Our friend Simon (the same Simon that hates tofu) is a man of set habits. Every Friday, he makes toad in the hole for supper. He has been doing this for about fifteen years now, and has developed some strongly held feelings about how the perfect toad is constructed. I quote directly from a very involved post he wrote about doing the Listener crossword a while ago – the toad recipe pops up somewhere in the middle when he gets briefly stuck on 29 across.
“All these celebrity chefs publish recipes for toad-in-the-hole, and they are, without exception, rubbish. Most involve too many eggs, and end up the texture of leather. So, here is the definitive recipe – bear in mind I’ve made this every Friday night for about 15 years, so I know what I’m talking about…
Get a metal baking tin, preferably non-stick. Rectangular is best, about 30cm by 40cm. Put a pound of Tesco’s Finest Pork & Herb sausages in it, along with a large splash of vegetable oil (or a lump of beef dripping if you’re daring.) Put it in the oven at 200 degrees C (180 degrees if fan-assisted) – no need to preheat, just bung it in from cold.
Put 4 oz of cheap plain flour into a glass jug. Add a pinch of salt, and break in an egg. Add about a quarter of a pint of full-fat milk, and whisk to a smooth paste – the best tool is a French whisk, those things that look like a big metal spring. Once you’ve got a smooth paste, add another quarter pint of full fat milk and whisk like mad to get some air into it. Leave to stand for 20 minutes, by which time the sausages should be browning and the fat should be hot.
Rapidly remove the pan from the oven, pour in all the batter, and quickly return to the heat. Leave for about 25-30 minutes, until the pudding has risen and is golden brown. Remove from the tray and serve with lashings of HP Fruity sauce. Vegetables are unnecessary. The quantity above serves one, with a couple of cold sausages left over for breakfast on Saturday.”
I am grudgingly grateful, because Simon’s Yorkshire pudding batter, which forms the ‘hole’ part of a toad in the hole (sausages, for some reason, are the ‘toad’ bit – English food etymology baffles me) is bleedin’ terrific. Simon – your basic proposal is sound, I applaud your use of beef dripping and the batter is, admittedly, fantastic – but HP Fruity? Tesco’s Finest sausages? Vegetables are unnecessary? I made my toad in the hole to Simon’s basic recipe using some sausages from the butcher’s, but stirred a tablespoon of grainy Dijon mustard and a teaspoon of chopped sage into the batter just before pouring it into the tin. I also made an onion gravy to moisten the lovely puffy batter so that I could avoid the HP Fruity, and stir-fried a thinly sliced Savoy cabbage with some lardons of bacon fried until crisp. We found that with the gravy and bacon-spiked cabbage, the amounts above were more than enough for two. (This is not to say we did not clean our plates. Toad in the hole just invites you to overeat.)
Onion gravy is fantastic stuff. It’s a delicious and incredibly savoury way to lubricate those meals that don’t produce much in the way of liquids themselves (try some with a pork chop or over naked, hole-less sausages some time). Just make sure you’ve got some decent stock hanging around. If you don’t have any home-made stock, try Knorr’s concentrated liquid stock in the brown bottles – it’s really pretty good. To make enough for two, you’ll need:
2 large onions
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon beef dripping (or goose fat)
2 teaspoons plain flour
300 ml chicken stock
1 glass white wine
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
Melt the beef dripping in a frying pan and saute the sliced onions with the salt for about half an hour, until they are turning a lovely brown. Sprinkle the flour over and stir well to make sure it’s distributed well around the pan, and pour over the stock, stirring slowly all the time. Pour the wine in and bring to a gentle simmer for five minutes, until the gravy is thickened and the alcohol has burned off. Stir in the soy sauce and serve.
I much prefer to use dark soy for gravy-browning purposes – those browning granules you can buy don’t add anything at all in the way of flavour, where dark soy will give a rich background (which doesn’t taste recognisably Chinese) to your sauce along with its great colour.