Toadally Delicious!

Onion gravy starts with caramelized onions. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Living in a home without cable TV in the 1990’s, Saturday evenings meant one thing- “Brit-coms” on public television. Not sure how it happened, but our local public television network got the rights to broadcast a multitude of shows from the United Kingdom in the USA. “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” was a favorite (don’t even act surprised) as were “The Vicar of Dibley“, “Keeping Up Appearances“, and “Are You Being Served?” The last show chronicled the work lives of a group of retail associates at the fictional Grace Brothers’ Department Store in London. We watched every episode as often as our local PBS station repeated them, and we giggled every time. One mysterious aspect of the show involved a dish frequently offered in the Grace Brothers’ employee canteen: toad in the hole. My family speculated what this dish might be. Clearly, the audience in the UK needed no explanation, but we were puzzled. Then, the internet became a thing.

As it turns out, toad in the hole is a simple dish of a type that exists in every culture; the kind of dish that uses inexpensive ingredients to produce a filling, tasty meal. Toad in the hole is a large popover (also known as a Yorkshire pudding) studded with meat (most commonly sausages), and often served with an onion gravy. The sausages poking out of the popover are thought to look like garden toads peeping out of their dens in wait of prey. The website Foods of England has an interesting history of the dish, as well as some historical recipes. I am very thankful that making this dish with “calves’ or any brains”, or “six larks or twelve sparrows” has fallen out of favor.

So far I have made this dish twice. The first time was for Mr. Food It Yourself and my father. They had been laboring away, replacing a leaky window in our cellar, and I thought some filling comfort food would be welcomed after that hard work. I made it again the next week to make sure it is something Mr. Food It Yourself actually enjoyed. It is easy to say “this is delicious!”, when you are tired and very hungry. After a normal day at your normal job it is a little harder. Also, Mr. Food It Yourself had some suggestions for improvement the second time around. Here are the details.

I used this recipe for the toad in the hole. It can’t get more British than the BBC, right? The two main issues from my first attempt were 1) the popover was a bit flat and 2) the whole sausages were difficult to eat with just a fork.

Here is that first attempt. See how flat the popover is?

Thankfully, I was able to trouble-shoot the recipe with ease. Step one: cut the sausages into smaller peices.

For both attempts, I used pork breakfast sausages, as they were available at low cost. (Cheap is the main point of toad in the hole) and I could not get my hands on “chipolatas”. I am sure any sausage you prefer could be used.

The two most important elements of making a popover POP are to incorporate a lot of air into the batter, and to make sure the pan is very hot. The hot pan quickly sets the batter on the sides and bottom. The bubbles in the batter then expand in the heat and create large, hollow pits in the finished product. And you were wondering how Sam-from-the-BBC’s recipe worked without chemical leavening!

The recipe gives you all the details for cooking of this dish. However, some important points I have discovered are these:

  • If your oven does not work in Centigrade, 220C is 428F. (I used an on-line converter app for the calculation.)
  • Choose a dark colored baking pan, if possible. I used an 8 inch cast iron skillet. Pre-heat the baking dish in the oven, and use an oil that can handle the high heat. I could not find sunflower oil as called for in the recipe, so I used grapeseed oil. If you are not allergic then peanut oil is an easily available substitute, too.
  • If you use a recipe like this one that lists ingredients by weight, use a kitchen scale and weigh things out. Most electric scales can toggle between metric and imperial. Can’t find a liquid measuring cup that has millilitres? Remember that 1 mL of water weighs 1 gm, so you can use the scale for the milk, also. (My super-smart dad reminded me of this)
  • My first attempt employed my small electric whisk, which was not powerful enough to really incorporate are into the batter. Thankfully, I have a high-powered blender. You might need to try a few devices to find the one in your kitchen that works best.

The blender certainly did the trick, just look at toad-in-the-hole II:

See those big, cavernous bubbles? That is what a popover should look like.

I pretty much improvised the onion gravy both times. I sautéed two large onions, sliced, in about two tablespoons of butter until they caramelized. Then I stirred in a pinch each of dried rosemary and thyme, and a few grinds of black pepper. Then I added two tablespoons of flour and mixed it into a smooth paste with the butter. Finally I added about one and a half cup chicken broth, two tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, and a squirt of prepared mustard. Heat at a simmer until thickened, and you have onion gravy.

Mr. Food It Yourself and I have really taken to this dish. As with most cheap-and-comforting dishes, substitutions are perfectly fine. Any leftover meat can be used in place of sausages. Any leftover sauce or gravy can be added on top. Imagine what you could do with Thanksgiving leftovers! Meat not your thing? I found this really delicious looking meatless variation-on-the-theme from Mollie Katzen.

I am very happy that I tried this classic recipe. What foods have you tried because you heard about them on a television show or in a movie? Were they worth the effort? Share in the comments!