Toad in the Hole, an English classic of sausages baked in batter, is just one of many bizarrely named foods in British cuisine. We also have Cullen Skink, Spotted Dick and Welsh Rarebit, just to name a few.
The origin of the name itself is always going to be in dispute. The more common theory is that the sausages poking out of the batter rather resemble frogs/toads peering out of their hiding places, hence the name. Then there is the rather fanciful theory that it had something to do with a golfing event, a toad and a chef, somewhere in Northumberland. I’ve also read that the toad refers to the dish, while the hole is the empty stomach it is meant to fill! So take your pick, I’ll just stick with the first one, I think.
However the name came about, suffice it to say that it is a favourite dish of many, me included. Toad in the Hole most likely started life sometime in the 18th century, as a means of making one’s larder go further. Meat was expensive, and toad in the hole was a perfect way for the family to enjoy a little meat bulked out by the inexpensive batter.
Batter puddings had started being rather popular in the early 18th century, with the introduction of the Yorkshire pudding or Dripping Pudding as it was known, in 1737. The resulting combination of meat and batter was rather ingenious, really, when you think about it. And cheap. Many recipes abound for this economical combination of meat and batter; the first entry in the Oxford dictionary dates back to 1787.
Remember I said cheap? In her book, “Household Management”, published in 1861 (above), Mrs Beeton estimates that it would only cost 1s 9d (1 shilling and 9 pence) to make this recipe to feed 4-5 people. In today’s money, that’s only about £5/$6.75, a pretty inexpensive meal, I would say. That’s probably why it has long been a favourite with students!
Mrs Beeton’s recipe calls for steak and kidneys cooked in the batter. She also notes that “The remains of cold beef, rather undone, may be substituted for steak, and, when liked, the smallest possible quantity of minced onion or shalot may be added.” And that is how many of the Toad in the Hole recipes were made in the early days: with meat.
Incidentally, Mrs Beeton’s book has a permanent place on my bedstand, I find it fascinating reading.
What about the Toad in the Hole of today? Somewhere along the line, the meat became sausages but the batter remained that of the Yorkshire pudding. It really is a very quick and easy recipe to make and very vegetarian friendly with the use of vegetarian sausages.
How to cook Toad in the Hole
Did I mention that it’s easy? Really, all you need are some sausages, a good Yorkshire pud batter and some gravy to serve. All this can be done in under an hour, and you’ll still have time to sit and have a glass of beer! Just about!
Let’s deconstruct the Toad in the Hole and look at what we need to focus on.
The Sausages (The Toad)
Simple sausages will do, there is no need to go fancy schmansy with them, given that the whole dish is very, very unpretentious, and is indeed a rather rustic affair. Go with whatever sausages you like best; I am a huge fan of beef and venison when it comes to sausages, and that’s what I always tend to go for.
If you are a vegetarian, there is such a great variety of vegetarian sausages today, that I reckon you’ll be spoilt for choice when making a Vegetarian Toad in the Hole.
It has become quite fashionable to wrap the sausages in some bacon or pancetta before cooking, as Nigel Slater does. By all means, go ahead and do that if you like, it will heighten the meaty flavour of the ensemble. I have tried it on more than a few occasions. It’s rather nice but entirely unnecessary. There is also no need to peel the sausages, as far as I’m concerned.
One thing that I always do though, is brown the sausages first, because I am really, really put off by anaemic looking sausages that hint of being uncooked, whatever time they’ve spent in the oven! That’s the only reason I brown them for about a minute on each side; the bonus is that they do turn out rather brown and crispy when completely done in the oven.
This is Yorkshire pudding batter, and a good Yorkshire pud should be light and fairly crispy, with not much of a doughy middle. This isn’t always as easy to achieve as you might think and there are many recipes and tutorials out there on how to achieve the perfect Yorkshire pudding.
Part of it is in the ingredients and part of it is in how hot you get your tin and fat before pouring the batter in. Some people use just milk in making their batter, resulting in a richer and slightly doughy pudding, which I’m not averse to at all. But I find that half milk and half water is a better bet, there is richness but it is still leaning towards the light and crispy.
Quite often, I go further and make my batter with half milk and half dry cider. It is in fact, my favourite combination for the Toad in the Hole batter. I’ll leave that up to you to experiment with.
One other thing that I like doing that I copied from Nigel Slater is adding a little wholegrain mustard to the batter. It gives just a hint of depth and a more rounded flavour.
You absolutely must serve your Toad in the Hole with gravy. Yorkshire pudding soaked in gravy is one of the best comfort foods to be had! And sausages in gravy, of course!
Here, we make a quick and easy onion gravy to go with it, using some stock (chicken or vegetable) and a touch of balsamic vinegar. You could add some of the left over cider in there if you are using it for the batter, but I usually refrain from doing so, not wanting to repeat the flavour.
The gravy is made in just 15 minutes while your toad in the hole is in the oven so you have no excuse not to! These days, you can get really good stock cubes or stockpots with no additives, just a whole lot of flavour, so bin those OXO granules! While my freezer always has some frozen homemade stocks, I also always have some stockpots handy in the pantry. Because, they are, well, very handy!
If not making a vegetarian toad in the hole, the best fat to use is beef dripping. If you don’t make a habit of saving your own when roasting beef, start doing it now, it’s so good in so many different things. Failing that, I’m sure you can find beef dripping being sold at supermarkets and most definitely, the butchers.
Vegetarian – use any vegetable oil but not olive oil, as it has a higher smoking point and the taste will be all wrong.
Make sure that your fat is super hot and smoking before you pour the batter in, this is crucial for that initial rise.
In the picture here, I use a tin that measures 23cm x 23cm (9″ x 9″). Use something similar, whether it’s square or rectangular, doesn’t really matter.
What to Serve with Toad in the Hole
A combination of:
- Green beans
- Any other seasonal vegetables
Right then, I think we’ve got everything covered. Are you ready to take on this British classic? Have you ever had it? Let me know if you have, and if you’re a fan. And if you fancy any other British recipes, just head on over to the British Food page for favourites like:
Toad in the Hole
Toad in the Hole with Easy Onion Gravy
Toad in the Hole