Toad in the Hole with red onion gravy and green beans.
Britain abounds with oddly-named dishes: bubble and squeak, jam roly poly, spotted dick, stargazey pie. The king of them all is Toad in the hole, a homely dish of sausages in a type of Yorkshire pudding batter. Toad in the hole was probably created no earlier than the first half of the 18th century, when batter puddings first became popular. The earliest “in the hole” dishes make no mention of frogs: in her 1747 book The Art of Cookery Hannah Glasse includes only a recipe for “pigeon in a hole”. The Oxford English Dictionary's first recorded example of the phrase "toad in the hole" isn't until 1787, though references to a dish that sounds rather like it can be found far earlier - in a diary entry for 1757, for example, the Georgian shopkeeper Thomas Turner notes a dinner of "sausages baked in a batter pudding".
Turner’s bangers are actually rather unusual for the time, as most early recipes for toad in the hole call for any meat that was available, most often beef. Alexis Soyer’s The Modern Housewife (1850) suggests using “any remains of cooked beef, veal, mutton, pork, roasted or boiled, salt or fresh, or game and fowl”, while a few years later Queen Victoria's cook Charles Elme Francatelli recommends buying the cheapest meat available – adding, rather unappetisingly, that cooks should check if they needed to “pare away some tainted part, or perhaps a fly-blow, as this… would tend to impart a bad taste to the whole, and spoil the dish”. (Presumably, he wouldn't have skimped so much for the monarch.)
My version of Toad in the Hole, which combines ideas from Jamie Oliver and Felicity Cloake, is a little way away from these meager beginnings. T in the H is really fall and winter food but I was inspired by a text from my friend Mark who's enjoying a late spring on Fogo Island, and since it happened to be chilly and rainy here I liked the idea of the oven warming up the kitchen. I used mild Italian sausages, courgettes and added more salt than the Brits would call for and some grainy mustard to the batter to deepen the flavour. I also used duck fat for the initial melt and heating of the pan, then added all the sausage drippings to that before pouring in the batter.
Toad in the Hole
4 good quality sausages
4 small courgettes, sliced lengthwise
2 Tbsps duck fat
for the batter:
1 cup flour (i used half white unbleached and half spelt)
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp grainy mustard
for the gravy:
1 large red onion
1 beef bullion cube
1 cup boiling water
1 Tbsp flour
Set the oven to 475 degrees F and position a rack in the centre.
Evenly brown the sausages on medium heat. While they're browning, sear the courgettes sliced-side-down on high heat in another large frying pan. Use a little olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt to encourage them to release some of their juices. Set both the sausages and courgettes aside.
Put the duck fat in a 9x12 heatproof casserole dish and slide the dish into the hot oven. While the pan heats to smoking, make the batter. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer until frothy. Add the milk and flour alternately, then the salt and mustard. Allow the batter to rest for 15 minutes. Bring the pan out and use a spatula to scrape as much fat as possible from the sausage pan into the duck fat. Pour in the rested batter (the hot fat may spit a bit), then place the sausages and courgette halves in the batter. Slide the pan back into the oven and set the time for 30 minutes. Don't open the oven! The key to a high-rise pudding is having a super hot pan and keeping the oven heat as high as possible.
While the toads are baking, make an onion gravy by sautéeing a large diced red onion in a few tsps of butter on medium-low heat. Add some sea salt and 4 tsps or so of good balsamic vinegar. Allow the onions to become melty and translucent. WHile they're cooking, boil some water and unwrap a beef bullion cube. Pour 1 cup of boiling water into a pyrex measuring cup and dissolve the bullion. Sprinkle a little flour into the onions and slowly add the bullion as well as a few shots of tamari.
Just before the toad in the hole comes out of the oven, boil up a big pot of peas or green beans. Butter them and serve with the pudding and a big boat of onion gravy.