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Whereas we love the offal of lambs and young calves, the stronger flavours – and tougher tissues – of that of their parents finds less favour. It was probably ever thus. These umbles kept their Anglo-Saxon nomenclature – “ox” liver, heart or kidney remains in parlance today – while all the prime cuts quickly adopted the Norman “beef”, since the invading upper class had no interest in them. Even now, only a few enterprising chefs (notably my pal Jeremy Lee at Quo Vadis) attempt to cook ox liver in favour of the perennially popular calf’s liver.
The exception to the rule is, of course, when ox kidney is braised with stewing beef, whether in a pudding or a pie. The use of the word “steak” in this context is somewhat anachronistic as these days we tend to use robust braising beef, whereas historic recipes often prescribe rump steak. In deference to popular squeamishness, pies are often made with steak but with the kidney replaced by mushrooms or other less challenging ingredients. This is a terrible mistake in my view: all the very savoury character of the singular marriage of the lean meat and the offal is completely lost. Happily, those who embark on the more interesting route of making a proper suet pudding are not so easily daunted.
Traditionally, the meat in a suet pudding was cooked in the pudding and not before, and would take a good few hours. I am too much of a coward to trust to nature and I certainly would not attempt the exercise with a meat as unyielding but flavoursome as shin of beef. I also take the view that the kidney does not benefit from too long a cooking time. Either way, a good steak and kidney pudding is a thing of joy and a very British response to a wet and dismal February.
Steak and kidney pudding
This will feed four, at least.
2 pint pudding basin
800g shin of beef
300g ox (beef) kidney
Plain flour to dust
Salt and white pepper
Butter (for cooking and stewing)
2 bay leaves
A few sprigs of thyme
275g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
● Remove the grosser outside sinews from the beef shin (or ask the butcher to) and cut the meat into chunks about 2cm thick and 3cm long. Place it in a colander and sprinkle over it a cup of plain flour, a teaspoon of salt and some finely milled white pepper. Toss together so that the meat is well dusted but there is no excess. Heat cooking oil and a knob of the butter in a large frying pan and seal the meat without trying to attain a lot of colour.
● Peel and slice the onions and stew them in a little butter in a large casserole. Add the meat, bay leaves and thyme, cover with cold water and bring to a simmer. Skim carefully and leave to cook very, very gently for two hours.
● Cut the kidney, without any connective sinew, into slices just under a centimetre thick. Toss these very briefly in a little heated butter and then add to the beef in the casserole. Bring back to a simmer and then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
● Mix together the flour, suet and baking powder in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Add 150ml of very cold water slowly to the mix, stirring it in with the tips of the fingers. Work gently, adding up to another 50ml of water until you have a pliant, kneadable dough. Roll out the pastry on a floured board into a circle quite thinly – say 3mm-4mm thick – and then cut out a quarter segment to later form a lid. (I cut this traditional “V” from the rolled pastry – rather than dividing it first into two lumps – for sentimental reasons: it is not a compulsory method.) Butter a 2-pint pudding basin and then drop in the pastry, pushing it well into the corners, with the two edges joined together and a small amount of pastry overlapping the sides.
● Pack the meat quite tightly into the pastry casing, filling it to the top and pouring its liquor over, topping up with a little cold water if necessary. Brush the exposed pastry with a little cold water and then roll the remaining pastry out into a circle and press it down on top. Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork and cut away the excess. Cover the basin with greaseproof paper or foil, tied in place with string. Gently lower the basin on to a trivet in a deep pan and add just enough boiling water to cover the trivet. Put a lid on the pan and steam the pudding for four hours, regularly checking that all the water has not evaporated.
● Place a plate over the pudding and invert it. Let the pudding sit on the plate for a moment. Give the base of the basin a couple of taps and lift it off. Serve the pudding with some buttered greens and a pot of English mustard.
Rowley’s drinking choice
Food as simple and honest as this makes an excellent foil for the finest wine. No reason not to open the best bordeaux in the cellar.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais