Photograph: Sam Fraser-Smith, under Creative Commons Licence.
I've just been experimenting with that British all-time classic, Toad in the Hole. Jamie Oliver's recipe from Jamie's Great Britain is quite good, but didn't work as well as I had hoped. His batter was excellent- light and puffy, but I wasn't convinced by the gloopy apple and onion sauce or the dried up rosemary. He's keen on de-construction is our Jamie: the sausages are served separately from the Yorkshire pudding. I didn't really see the point of this: isn't the Toad supposed to be in the Hole? Or is it the Hole in the Toad?
So I've developed my own recipe, tweaking it a bit here and there, simplifying (and I hope refining) it until we get to what I think, might just be a near-perfect Toad in the Hole. The rosemary infused milk gives the dish that extra dimension. Here's how you make it:
Pour 250ml semi-skimmed milk into a jug. Take two fresh rosemary sprigs and pull off the leaves, crumbling and rolling them in your fingers to release the oils. Add the rosemary leaves to the milk and let it infuse for about half an hour.
Strain the milk (discarding the rosemary leaves) and whisk in three eggs, 100g plain flour, a pinch of salt and white pepper to form a light, slightly runny, rosemary scented batter. Set aside.
Take a selection of Cumberland Sausages, place into a roasting pan and toss in olive oil. Cook in a hot oven (240° C) for about ten minutes. When the time's up, take out the pan and pour off most of the fat. Then pour in the batter, so that it surrounds the sausages. Back into the oven goes the pan. Watch it like a hawk (but don't open the door!). After a few minutes the batter will start rising and turning brown. You'll have your own idea when it's ready. The trick is to cook the batter properly, so that it's brown and crispy on top, yet soft in the centre. You dont' want to overdo the sausages either. Sprinkle the remaining rosemary leaves on top.
I serve this with a rich onion and cider gravy, which you can serve from a separate jug. It's very easy to make. Slice up two white onions very thinly indeed, and fry them in butter on a medium heat until they turn brown and caramelise. Sprinkle a bit of white sugar onto the onions to help.
I always think that onions need a great deal of cooking, so don't be scared to take your time over this. In goes a tiny splash of Balsamic Vinegar, a decent slug of Cider and 250ml beef stock. Bubble away like mad.
Whisk in a teaspoon of white flour mixed with water and cook on for a bit. This will help to thicken up the gravy.
Finish it off with a shake of Worcestershire Sauce to taste and then whisk in a final knob of butter to create a shiny glaze.
This will create a rich, very dark brown gravy with a piquant taste. You can of course, alter ingredients to taste, leaving out the balsamic vinegar if you find it too strong. I would also be tempted to add a dash of Soy Sauce for that extra umami kick. Those onions should be well cooked, very, very thin, and the sauce should not be too thick or gloopy. I also quite like the idea of straining off the onion slices- for that extra refinement; just leaving a glossy, dark, rich onion-flavoured gravy. Bisto? What on earth's that?