In Britain, puddings aren’t always sweet, and although ‘pudding’ can be a synonym for ‘dessert’, it isn’t always. Steak and kidney pudding is a case in point. It’s a essentially a deep pie made with suet pastry and filled with chopped steak, kidney and onions in a thick gravy, cooked by steaming (or boiling) instead of by baking. The result is filling, warming, and somehow very reassuring in cold weather. It’s closely related to Bedfordshire Clangers, but it’s made in a deep basin instead of a roll and it doesn’t include fruit.
The cooking method derives from the custom of cooking a dish by tying it in a cloth and suspending it from the handle of a cauldron bubbling over the fire, which was an efficient way of cooking a solid object before the oven was invented or in households without an oven. Sweet puddings would have been cooked this way too, which is no doubt the origin of the modern steamed sponge puddings and Christmas pudding. And very probably the origin of the fruit in Bedfordshire Clangers, which by combining fruit and meat echoes some of the cooking habits of the Middle Ages. Mince pies originally contained meat as well as fruit. The separation between sweet and savoury is comparatively recent, only a century or so old.
Here’s my recipe:
Steak and kidney pudding
5 oz (approx 125 g) self-raising flour
2.5 oz (approx 60 g) shredded suet
8 oz (approx 250 g) shin beef or stewing steak
1 lamb kidney
Half an onion
1 Tablespoon (1 x 15 ml spoon) plain flour
Approx 0.5 pint (approx 250 ml) stock
1 teaspoon (1 x 5 ml spoon) dried mixed herbs
Grease a pudding basin.
Mix the self-raising flour and suet in a bowl. Add sufficient cold water to form a soft but not sticky dough. If it is too sticky, add more flour. (If you know how to make dumplings, this is exactly the same).
Roll out on a floured work surface to a circle big enough to fit the pudding basin.
Cut approximately a quarter segment out of the circle. Line the pudding basin with the three-quarter part of the circle, damp the cut edges and seal them together. It’s very forgiving pastry, so mould it and push it around until it lines the basin. Any holes can be patched by damping the edges and pressing extra bits of pastry in to fill them. (If you have your own preferred method of lining a deep pudding basin, go ahead and use it. I’ve found the three-quarter circle works for me, as it folds into an approximate cone roughly the right shape for the basin).
Chop the steak into approximately 1” (approx 2 cm) cubes and chop the kidney into pieces about half that size.
Peel and chop the onion.
Fry the meat and onion in lard or cooking oil until the meat is browned.
Stir in the flour.
Pour in the stock, and bring to the boil to thicken. You can replace part or all of the stock with red wine or beer if you like.
Add the herbs, season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Pour the filling mixture into the lined pudding basin.
Add more stock (or wine or beer) if necessary. The liquid should almost cover the meat and onions.
Roll out the quarter-circle of pastry to a circle big enough to make a lid. Dampen the edges and seal the lid to the edges of the lining pastry.
Cover the pudding basin with tinfoil. If the pudding lid is near the top of the basin, put a pleat in the tinfoil so the pudding can expand. If the pudding lid is well down below the edge of the basin, you don’t need to pleat the tinfoil.
Steam for 2.5 to 3 hours, making sure the water in the pan never boils dry.
Serve with carrots, Brussels sprouts, cabbage or other vegetables of your choice.
I make this quantity for two people and with vegetables it makes a complete meal.