I think the first time I really noticed this dish was at the Myer cafeteria in Melbourne, some time in the 1970s. The cafeteria was an essential element of any trip to the city. Part of the fun was sliding a tray up the length of the old-fashioned smorgasbord.
Certain dishes do not need reinvention. They just work. This is one of them. For me, it is a heritage dish: good-quality sausages and a good sauce and mash. For dishes such as this, the key is going back and reconstructing the dish with better-quality ingredients than might otherwise be used. But on reflection, if I were to be totally honest about what I really enjoyed at the Myer cafeteria, it was probably the packet gravy – a level of saltiness and flavour that we didn’t get at home.
I call this a recipe for onion gravy but in essence it is more of a sauce. The onions have been stewed, and the only real similarity to gravy is its texture. A proper gravy is often made using pan juices, with flour added to thicken the mixture. I grew up with gravy, which I quite enjoy occasionally. But I’m more partial to a sauce like this. Even though flour is added, it is given enough time to cook out and become a more pure sauce.
The base recipe can quite easily be altered. For example, if I wanted an onion sauce to serve with pork, I would replace half the chicken stock with apple juice and add a slug of brandy to the recipe. Other aromatics
I enjoy would be a combination of thyme, bay leaves and cloves, which could work with a variety of meats. I’ve also taken this recipe and reduced the liquid by half, making it quite thick, and then pureed the onions to make a smooth soubise sauce, which is terrific with game.
Most of us have a recipe we use for mashed potatoes. Often the tension between tradition and health regimens dictates the ratios of cream and butter. Unless you were eating mashed potato every day – and I say this without judgement – I would usually encourage people to add more butter than might ordinarily feel comfortable.
This is probably the only recipe where I would endorse this behaviour. The potatoes carry the flavour so well that it is worth the indulgence. If I were to judge, I would say resist the urge to use truffle oil, or any further flavours, which for some godforsaken reason seems to happen in restaurants.
Pork and fennel sausages, onion gravy and mash
– 8 pork and fennel sausages or another good pork variety
– 5 brown onions, finely sliced
– 25g soft butter
– 25g plain flour
– 1 tbsp cider vinegar
– 200ml chicken stock
– 1 tsp Dijon mustard
– salt and pepper
– 1kg mashed potato
Trim and separate the sausages and place in the fridge.
In a heavy-based pot, sweat the onions in a little oil very slowly without colouring, until soft. Add the butter and melt slowly, and then add the flour. Cook lightly with the onions for two minutes, taking care not to let it catch on the bottom of the pan.
Deglaze the pan with cider vinegar, followed immediately by the chicken stock. Stir the onion gravy as it thickens and continue to cook until the sauce is thick. Season with Dijon mustard, a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper.
Meanwhile, heat a griddle pan, flat grill or BBQ, season and cook the sausages until cooked through. Rest for a couple of minutes.
Divide the mashed potato (recipe below) evenly onto four plates, then spread an equal amount of the hot onion gravy next to the mash. Place the sausages on top of the gravy (or vice versa depending on preference) and serve.
Plenty of butter makes a good mash. If this freaks you out, replace half the butter with cream.
– 1kg peeled and diced desiree potatoes
– 50ml warm milk
– 175g quality organic butter, diced
Cover the potatoes in a heavy-based pot with salted cold water and place on a medium heat.
Simmer the potatoes until they are cooked and able to be pierced with a small knife or skewer.
Strain the potatoes and reserve the warm pot. Using a mouli or potato masher, mash the potatoes until smooth.
Return the potatoes to the warm pot and slowly add the warm milk followed by the butter one piece at a time. Continue to stir the potato mix until the milk and butter are fully incorporated. Season to taste with salt.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 23, 2016 as "Classical gastronomy". Subscribe here.