January 30, 2016

Toad in the Hole - Sausages in Yorkshire Pudding

No toads were harmed in the making of this recipe.

Toad in the Hole is a rather off-putting name for a really tasty comfort food from the UK, namely well-browned sausages baked into a Yorkshire pudding. It's classic pub food, both hearty and surprisingly simple, and doesn't take too long to make. You can use any kind of sausage you want, really, but since I live in Germany, I've gone with a fairly neutral bratwurst. A good English banger would be perfect, but you wouldn't go wrong with Cumberland links or Lincolnshires, if you can get them.

In fact, you can use almost any bits of cooked meat and it would be within your rights to call it Toad in the Hole, although the standard that has arisen is for sausages. I wouldn't recommend spam, but apparently that was sometimes used during wartime rationing. You can use big or small sausages, as you wish. Smaller sausages make for easier portioning and serving, of course. There are plenty of vegetarian versions out there, too, featuring field mushrooms and roasted vegetables. Your mileage may vary.

As a quick aside, I followed Various Internet Instructions™ to lay the sausages on top of the batter, but I think next time I will lay the sausages down first, and pour the batter around and partially over them, to get a more classic look.

This recipe uses two skillets, because the gravy is made separately while the "Toad" is in the oven.

Toad in the Hole with Onion Gravy

Serves 2 - 3

400 grams fresh sausage links (I've used large pork bratwurst)
1 medium onion, sliced (I've used red)
2 cups beef (or vegetable) broth
2 tablespoons flour


3 eggs, beaten really well
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 good dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons bacon fat or lard, to grease the skillet

The first thing to do is mix up the batter, so that it can rest and fully rehydrate the flour. This is an important step, if you want a nicely risen pudding. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs really well, and slowly add in the flour, continuing to whisk until smooth. Add the salt, Worcestershire sauce, and grainy mustard, and whisk until thoroughly integrated. Finally, slowly whisk in the milk until the mixture is smooth. Set aside at room temperature while you get everything else ready.

If you have a cast iron skillet, that's the thing to use. Preheat your oven to 220 C. (425 F.), with the skillet on the middle rack, so that it preheats nicely, too.

While the batter rests and the oven and skillet are preheating, cook the sausages and start the onion gravy. In a large, skillet, brown the sausages on all sides (I use a little cooking spray to get them going). Let them build up a little fond on the bottom of the pan, which will provide flavour for the gravy. When the sausages are nicely browned, add the sliced onion to the skillet, and stir it all about, so the onions start cooking.

When the sausages are ready, pull the pre-heated skillet out of the oven, and add the bacon fat to the hot skillet. Put the skillet back in the oven for a minute to fully melt and heat the fat. Pull the skillet back out of the oven, and lay the sausages (but not the onions) down in the hot fat. It will spit at you, so be careful. Working quickly and carefully, pour the rested batter (give it one last quick stir) around the sausages, partially covering them (I did this in the reverse order, putting the batter down and then laying the sausages, which is also fine, but makes the sausages float on top of the batter at the end).

Put the skillet back in the oven as quickly as possible, so that it doesn't cool down at all, and set your timer for 15 minutes. It will probably take 20 minutes, but depending on your oven you will want to at least look at it at 15. Don't open the oven if you can avoid it - this is a popover, and they notoriously won't puff if the oven door gets opened too soon.

Meanwhile, add the broth to the onions cooking on the stove top, and stir well, scraping up any fond. Depending on the quality of your broth, you might want to add an extra shot of Worcestershire sauce, too. Your choice. Make a slurry by shaking together the flour with a half-cup of water, and slowly add it to the pan, stirring. When the mixture comes to a full boil, it will be nicely thickened from the flour. Let it continue to cook, stirring frequently, so that the raw taste is cooked out of the flour. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

At the 15 minute mark, check your Toad in the Hole's progress. The batter should have risen up nicely, but it might still be rising at 15 minutes. It will also start becoming a rich golden brown. There should be no liquid in the centre of the pan. Unless it looks in danger of burning, leave it in the oven for another five minutes, then remove, admire, top generously with gravy and serve without delay.

We served ours with English-style baked beans in tomato sauce, which is a classic pairing. A bit of salad would not go amiss, and peas are also a frequent side in the UK (not so much in our house, though). Leftovers heat up surprisingly well in the microwave.

January 16, 2016

Preserved Lemon

We spent last Christmas in Marrakech, and returned with a reignited love of North African flavours. The single most notable ingredient in Moroccan cooking, from my perspective, is the generous use of preserved lemon that occurs in everything from tagines to tangia, couscous to zaalouk. It is a key component of many of the signature dishes of the region.

I've talked about the wonderful depth of flavour one can get with preserved lemon in my Lemon Risotto recipe. Historically, I've made an Indian version of preserved lemon, namely a modified Nimbu Ka Achar (not the sweet version), which has the additional flavourings of a smidge of cayenne and turmeric, giving the finished condiment a deeply burnished yellow appearance, and a lightly spicy fragrance from the additional seasonings.

Today, I decided to make a more classic version, because I've planned a lot of Moroccan recipes in the next few months. The lemons will take about a month to cure before I can use them, and will continue to get better and better after that.

Preserved Lemon

1 sealable 500 ml canning jar with a clean new seal

4 unwaxed lemons
3 tablespoons coarse salt

Wash the lemons really well. If you have the misfortune to have access to waxed lemons only, you can clean them thusly: In a colander, pour boiling water over them to heat/loosen the wax. Immediately place them in a cool vinegar water bath. One lemon at a time, rub the wax off using a scrub made of baking soda and coarse salt on a damp, clean kitchen cloth. Rub and scrub and rinse under cool water, until the skin squeaks (like tupperware) when you rub it. Dry well and set aside. Or, you can google for a different wax removal system that suits you.

Fill your clean canning jar with boiling water, and let it stand. Let some of the water run over the inside of the lid, too, so it's best to do this in a clean basin or handy kitchen pan.

On a clean cutting board, slice three of the lemons lengthwise into eighths. Traditionalists leave the lemons joined at one end, that is to say, not cutting the whole way through, but I find it's quite hard to fit them all into the jar that way. So, I do one the traditional way, and the others I just slice into eighths. Discard any seeds.

Empty the boiled water from your jar. Sprinkle a little of the coarse in the bottom, and start layering your lemon wedges and salt into the jar, using all of the salt. If you are doing traditional lemons, connected at one end, pack some of the salt between the slices and into the middle. The lemons should just nicely fill up a 500 ml jar. Finally, take your last lemon, and squeeze the juice out. Discard the empty husks, and pour the juice over the salted lemon slices, and seal the jar. The juice will not cover the lemons, but rather will fill about half-way, depending on how juicy your lemons are.

That's pretty much all the work. Put the jar on a counter where you will see it every day, and once per day turn it upside down and back again, to make sure all the lemon gets bathed in the juice. After about four weeks, you can move it to the fridge, and you don't have to turn it anymore. Over time, the lemons will start to break down a bit, releasing more juice into the jar, and dissolving some of the pulp.

To use, unseal the jar and use a clean fork to extract however many segments you need. Re-seal the jar, and return to the fridge. I've kept one as long as a year and a half, with no signs of deterioration. The combination of salt and the extremely acidic environment seem to keep it from growing mould or unfriendly bacteria. That being said, food safety, folks. If something does go wrong with yours, and it starts growing something or smelling funky (in a bad way, because it does smell a bit funky in a good way already), use your judgment. I've never had one go bad on me, but I'm not ruling it out.

29 days to go...