Absolutely Nothing To Cook : Toad In The Hole by Micki Myers

Can there by anything more evocative of an English autumn than pulling a red hot and steaming tray of toad-in-the-hole (toads-in-the-hole? toads-in-their-holes?) from the oven, and serving them with glossy green peas and a rich onion gravy?

The answer is no. If you said yes, you are wrong and must come to the front of the class and write “toad-in-the-hole is glorious” 100 times on the blackboard.

Toad-in-the-hole was invented in the golden age of British cooking when a harried mother of many children and a hungry husband found nothing much in her pantry except a nice fat fist of sausages and an onion. Some of the screaming bints wanted pancakes; others wanted the sausage. The husband just sat there poking at a hole in his trousers and blowing raspberries at the baby. So she decided to please everyone and combine the two: sausages baked in batter.

At least, that’s how I like to think of it. There has been much speculation over the years as to why this dish bears such a strange name, and I think I have discovered why. When I served it to my own hungry family the other day, I had just pulled the tray from the oven and set it on the stove in order to reach for a butter knife with which to pop each one out of its tin. I turned back to see the sausages bobbing up and down as if they were puppets — yet no-one was touching them. The steam trapped in the batter kept forcing them up and down, so that they popped their heads in and out of their big puffy Yorkshire pudding cases. They looked just exactly like toads appearing and disappearing from their holes! I’ve never actually seen toads doing this, but I’m fairly certain that if they did, it would look just like it.

If you’ve never made Toad-in-the-hole, you must: it’s dead easy. All you have to do is make sure the oven and fat is really piping hot before you pour the batter in.

Toads In Their Holes

(makes 12)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Prepare batter: sift 1.25 cups flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl and crack into it 3 eggs. Pour over this 1 cup of milk and whisk until smooth like heavy cream. Stir in a generous tablespoon of grainy mustard, pepper, and a big handful of snipped chives. Set aside.

Cut four big fat sausages into thirds.

Into each cup of a 12-cup muffin tin pour a scant teaspoon of vegetable oil and let this heat up in the oven. When the oil is hot, stand a piece of sausage on its end in each one, and return to the oven for 4 minutes.

Working quickly, spoon batter into the cups around each sausage and return to the oven for half an hour or so until each one is a huge golden puff. Be sure to leave them while they cook — DO NOT open the oven or they will not rise. Turn on the oven light to appreciate how fabulous they look while they cook.

Onion Gravy

In a heavy-based saucepan, gently sauté a finely diced red onion in a tablespoon of olive oil along with a teaspoon each of dark brown sugar and balsamic vinegar until the onions are a deep brown. Remove onions. melt a big pat of butter in the pan, add 1 tablespoon of flour and cook a bit. Add to this 1.25 cups of beef stock and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and stir until thickened. Return the onions to the pan and gently simmer until ready to use. A nice shot of Madeira towards the end can’t hurt.


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