This weekend I came upon something very special in my cellar, a 2006 Sutter Home cabernet sauvignon. I wouldn't be surprised if it was the last of its kind. Despite its rarity, I twisted off the screw-top on the small bottle for my friends, because they deserve the best. I always try to bring something special to the table when entertaining.
The cab is just what I need to make onion gravy for the popular peasant dish, Toad in the Hole. Not to be confused with eggs in a basket, toad in the hole is a dish of sausages baked in a Yorkshire pudding batter. It's very Brittish and can be very bland, but with the proper ingredients and care, it can be an inexpensive hit dish at brunch.
The first step is to make the onion gravy, as it can take an hour or more to reduce to the proper consistency. It is simply made by combining a quart of pork stock with a cup of red wine and reducing to a syrupy consistency. During that time, brown onions in lard in the same style of starting a French onion soup, then combine the two and simmer gently. Any white onion will do, but if you're at the local farmer's market, and cipolinis are around, take them.
The next step is to create the Yorkshire pudding batter. I grabbed a recipe from the back of The River Cottage Meat book, whose author got it from other guy over 10 years ago. This recipe is obviously meant to be passed on. And tweaked a little. First mix a cup of flour with a hefty dash of salt and pepper. Then mix two eggs and a yolk into the dry ingredients. Next, mix in 2/3 C each of whole milk and water. Stir until a light cream consistency is reached, then let the batter rest for half an hour.
Next, preheat the oven to 425Dg, with a large baking dish greased preferably with lard. Butter works fine, but if a bucket of lard received from a well known farmer is on hand, and not the hydrogenated junk, use it. Once the pan is hot and the lard sizzling, lay down the sausages to brown on one side and place the dish back in the oven. The sausages used are integral to the success of the dish. Anything from the grocery store, or that comes from a bird, will ruin the dish. Go over to the local butcher, which is The Butcher and Larder if you live in Chicago, and pick up some hand crafted beauties. The ones I used are an English style, seasoned only with salt and pepper.
Once the sausages are browned on one side, flip them and pour in the batter. Don't worry too much about aligning them neatly, because the flood of batter will relocate everything in the pan. Place the pan back in the oven for ~20 minutes. During that time the bottom will fry while the top bakes and rises.
Immediately present the dish family style and serve each portion with a large ladle of onion gravy. It won't be pretty, but it isn't supposed to be. It's supposed to be delicious--whether it's close to the motherland's version or not--and feed a crowd the best stuff from the pantry.