Here’s a warm and wintry dish to fit the season. It’s a traditional English dish called, uncomfortably, Toad-in-hole, or in shorthand, but no less odd, Sausage Toad. It’s basically sausage, or other kinds of meat, cooked in a Yorkshire pudding batter and served with onion gravy and vegetables.
According to Alan Davidson’s “The Oxford Companion to Food,” pudding batters were very popular in the early 18th century. One-dish meals are convenient to serve. Cheap cuts of meat, poultry of all kinds including pigeon and organ meat were used, but never, gratefully, toads. It’s unclear where the name came from, but sources that I researched generally attributed the name to the British propensity, like the Chinese, to give food odd names like Bubble and Squeak for mashed potatoes and cabbage, Spotted Dick, a pudding made with flour, sugar, eggs and raisins, and Angels on Horseback, hot hors d’oeuvres made with an oyster wrapped in bacon.
This particular recipe is upscaled by author, restaurant owner, and chef Yotal Ottolenghi. He is very imaginative and has won many awards for his books, restaurants and delis. He often adds a Mediterranean twist to his recipes, probably due to his birth in Jerusalem. Rosemary, in this dish, is native to the Mediterranean and also is commonly found around here in gardens and parks.
Sourdough bread adds to the flavor. The entire dish, including the gravy, is all baked in a very hot oven. I cut the recipe in half and made it in an 8-inch square pan.
2 tablespoon high heat oil like sunflower oil
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 onion, 6 ounces, thinly sliced
2 rosemary sprigs
5 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock
¼ cup pale ale
Salt and pepper
2 large eggs
½ cup milk
1/3 cup pale ale
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
7/8 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 ½ ounces sourdough bread without crusts cut into small cubes – roughly 2 cups
1/3 cup milk
¾ pounds ground pork
2 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
½ onion, grated
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons cooking oil
2 small rosemary sprigs
Heat the oven to 475 degrees. Make the gravy first by putting the oil, butter, onions, rosemary and balsamic vinegar in a medium sized cast iron frying pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, stirring a few times until onions are browed and soft.
Whisk flour, stock and beer in a bowl until smooth. Add ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper. Mix well and stir into the frying pan. Return to the oven and bake about 20-25 minutes until gravy is thick and rich, stirring a few times while baking. While baking gravy, you can start the batter. When gravy is done, remove rosemary sprig, and keep warm.
Next make the batter by putting eggs, milk, beer and mustard in a medium bowl and whisk or beat until mixture is foamy, about 1 minute. In another bowl, whisk the flour and salt.
Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in one-fourth of the egg mixture whisking until flour is all mixed in. Then add another quarter and do the same thing. Do two more times until all the egg mixture is mixed in the flour and whisk until there are no lumps but not longer. Do not overmix. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.
To make the meatballs, soak the bread in the milk and let sit for about 10 minutes. Grate the onions, zest the lemon rind, and chop up the parsley and garlic. Use your hands to mush up the bread until you have a smooth paste. Mix bread mush, ground pork pancetta, onions, zest, parsley and garlic with ½ teaspoon of salt and ground pepper. Use your hands to knead and mix the ingredients. I use the Asian method of gathering up the mixture and forcefully throwing it in the bowl a few times. Form into 6-8 balls.
Spread 1 tablespoon of cooking oil into the bottom of a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan. Add the meatballs and bake for about 10 minutes. Put the meatballs on two layers of paper towel to absorb some of the liquid and pour any remaining liquid into the gravy. Wipe the bottom of the pan clean.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the same baking pan and return to the oven for 10 minutes until the pan is very hot and beginning to smoke. Quickly pour in the batter and place the meatballs and rosemary sprigs in to the batter.
Return to the oven and bake for 15 minutes without opening the oven until completely done. Lower the heat to 400 degrees and bake for 30 minutes more until batter has puffed up and is golden. Serve with gravy.