Many cultures have at least one holiday geared towards our inner pyromaniac, when we get to blow things up and burn things down. In the U.S.A., it’s July 4th; in France, Bastille Day (which Zanthe once spent in the Place de la Bastille itself, an experience not unlike being under heavy mortar fire); and New Year’s Day in countless countries from China to Australia. A British pyromaniac’s favorite night is surely November 5th, known as Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night. Guy Fawkes was the unfortunate member of a Catholic conspiracy against King James I to be apprehended guarding a stash of gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Not only was he subsequently executed, along with his merry band of co-conspirators, but he has been burned in effigy over bonfires every November 5th since. The Brits have long memories.
There’s only one food associated specifically with Guy Fawkes Night: a dubious-sounding treat called “Bonfire Toffee.” As you might guess from its name, it’s dark and quite bitter, made with molasses rather than refined sugar. So as much as we love making homemade candy (maybe one day we’ll share our salted caramel recipe!), we went looking instead for some quintessentially British dishes…and came up a little short. “Toad in the Hole” sounds too dirty, and steak-and-kidney pie is well, just not our cup of tea. Tipped off by a recent profile of the English cookbook author Diana Henry, though, we discovered in her beautiful books a recipe for sausages with apples that did whet our appetites. Served with a pile of buttery mashed potatoes–Yukon golds are our favorite–it may not be a strictly traditional English dish, though it’s close to Bangers and Mash. And perhaps it will set off some fireworks for you!
Baked Sausages with Apples, Onions & Cider
Adapted from Simple, by Diana Henry
- ½ cup raisins
- 3 tbsp Calvados (regular brandy will do)
- 2 large onions, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
- 4 shallots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
- 2 good apples, preferably organic, cut into 1″ wedges and cored (don’t peel)
- 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
- Salt and pepper
- 8 sprigs of thyme
- Handful of sage leaves
- 8 pork sausages, we used bratwurst, but chicken sausage would also work well
- 1 cup hard (alcoholic) dry cider
Preheat the oven to 375℉. Put raisins and brandy in small saucepan, bring brandy just to a boil, then take off the heat and soak raisins in alcohol while you assemble the rest of the dish. Place onion wedges, shallots and apples in a baking dish or roasting pan large enough to hold them and sausages in a single layer. Drizzle with 2 tbsp of olive oil, salt and pepper, thyme, sage and toss with seasonings. Scatter raisins and soaking liquid over the dish.
Heat remaining 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet and brown the sausages all over–no need to cook through. Put them on top of the apples and onions and pour in the cider.
Bake for 60 minutes. The sausages will turn brown, the apples golden and the liquid should be mostly gone from the bottom of the pan. Serve immediately with mashed potatoes. A bitter green salad such as arugula or watercress would be a lovely accompaniment.
Best Mashed Potatoes
This is a simple and forgiving recipe that relies on a few specific techniques to make the best mashed potatoes. You will also need a ricer, one of the few very narrowly specialized kitchen tools we think is worthwhile.
- 2-3 pounds potatoes, preferably organic (we like Yukon golds for their buttery flavor, though starchier types also work and will be fluffier), well scrubbed but left unpeeled
- 1- 1½ cups whole milk
- 4-8 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, preferably white pepper
Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and salt water well, then boil until potatoes are cooked through (time varies according to size of potato; they will yield easily to the tip of a knife).
When potatoes are cooked, use a slotted spoon to lift out of hot water. When cool enough to handle, slip off skins and cut each in half or quarters. Drain water from pan and return to stovetop (off heat).
Heat milk on stovetop or (carefully) in a microwave.
Press potato pieces through a potato ricer back into the saucepan. When you’ve finished, turn heat back to low and warm potatoes for a few minutes to dry them out, stirring occasionally so they don’t stick or burn. Then slowly pour in hot milk until you have the consistency you like. Stir in butter to taste, season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.