gravy | The Proof of the Pudding

As I mentioned in my blog birthday post last week, the three most popular posts on my blog since I started it just over a year ago are all slow-cooked meaty dishes (from pork belly to lamb shanks to BBQ pulled pork). And I’m not one to deny my readers what they want! Today I have something that you might not have cooked or even eaten before, but if you like pulled pork then you’re going to love this. Brisket is a cut from the lower chest of beef, and is a muscle that works hard so needs gentle, slow cooking in order to tenderise it. It is a relatively cheap cut of beef, so a great option for when you’re cooking a roast for a crowd.

I first cooked this recipe last year when I scribbled it down to take on a weekend holiday with friends (I got the original recipe from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall article, but now I can’t find it…however I will pop a link up here when I come across it again). I knew at the time that it would be a great recipe to blog about, but holidays aren’t the time to be photographing a recipe step-by-step and it was gobbled up so quickly that there wasn’t even time for an end-result picture – definitely a sign of a recipe worth sharing.

Ingredients (serves 4) Beef brisket 2 tbsp olive oil 2 onions, thinly sliced 2 carrots, cut into wedges 4 sprigs of rosemary 3 cloves of garlic English or Dijon mustard Large glass of red wine

Salt and pepper

1 tbsp corn flour
1 beef stock cube, made up with 300ml boiling water

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 170C/150C fan/Gas Mark 3. Heat the olive oil in a large casserole pot and generously season the beef all over with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, place the beef in the pot and brown on all sides.

Toad in the hole is one of those inexplicably odd British phrases and no one really knows where the name comes from. A lot of people think that it comes from the idea that the sausages look like frogs peaking up through the batter…..I know, weird. But there is not really any evidence for this, and there is not a consensus on the correct origin. In the end, who really cares about the name when basically it gives us an excuse to combine Yorkshire puddings and meat in one dish. That’s all that toad in the hole is: Yorkshire pudding batter poured over golden sausages (or traditionally just cheap cuts of meat). It’s easy and quick enough for a weekday dinner, but also a nice idea for Sunday dinner since you don’t have to make individual Yorkshire puddings, which can be a bit of a faff.

Use whatever sausages you like in this dish – flavoursome types with lots of herbs or spices will give a lot of extra flavour, but whatever you have in the house will work. Apple is the perfect accompaniment to pork and the chunks of apple in the batter soften during cooking to give bursts of soft, sweet flavour. And, of course, we couldn’t have toad in the hole without a rich onion gravy to smother over the top.

Ingredients (serves 3-4) 1 egg 100g flour 300ml milk 8 sausages 1 apple, cut into wedges

Vegetable oil

1 tbsp olive oil Small knob of butter 1 large white onion, thinly sliced 1 tsp soft brown sugar 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar Small glass of red wine 1 tbsp corn flour 600ml beef stock

1 tsp red currant jelly

Method 1. To make the batter, mix the egg into the flour with a little of the milk until you have a thick paste. Slowly pour in the rest of the milk and whisk until smooth. Add a pinch of salt and leave aside for later – you can make this a couple of hours in advance and just cover with a dish towel.

2. Preheat the oven to 200C fan/220C/Gas Mark 7. In a roasting tray, toss the sausages and apple chunks with a few tablespoons of oil and roast for about 15 minutes until the sausages start to brown.

Pour the batter into the hot oil and put the tray back in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the batter has risen and is cooked through.

3. Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan and add the sliced onion. Cook on a very low heat for 15-20 minutes until the onions have started to become golden.

4. Add the sugar and cook for a further 5 minutes.

5. Pour in the vinegar and wine and turn up the heat a little so the liquid bubbles away for about 3-5 minutes until it’s a syrupy consistency.

6. Mix in the corn flour and cook for 30 seconds. Slowly add the stock and simmer until the gravy has reached the consistency you like. At the end drop in the red currant jelly and mix until it’s all melted into the gravy.

With meat and carbohydrates combined into one dish, toad in the hole is pretty filling so I think that some vegetables are all that’s needed on the side – along with the onion gravy of course. However, I won’t argue with you if you want to serve up some mashed or roasted potatoes too.

Classic comfort food for Sunday dinners or cold winter nights.

As I’ve discussed before, pork is one of our favourite meats in this household. Apart from shoulder, which is a gorgeous cut if you want melt-in-the-mouth pulled pork, pork belly has to be our favourite piece of pig. It is a rich, indulgent, flavoursome bit of meat, due to the high fat content, and although it’s probably not wise to add it to your weekly meals, it’s the perfect choice for a special dinner. An added bonus is that, due to this high fat content, it is a very cheap cut (the piece I bought for the recipe below cost about £3, which is far, far cheaper than an equivalent piece of roasting beef or lamb, or even a small chicken).

The main appeal of pork belly is the mouth-watering crackling that you can produce from the skin and the layer of fat below, but the meat underneath should not be overlooked. If cooked right, the meat in pork belly should be tender and juicy. In order to achieve both crispy skin and succulent meat, the cut needs a combination of quick, high blasts of heat and slow cooking at a low temperature. I’ve cooked pork belly many times in the past, but this was the first time I did a flash cook at a high temperature both at the start and the end of cooking. And though I do say so myself, it was the best pork belly I have ever cooked. Are you sold yet?…

Ingredients (serves 2-3) 700g boneless pork belly 1 tbsp fennel seeds Salt and pepper 1 large onion, sliced 3 garlic cloves, skin on, crushed

Glass of white wine

For the gravy: 1 tbsp corn flour

1 chicken stock cube, made up with 250ml boiling water

Method 1. Gently bash the fennel in a mortar and pestle to open the seeds and release the flavours. Rub into the underside of the pork belly, along with a generous grind of black pepper.

2. Score the skin with a very sharp knife. Do this diagonally in opposite directions to produce a criss-cross pattern, cutting through the skin and most of the fat, but avoiding cutting into the flesh if you can. If you bought your pork belly from a supermarket then there is often some scoring already done, but there are not normally enough scores, or deep enough scores, for the crackling to work properly so go over these yourself. If you are buying the pork from a butcher then ask them to score it for you – they should know exactly how to do this correctly. Rub an extremely generous amount of salt into the scores.

3. Heat your oven to the highest temperature it can go to. Place the pork on top of the onion and garlic in a roasting tray and put into the hot oven for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 170C/150C fan/Gas Mark 3 and cook for 1 hour.

4. After the first hour add the wine to the roasting tray, along with a splash of water (add extra water as time goes on if necessary to stop the onions drying out and burning too much). Return to the oven for a further hour of cooking.

5. After the second hour turn the oven temperature up to 220C/200C fan/ Gas Mark 7 for 20-30 minutes until the skin has turned into crackling. Remove the pork belly from the tray, place on a serving platter and cover in foil and a tea towel to keep warm until serving.

6. To make the gravy, place the roasting tray on the hob over a medium heat until the onions and remaining liquid begins to bubble. Add the corn flour, stirring well to dissolve. Add the stock a little at a time and cook until the gravy is at the consistency of your liking. Strain through a sieve to serve.

We had our pork belly with the gravy, roast potatoes (which went into the oven at the same time that the temperature was turned back up – a perfect arrangement) and peas. A bottle of white wine, or light red wine, is a must for such an indulgent dinner.

Are you sold now? Seriously, I’m salivating just now just writing about it…