The British like to mock what they love best. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the irreverent names they give to favourite foods – think Bubble and Squeak, Spotted Dick, Stargazy Pie, Bangers and Mash or even Faggots. [faggot, n. Brit: a ball of seasoned or chopped liver, baked or fried, OED]
My personal favourite is Toad in the Hole. This epic dish of sausages baked in batter – the same as used for Yorkshire Puddings – is a kind of distant cousin of Pigs in a Blanket. The crucial difference is that the sausages, instead of being tightly swathed in a blanket of pastry are reclining in a delicious duvet of batter, which billows up agreeably around them. A good Toad (as it’s familiarly known) is perfect comfort food for the depths of winter.
The original from my childhood had only sausages, which from memory were a sickly pallid pink, suspiciously straight, very smoothly textured and terminally bland. For a properly tasty Toad, prefer a seriously meaty pork sausage, quite coarsely ground. I like to add bacon chunks too. You could think of it as a way to get the Full English Breakfast, but for brunch or supper and served with chutney and salad.
A couple of hints to help you arrive at the perfect Toad. First off, make the batter a little ahead – an hour is enough to allow the starch molecules in the flour to relax and absorb the milk and water, which gives a lighter result. Secondly, give the bacon and sausages a bit of a fry-up first so they take on a little colour. You can do this in a frying pan or in a roasting pan in the oven – the same one in which you will bake the dish.
Thirdly, use a metal roasting pan, never a ceramic or glass dish, which is the surest way to a soggy Toad. And finally, heat is of the essence. You need to preheat the oven and the roasting pan (with a little fat in it), so that when you pour in the batter it makes a satisfyingly sizzle and starts to set lightly in the bottom, providing a base for the sausages and bacon which will be embraced in the heat of the oven by the billowing batter.
TOAD IN THE HOLE
125ml (½ cup) water
125ml (½ cup) milk
100g (4oz) flour
2 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil
A pinch of salt
Sausages and bacon
300g (10oz) piece of cured or smoked bacon
4 coarse-cut pork sausages, about 350g (12oz)
- Place all the ingredients for the batter in a blender and blend till smooth. Scrape down the sides and blend again. Refrigerate the batter for about one hour.
- Cut rind off the bacon and excise any gristly bits. Slice the bacon thickly and cut each slice in squares.
- Cut the sausages in 2.5cm/1-inch thick slices.
- Put the bacon in a frying pan and fry gently till the fat runs and the bacon begins to take a little colour, turning the slices once. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and tip excess fat into a side dish.
- Add the sausage slices to the pan and fry till lightly colored, turning them until evenly browned.
- Pour about 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat into a roasting pan about 25 x 30cm (10 x 12 inches).
- Heat the oven to 220C (425 F).
- When it is good and hot, put in the roasting pan to heat the bacon fat. Remove pan from the oven and roll the fat around to film the bottom of the pan – add a little more fat if necessary.
- Pour in the batter, add the fried bacon and sausages, distributing them evenly around the pan.
- Return the pan to the oven and bake the Toad for about 30 minutes or until the batter is a beautiful burnished brown and nicely risen.
- Serve with chutney and salad.
[A version of this piece appeared first on Zester Daily.]