Smoothies are all well and good, but I can’t escape the fact it is January. I didn’t expect the south of France to be sunshine and rainbows 12 months a year, but honestly, the other day it was warmer in Edinburgh than in Toulouse. And so, understandably, I’m in hibernation. The shutters are down, metaphorically and literally, and I huddle under blankets and wear two pairs of socks. I even wore gloves inside the other day. It’s the curse of poor circulation. And typing is cold work. Maybe I’m not typing fast enough.
This winter, many people will be feeling the sting not just of the cold wind but of the pretty price of that energy bill at the end of the month. Snuggling hot water bottles are a great remedy and ours is particularly comforting because there is a picture of an adorable bunny on the front, but the best option is hot food us warm us from within. Hence the bangers, mash and onion gravy.
Everyone knows to what I am referring when I say bangers. It’s the rest of the phrase, the ‘bangers, mash and onion gravy’ which makes the word so smooth, the phrase simply slips down. Much like the recipes for mash and onion gravy I’m about to share with you.
The Best Mash and Onion Gravy
It was Delia who taught me onion gravy. She chopped an onion and roasted it, then added sugar so the pieces became sticky and tarnished. She stirred all those wrinkly onion petals into a roux sauce, added stock and I remember Worcestershire, and ta-dah there was a jug of sweet, rich onion gravy to be served over Toad in the Hole. It was always my job to make the onion gravy. My parents said it was because I was very good at it but I now use the same excuse to make Gaylord do the washing up, so I’m starting to smell a rat somewhere.
Good gravy is a meal in itself. Forget that pot of Bisto in your cupboard. We’re talking proper homemade gravy made with flour and the cooking is probably the most strenuous part of the whole preparation.
As for mash – well, there’s a limit on the variations of mashed potato, isn’t there? Considering it’s technically one ingredient. No, the butter, milk, mustard or whatever you enjoy isn’t about to be condemned for something I claim to be superior, instead I’m talking about the cooking of mashed potato.
I borrowed a copy of Cook’s Illustrated from the library, and no not my local library in Toulouse which costs 20 euros (!) to join, this is on my library app from my account in Wellington which is an absolute god-send, and while virtually flicking through the magazine, I saw a recipe for the best mashed potato.
Apparently, the secret is to cut those peeled potatoes into slices rather than chunks. And that sacrosanct rule of starting potatoes in cold water? No need, Cook’s Illustrated declare. The Cold Water Rule was to prevent the outside of the potato from cooking faster than the inside. Now the potatoes are cut into centimetre-thin slivers, there’s no risk of overdone exteriors, the unfortunate side-effects we all have probably seen in our time – I remember experiencing it, obviously at the worst possible timing, on my first private chef job. The mashed potato had the texture and adhesion of glue. And then I burnt myself on smoking caramel. It was a bad night.
Cook’s Illustrated also had a few words to say about the gravy. At first I felt incredibly defensive, maybe my parents’ praise of my onion gravy technique has gone to my head, and also protective of Delia. Then I read the recipe and I have to concur it is rather good. Although I did add a sprinkle of Delia magic dust. She is my onion gravy fairy godmother after all.
How to Make Bangers, Mash and My Favourite Onion Gravy
On a non-descript Wednesday lunchtime, I walked into the kitchen wearing Gaylord’s hoodie for insulation. Not only is he taller and wider than me meaning he’s good for cuddles, this hoodie is oversized on him so the thing completely swamped me. To keep playing that broken record, it was cold. Therefore, comfort food was the menu for lunch. And this somewhat unremarkable Wednesday suddenly became remarkable.
Normally, I’ll listen to a podcast, audiobook, or a weakness, one of those true crime channels on YouTube. This time though, there was just me and the splutter of fat in apparent indignant as I added the spiral of plump pink sausage to the pan to brown and caramelise, and the juicy rasp of onion as I sliced through its layers. I chopped and simmered, and the onions were added to the pan of sausage along with the lid. 10 minutes later the steam smothered me like a loving savoury pillow, the sausage slid into the oven to slowly cook and the peeler practically purred as it whittled away the potato skin. Then the gravy magic began.
Those steamed onions are cooked in the sausage’s fat until caramelly brown, then all the sediment on the bottom of the pan, all that juice and crust is scraped up with flour and butter to make an oniony roux, my diversion from the Cook’s Illustrated recipe and homage to Delia.
Slowly you add the broth – a mixture of beef stock, Worcestershire, fresh rosemary and thyme, and mustard. It gradually loosens and you leave it simmer as you drain the sliced potatoes and check on the sausages which have split their skins. Finally a cornflour slurry is whisked in for that perfect density, thick enough to buoy those onion pieces like little boats.
The mashed potato was fluffy, dare I say a little lumpy because I have minimal upper-body strength, and I added plenty of butter and milk – my anti-inflammatory diet is cancelled for the day, but I did cook carrots to have on the side – and my next kitchen gadget should be a potato ricer to get around the potato lump problem. However, those lumps were the perfect doneness, never again will I find an unexpected crunch in my mash.
And the bangers, well, what can go wrong with a banger or two? Piled up on my plate like a little island in a lake of gravy, I was grateful for the cold. Because it meant bangers, mash and onion gravy.
Bangers, Mash and Onion Gravy
- 4 high-quality pork sausages I used a massive spiral sausage which technically fed 4
- 1 large onion
- 100 ml water
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 450 ml beef stock
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard or ½ tsp English mustard powder
- 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 tsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- 500 g floury potatoes potatoes best for mashing ideally King Edward or Maris Piper
- 50 ml milk
- 1 tbsp butter optional
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Set a frying pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the sausages. Brown on either side.
- While the sausages are browning, slice the onion in half and cut out thin wedges.
- Remove the sausages from the pan, add the onions and stir to coat in sausage fat. Spread them out so they are evenly spaced in one layer. Place the sausages on top then cover with a lid and steam for 10 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F. Combine the beef stock with Worcestershire sauce, the chopped herbs and mustard.
- Peel the potatoes, wash and chop into 1cm-wide pieces. Fill a saucepan with water, add salt and bring to the boil over high heat.
- Remove the lid from the sausages and onions. Slide the sausages onto a tray and put them in the oven to finish cooking – depending on their size, they should need between 5 and 10 minutes.
- Stir the onions briefly, then add the brown sugar and some salt, stir again to distribute evenly and to ensure the pieces are well spread out, and then try as hard as you can to leave the onions – resist stirring! This will burn off any moisture and caramelise the sugar. Check on them regularly to make sure they don't burn. If the moisture is still there, turn up the heat. After 5 minutes, they should have darkened and caramelised.
- Meanwhile, add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook for 10 minutes or so.
- Add the butter and stir to melt all over the onions. Tip in the tablespoon of flour and again stir to coat. Cook gently, lower the heat if necessary, for 2 minutes. Then remove the pan from the heat.
- Slowly pour in the stock mixture. Add a bit at a time and stir to combine with each addition to make sure there are no missed lumps. Pour and stir until all the liquid is added, then return the pan to the heat and turn the temperature up. Bring to a simmer, adjust the temperature if necessary. Stir with a whisk as it will start to thicken.
- Check on the sausages and if they are done – the skin is darkened, crisp and bursting – remove them from the oven.
- Check the potato slices by slicing through one with a cutlery knife. If it is done it will easily fall apart. Drain the potatoes in a colander, return them to the pan and leave to steam dry for a few minutes.
- Mix together the cornflour with a tablespoon of water in a ramekin then pour it into the gravy. Quickly stir with a whisk to prevent lumps from forming. Taste the gravy and season with some salt and pepper.
- Mash the potatoes and add the milk, butter if using, salt and some pepper.
- Serve the mash on a plate topped with the bangers then cover in onion gravy.