Guest post by Andy Keet, Maggy’s husband.
I’m an Earl Grey drinking, crustless cucumber sandwich eating, pass the Port and Stilton to your left, Brit. True to the stereotype, I’d happily eat some instance of our national dish, Indian curry, at any opportunity, but the drizzly New York weather of the past few weeks has made me homesick for my favorite slice of English culinary heritage, Toad in the Hole.
Nobody really knows how it got the name. Starving serfs from a failed feudal society forced to wrap toads in batter before cooking to protect the meat from the fire? Or is it the indentation left by the sausage in the batter which looks like the warm mud bed left by a toad after a heavy rain? Probably just a name some inebriated heir to the throne came up with that got a few nervous laughs from the court and stuck. What’s certain is that it’s been a staple English meal for generations. It’s cheap and cheerful: sausages (Cumberland or Lincolnshire, not Italian) cooked in a blanket of batter, or Yorkshire Pudding, swimming in rich, onion gravy (with a spoonful of Marmite to boost the flavor – thanks Nanny). Served with mashed potato and steamed veg, it’s nourishing, warming and comforting.
Smells are the strongest triggers for our memories. Coming home to the apartment when Maggy had this finishing in the oven, I was once again walking though the door of my childhood home after a bike ride by the canal with my brother, limping through the same door as a teenager after three days of camping at a music festival, falling into a cavernous red sofa after handing in a last-minute university assignment. Ah, Toad’s in the Hole, all’s right with the world.
Of course the world doesn’t think much of English food. But next the time the family are rained in with an extra layer on for warmth, or whenever life is beastly and you feel vaguely like a starving serf from a failed feudal society, it’s British cuisine to the rescue: Toad in the Hole, mate.
Toad in the Hole
Serves 2 to 4
Serve Toad in the Hole with mashed potatoes, greens beans and maybe a green salad if you’re feeling a little guilty! To double the recipe for 4 people, leave the batter ingredients the same, double the sausages, rosemary, and oil and bake it in a 13- by 9-inch pan.
1-1/4 cups milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/4 cup sunflower or canola oil
8 good-quality Cumberland or Lincolnshire sausages (but 4 Italian sausages work too – just don’t tell Andy we said it was OK and please don’t tell him it was Italian sausages in the photo)
2 to 3 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 tablespoons butter
2 large red onions, peeled and sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
Adjust oven racks to middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 475 degrees F. Mix batter ingredients; set aside.
Pour oil into an 8-inch baking pan and place on middle oven rack, setting a baking sheet on lower-middle rack to catch any oil that may overflow during baking. When the oil is very hot, add sausages. Bake until lightly golden, 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and carefully pour batter over the sausages, which will bubble and possibly even spit a little. Throw in a couple of sprigs of rosemary and return to the oven. Continue to bake without opening oven door (Yorkshire puddings can be a bit temperamental when rising) for at least 20 minutes. When golden and crisp, remove from oven.
For the gravy, heat butter in a large skillet over a medium heat. Add onions and garlic; sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar (and a little thyme or rosemary if you like); cook until reduced by half. Add broth; simmer to blend flavors and reduce to gravy consistency, about 5 minutes. If you’re English and can get Marmite, add a tablespoon at this point. If you’re not English, try to get your hands on some of this stuff – I tell you, it’s gold and makes gravy infinitely richer and more flavorful.
Thanks to Jamie Oliver whose recipe I adapted for this post.
Maggy Keet, and sometimes her husband Andy Keet, blogs with her mother and sister at Three Many Cooks.
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