'Old school' cooking is an overused phrase and given the connotations that come with it, with all those memories of drafty canteens, congealed beans, grey mash and pink tubes of unknown origin, it is perhaps something to be avoided. But when it comes to Toad in the Hole, we like to think that this nostalgic comfort food can always be cast in a positive light. After all, what is there not to like about a simple plate of bangers, enveloped in a blanket of fluffy batter, that has turned crisp and golden. Especially when drizzled with a meaty, onion gravy afterwards. School always used to get that one right, didn't they? Well, most schools did.
How do you improve then on a classic such as Toad in the Hole? Some might argue that this easy combination should be left well alone but all recipes can do with a little tweak here, a little boost there. So, this is the T&G version of Toad in the Hole. A slightly pimped up and gutsier affair, that will not only bring back memories of scuffed knees and shoes but will also leave you wondering why you left it so long.
It begins, as all good things do, with a decent, well-flavoured sausage (steady at the back there). In this case, we've used our very popular Le Pigs, a Toulouse style sausage made from course ground pork and mixed with fresh herbs and garlic. These sausages then get wrapped in our Cumberland Smoked Streaky Bacon, cured using only salt, unrefined sugars and a dash of saltpetre; before being hung for four weeks to mature. And then to season the batter, a touch of our Spicy Pig Rub has been thrown into the mix, along with some more woody herbs and wedges of red onion. The great thing about the red onion, is that as it cooks, it caramelises and sweetens and acts as an excellent partner to the pork. So, as you can see, this Toad is not your common garden variety.
There are a couple of golden rules to apply here. Make sure that you have a roasting tray or baking dish that is big enough to accommodate everything, leaving gaps for the batter to rise in between. And as with Yorkshire puds, beef dripping should be the weapon of choice here, to get the whole sizzling process off the ground. Also, when it is time to pour that savoury batter into the tray, make sure that the fat is smoking hot. AND when the whole thing is in the oven, do not be tempted to open the door to check on proceedings. That puffed up batter will sink faster than the Titantic.
Which admittedly, took a long time to sink. But you get the picture. Leave it alone.
We haven't gone into great detail about the gravy here, yet it goes without saying that all great gravies start with a good stock. Something like...ooh, something like our Beef Bones Gravy for instance. Kick off with some sliced onions first and soften them completely in a covered pan. Add a splash of sherry vinegar, reduce. Add glass of red wine, reduce. Then add the gravy. And reduce. There you go, we've just done the gravy for you.
Serve with greens or baked beans even, for that 'old school' touch. Don't blame us though, if you feel all bolstered afterwards. With an urge to go out for a runabout in the garden or wanting to knock at your neighbour's door for game of British Bulldog in the street. That is the trick about comfort food. After wolfing it down, you can't help but feel like a kid again.
This recipe serves 4.
- First, heat your oven to 220°C (200°C fan)
- Next, sift the plain flour into a bowl and mix in the Spiced Pig Rub (or pinch of salt, if you don't have any to hand) and the chopped herbs. Crack in the eggs and mix to combine into a thick paste, then add the milk and water and whisk together. Do not over whisk though, you want the batter to resemble the consistency of double cream.
- Cover the bowl with a tea-towel and leave the batter on the side for 30 minutes.
- Whilst the batter is resting, trim the rind off the bacon and wrap a slice around each sausage.
- When you are nearly ready to start cooking, add the dripping to your tray and place into the oven to melt. Leave for five minutes.
- Take the tray back out and place the wrapped sausages in, along with the onion wedges, to begin sizzling and pop the tray back in, so that everything can start browning.
- Now comes the tricky part. After ten minutes, have your bowl of batter to hand and open the oven door. Pull the tray out and pour the batter into all the gaps (the fat should spit) and push back in, closing the door as quickly as you can.
- Bake for 35 minutes, until the batter has risen and become golden brown
- Serve immediately, portioning up generously, along with some of that gravy and your side of choice.