Market to Table

BANGERS AND TOADS

Toad-in-the-hole

It’s hard to find good bangers (English breakfast sausages to the uninitiated) in North America so I’ve been crossing England gorging on bangers and mash. Meanwhile toad-in-the-hole awaits the lucky diner!

One reason we can’t get good bangers on this side of the pond is that the authorities frown on non-meat ingredients in sausages. This stems from many years ago when sausages were frequently adulterated with goodness knows what. I read tales of sawdust being added by unscrupulous butchers, but that surely was back in the Victorian era.

The English Breakfast Society … yes, there really is one … list several non-meat ingredients in their recipe for traditional English sausages, including mace, nutmeg, sage, onion powder, thyme, ginger and breadcrumbs. They note that the traditional Cumberland sausage has been granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status. The difference from a standard banger is that the meat is chopped rather than ground, there is a preponderance of white and black pepper rather than the herbs favoured by more southern offerings, and the sausage is presented in a long thin coil rather than individual links. It’s delicious and slightly different.

Town House Cumberland sausage

Rose Cottage bangers and mash

Highway Inn bangers and mash

A few weeks ago, in the Town House pub in Bawtry, Yorkshire, I’m offered an outstanding example of Cumberland sausage for my lunch. It’s the last in a series of explorations which saw me enjoy excellent farmhouse bangers at The Rose Cottage, Rufford, Nottinghamshire, and The Highway Inn, Burford, Oxfordshire. Lesser examples, I won’t list.

All the sausages were consistently excellent and well cooked. Mashed potatoes were equally tasty, although sometimes the modest serving of potatoes were hiding and sometimes there were more than a reasonable person could eat. Common to all offerings was a good rich onion gravy, although occasionally the amount left a little to be desired. Presentation, as the photography shows, seems to run to the current trend of stacking food high, with more or less veggies offered, and sometimes water cress or pea shoots as a decoration.

Fortunately, in Canada, the Loblaws grocery chain offers pork bangers which are almost as good.  They admit to ‘toasted wheat crumbs’ and ‘natural seasonings’ in the mix. In the US, most jurisdictions won’t allow more than two per cent ‘grain,’ which doesn’t get close to the recipe for a genuine banger. At the end of this article, you’ll find the recipe for proper English bangers. Rather than trying to make them yourself, a difficult procedure without adequate tools, try taking the recipe or ingredients to a friendly independent butcher and getting them to make you a batch.

Now that we’ve exhausted the discussion about bangers, let’s move onto more exotic offerings. I’m talking about toad-in-the-hole. The best explanation for its odd name is that a piece of meat sticking out of the batter looked somewhat like the resting toad poking his nose out of his burrow. Early 18th century recipes usually called for a piece of beef, but nowhere does any author suggest cooking toads!  Batter puddings, such as the famous Yorkshire pudding, were a popular way to stretch cheap cuts of meat in poorer and rural families.

Nottinghamshire, where I enjoyed one of my bangers and mash lunches, is named several times as the county where farmhouses often served toad-in-the-hole, usually with beef instead of bangers, which are a more modern innovation. Melton Mowbray is just to the south, home of the eponymous pork pie and thriving dairy and pig farms, so it is not surprising that the area would come up with different ways to serve bangers.

Toad-in-the-hole with onion gravy and green peas

Not once on my six-week tour of England was I offered toad-in-the-hole, so I set to in our little Yorkshire galley kitchen to prepare my own feast. I made a lot of gravy and served it with oodles, but as they say in these parts: you can never have too much gravy.

Oddly enough, in South Africa and Australia, the name toad-in-the-hole is used to describe an egg placed in a hole in a piece of bread and fried together, not something the English Breakfast Society endorses.

Since a good Yorkshire pudding is the basis for toad-in-the-hole, I wrote to my lovely friend Lisa, she of the round-the-world-wedding saga, for advice on Yorkshire pudding. Her helpful reply: ‘Our fail-safe pudding mix is equal parts: 1 cup each of eggs, flour and milk. Beat eggs and flour to smooth paste, loosen with milk then add the rest. Sometimes a pinch of baking powder goes in at the end if the flour is old and then a quick slosh of icy water whisked through the mix just before it goes in the pan.’ She adds it is critical for the pan to be smoking hot. For those cooks who need numbers, I’ve parsed out exact weights and measures below.

So read on and enjoy your own bangers and mash or toad-in-the-hole experience.

◊ ◊ ◊

BROILED BANGERS (ENGLISH BREAKFAST SAUSAGES)

Shopping list

1 lb / about 500 g (about 5-6 links) English breakfast sausages or bangers

Preparation and cooking

  1. The best method for cooking bangers is broiling or grilling. Pan frying tends to heat the banger too quickly and they will burst apart, hence the name. Separate the sausages into individual links, if not already done by the butcher.
  2. Place them neatly laid out and not touching on aluminum foil on a baking sheet or pan and prick well with a fork to allow the fat to run out. Turn up the edges of the foil to catch all the fat, which will make clean up easier.
  3. Preheat the broiler (or grill) and place the sausages about 4 inches from the heat. Cook for about 7 mins, or until well browned, turn over and broil for a further 7 mins on the other side. NOTE: If you are making toad-in-the-hole, there is no need to cook the bangers so thoroughly as they will be in the oven for a further 20 minutes. As soon as they are browned on both sides, you can remove them.
  4. Serve with mashed potatoes and oodles of onion gravy, and a veggie of your choice, such as green peas, cabbage, kale, leeks, or carrots.
  5. Garnish with micro greens, pea sprouts, water cress or crispy fried onion pieces.

◊ ◊ ◊

PERFECT MASHED POTATOES

Shopping list

  • 6 ½ lb / 1kg floury potatoes, peeled and cut into even chunks
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 100ml full-cream milk
  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Preparation and cooking

  1. Cook the potatoes in a saucepan of lightly salted boiling water for 15-20 minutes, until tender.
  2. Drain well, return to the pan and mash with the butter and milk until smooth. Season to taste and set aside.

◊ ◊ ◊

TASTY ONION GRAVY

  • 4 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 TBSP EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar (or red wine)
  • 2 cups beef stock or bouillon
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 2 TBSP white flour
  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Preparation and cooking

  1. Slowly pan fry the peeled and chopped onions in olive oil until they are tender and transparent, about 10 mins. Then add balsamic vinegar and boil it down until the onions are well caramelized.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the beef stock in a microwave proof jug.
  3. In a thick bottomed pan, melt the butter until frothing. Add the flour slowly and stir well until it has the consistency of sand. Add the hot stock and stir until it is smooth and well blended. Season lightly with salt and pepper, taste and correct. As I wrote in Market to Table: The Cookbook, this is the basic brown sauce of French cooking, which us self-taught cooks call gravy.) When it thickens add the onion mixture, blend together and serve hot.

◊ ◊ ◊

DELICIOUS TOAD-IN-THE-HOLE

Shopping list

  • 3/4 cup / 6 oz / 150 g plain white flour
  • 3 large free-range eggs at room temperature (about 3/4 cup)
  • 3/4 cup whole milk at room temperature
  • 1 TBSP EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 lb / approx 500 g cooked English breakfast sausages (bangers), a packet of 5 or 6, cut in halves

Preparation and cooking

  1. Sieve the flour into a bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Make a dip in the middle and break in the eggs. Whisk in slowly. Now slowly pour in the milk while continuing to whisk until you have a smooth batter with no lumps. Cover with a cloth and let it rest in the fridge for 1 hr.
  2. Preheat the oven to 430°F / 220°C.
  3. In a heavy roasting pan about 9 in by 9 in by 2 in deep, add the EVOO and heat for 5 mins. First prick with a fork, then cook the bangers in the hot oil until browned all round, although they don’t need to be cooked all the way through. OR when the oil is almost smoking, add the bangers if they are pre-cooked.
  4. Whisk the cooled batter and pour it into the pan over and around the bangers. Make sure they are lined up neatly for better cooking and serving. To keep the oil very hot while you do this, put the pan over a burner on the stove. For good Yorkshire pudding, it is critical to have the oil VERY hot.
  5. Return the pan to the oven and cook for a further 30—35 mins, or until the batter has risen and is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cut into wedges around each banger, allowing one or two per person.
  6. Serve with lashings of onion gravy and a veggie of your choice.

◊ ◊ ◊

HOME-MADE ENGLISH BREAKFAST SAUSAGES (BANGERS)

You’ll need some specialized equipment to grind or chop the meat and stuff the sausages, but once you have the tools, the rest is easy. If you have, for example, a KitchenAid mixer/grinder, you can get an inexpensive sausage maker attachment, worthwhile if you plan to make sausages regularly.

Shopping list

  • 4 lb lean shoulder pork, ground or chopped
  • 1 lb pork fat
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp white pepper
  • Black pepper (optional)
  • ½ tsp dried ground mace
  • ½ tsp dried ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp dried crumbled sage
  • 1 tsp dried onion powder
  • 2 tsp dried crumbled thyme
  • 1 tsp dried ground ginger
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs
  • Hog casings

Preparation and cooking

  1. Prepare the pork by removing all the bits you’d rather not eat. These are your own home-made bangers, so you can be as fussy as you like! If you have a meat grinder select a fairly coarse setting and pass the meat through. Otherwise, chop the meat thoroughly into very small pieces. If the pork fat is solid, you can pass it through the grinder at the same time.
  2. Add all the dry ingredients to the meat and fat, except the breadcrumbs, making sure they are well pulverised first, and mix well together. Now add the breadcrumbs and mix again. If the mixture seems a little stiff, you can add a few TBSP of chilled water. For a spicier sausage add some generous grinds of good black pepper and mix in well. For health reasons, do NOT taste the uncooked sausage.
  3. Load the hog casings onto the sausage maker nozzle and feed the meat through. Every 4 to 5 ins, twist the casing a few times to create separate links. After chilling the sausages for a few hours, you can cut the individual sausages at the twist.
  4. The best method for cooking bangers is broiling or grilling. Prick them with a fork to release the fat and avoid splitting. Pan frying tends to heat the banger too quickly and they will burst apart, hence the name. Get the broiler good and hot, put the pricked bangers on a sheet of aluminium foil on a baking tray, neatly laid out and not touching. Broil for about 7 mins a side, or until well browned but not burnt. Turn once, to ensure both sides are well cooked. NOTE: If you are making toad-in-the-hole, there is no need to cook the bangers so thoroughly as they will be in the oven for a further 20 minutes. As soon as they are browned on both sides, you can remove them.

Please enjoy your bangers responsibly and don’t eat too many at once or like me, risk putting on nearly 10 lb in six weeks away!

1 reply »

  1. Woohoooo so happy that the puds were a success. We made them at Friendsgiving here in Maine yesterday and aside from having to explain to the friends that yes, we serve them with the turkey, they went down a storm.
    Thanks for the sausage recipe too. I might give it a go and try make some skinless ones or even go American on the shape and make patties 🤔
    All the best
    Lisa

    Like

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