Prawn and Venison Gumbo

prawn and venison gumbo

I had some venison and andouille sausage in the freezer and after making Prawn Étouffé a few weeks ago, I was itching to make a gumbo with prawns.

Gumbo is a type of stew which originated in Louisiana around the early part of the eighteenth century and comes from a mixture of cultures. The name itself comes from the African word for okrangombo or quingombo (used to thicken the stew), but a filé gumbo contains ground sassafras leaves instead, also a thickener and flavouring (originally used by the indigenous Choctaw Indians).

Gumbos can be made with most meats, (especially wild ones) including alligator, chicken, duck, rabbit, squirrel, turkey, veal, or, seafood like crab, crawfish, oysters, shrimp, etc. Meat combinations and seafood combinations are common, but it’s unusual to have meat and seafood mixed together. However, both should contain andouille, originally a French smoked pork sausage, that was adapted and remade by German settlers to Louisiana. If you can’t find an American andouille in the UK, smoked Polish sausage (from most supermarkets) would be the best alternative.

Gumbo should start with a roux – normally fat and or oil cooked with flour to create a thickener in traditional French cuisine, but in Louisiana this is cooked further until it takes a toasted chocolate colour. Okra and filé can be added later – some combine the two but most use either or. There’s also some debate over which oil or fat to use, any of the following are acceptable: butter, lard, chicken fat, goose fat, olive oil, groundnut oil, etc. In New Orleans, one can buy buckets of pre-made roux in shops and supermarkets.

To complicate things, there are two types of cooking in Louisiana – Creole (from the original French and Spanish colonists in New Orleans), containing tomatoes and Cajun (from the Cajun people of South Louisiana who were originally French colonists of Canada, expelled by the British), without tomatoes. Both Cajun and Creole styles of cooking use a trinity of celery, onions and sweet peppers, when garlic is used, it becomes a  holy trinity. It seems to me that a trinity made with sweet peppers comes from Spanish cuisine, because a French mirepoix normally contains carrots instead.

peeled prawns

To make a prawn stock, twist the heads off the bodies, pull out the black vein that runs down the spine (it’s easy, most of the time, to grab when the head comes off) and peel off the shells. Keep the prawns in the fridge after peeling.

prawn stock

Prawn Stock recipe:

the heads and shells from 1lb (500g) prawns (or shrimp)
1 small onion (chopped)
1 stick celery (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
juice of a lemon
2 bay leaves
a few sprigs thyme
a squirt anchovy paste
a few black peppercorns
salt (to taste)
1 pint of water

Bring to a simmer, scoop off any foam, put the lid on and cook gently for 30 minutes. Adjust the seasoning, allow to cool and strain into a jug. Don’t add the salt (to taste) until the stock is cooked.

venison rubbed with cajun seasoning

Venison and Prawn Filé Gumbo recipe (serves 4):

600g venison (cut into bite sized pieces)
500g andouille sausage (sliced)
500g raw prawns (or shrimps)
1 large onion (chopped)
1 green pepper (chopped)
1 red hot chilli pepper (deseeded and chopped)
2 sticks of celery (chopped)
5 tomatoes (grated)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
1/2 lb okra (sliced)
2 heaped teaspoons goose fat
1/2 cup of pork fat (from cooking a shoulder of pork)
extra virgin olive oil (as necessary)
1 cup of plain flour
1 pint of prawn stock
2 dessertspoonfuls Cajun seasoning: 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, 1 teaspoon mustard powder, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, a pinch of fennel seeds and 2 teaspoons pimentón de la Vera (picante) – all mixed together (I make a big jarful of this every year or so)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1 handful fresh coriander (finely chopped)
2 dessertspoonfuls of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
2 or 3 teaspoonfuls of Tabasco Sauce
a squirt of anchovy paste (to taste)
a splash or two of red wine vinegar (to taste)

to serve:

1 cup brown basmati rice per person (or your preferred rice)
1/2 teaspoon gumbo filé powder per person
a sprinkle of coriander

First of all, rub the diced venison with Cajun Seasoning and an additional teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Cover the meat and leave in the fridge overnight so the spices permeate.

venison browning

Take the venison out of the fridge 2 hours before cooking, so that it comes to room temperature. Using a large cast iron casserole, brown the meat in some olive oil. Do this in stages rather than crowding the meat. Remove the browned venison to a plate.


Next brown the sliced andouille and reserve.

pig fat

Once the meat is done, add the pork fat and two heaped teaspoons of goose fat to the pan. Most types of fat will do – olive oil and butter are commonly used.


Stir the flour into the hot oil – to make a good Cajun style roux, you will need to keep stirring or it will burn. If it burns you’ll need to throw it away and start again! I do this on a hot flame and stir furiously for about 15 – 20 minutes. Initially, there’s very little change in colour, but when it does go, it can be quite quick – I am inclined to turn the heat down a little when this happens, to slow it down a bit. After a minute or two the flame goes back up again. This stage is hard work and requires a good arm and lots of concentration. A chocolate brown roux tastes biscuity, a bit like well cooked pastry.


Once you have a decent looking roux of the desired colour, turn off the heat for a few minutes before stirring in a holy trinity of onion, celery, pepper and garlic – with the gas back on low, cook for a few minutes.


I went Creole as opposed to Cajun, by grating in 5 tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes in half and grate the wet side until you are left with a disk of tomato skin in your hand. Dispose of the skin or save it for stock.


Sprinkle on the chopped coriander.


Return the venison to the pot with two bay leaves and pour on the prawn stock.


Cook the venison in the gumbo, with the lid on, for 90 minutes at 160ºC (ideally in the oven, but the hob will do).


Chop the okra and add it to the gumbo along with the andouille.

andouille and okra

Adjust the seasoning and cook for a couple of hours more at 120º C.

smother the prawns

Cook the rice and add the raw prawns to the gumbo 5 minutes before serving (while the rice is resting) and smother them with the sauce.


As soon as the prawns turn pink the gumbo is ready.
Ordinarily a gumbo made with okra (which has thickening properties when cooked) doesn’t need the addition of filé powder (which comes from grinding the leaves of the sassafras tree). However, okra is seasonal, so expect to find it used more often during summer and autumn (fall). Ground sassafras leaves also have thickening properties plus a subtle flavour, but should be added at the end of cooking, because over time (with heat), the texture becomes stringy. The French word filé actually means yarn or thready.  So, if you expect to have gumbo leftovers, sprinkle a teaspoon into the bottom of your serving bowls (not the cooking vessel) and let the gumbo stand for a minute or two before eating. This way you achieve flavour and thickness without string. For the uninitiated, filé imparts a subtle sweetness reminiscent of flowers and it does taste very good with okra.

andouille, prawns and venison

The traditional accompaniment to gumbo is rice, which can make the dish go further if unexpected guests arrive, as can more stock. Gumbo can be severed thick like stew or thin like soup. Sprinkle a little chopped coriander (or parsley) on top for presentation. I recommend drinking a glass or two of Marqués de Aldeanueva (a Tempranillo from the Rioja region in Spain), with the gumbo.

The smell of the roux had me salivating and then roux plus prawn stock was …heavenly! It’s the taste and smell of the roux and seasoning that makes a gumbo!

Other gumbos.

Posted in Drink, Fish, Food, Game, Meat, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Paloma Rellena al Horno


Wood pigeon is vastly underrated in the UK. In town, the birds eat only the the best food – they particularly likes elder leaves and doze in the tree’s branches after stuffing themselves stupid, unlike their impoverished feral cousins who prefer fast food takeaways! In contrast to pheasant, which are bred and released, wood pigeon is totally free range and likes a natural diet!

Pigeon are classified as vermin, so you should be able to find them all year round. Farmers have a steady supply of them because pigeon love to eat seeds that have just been planted. You can see the late Archie Coates (a professional pigeon shooter employed by farmers) in action here and a discussion by Tom Payne  on why it’s important to control pigeon numbers – “A lot is different since Archie Coats’ heyday, but one thing remains constant – the threat to crops posed by pigeons.”


I found a very tempting Pigeon Andaluza recipe by Clarissa Dickson Wright (in her Game Cookbook), which contrasted and corresponded with a Perdices Rellenas a la Andaluza (Andalusian stuffed partridge) in Culinaria Spain. I’ve amalgamated the two recipes and changed things around considerably. Pigeon is quite popular in Southern Europe and quite rightly so – it’s delicious!

migas de pan

I buy decent brown sourdough bread and save the end pieces in the fridge. Every couple of weeks I chop if up and make croutons – these will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge and a year in the freezer. They also make delicious breadcrumbs when crushes with a mortar and pestle.

Stuffing (per bird):

2 slices jamón serrano (chopped)
2 anchovies (chopped)
3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
2 teaspoons parsley (chopped)
a dessertspoon breadcrumbs


Chop up a couple of tinned anchovies (ideally in extra virgin olive oil),

jamón serrano

along with two slices of jamón serrano. In Spain you can buy tacos of very good jamón at a much lower prices than slices. The tacos are little lumps chopped off the ham bone when all the easy to carve meat has been used up.

el relleno

Mix the meat, fish, garlic and parsley, then stuff inside the pigeon. If you have the offal mix that in too! Seal the bird with a couple of toothpicks and rub with the olive oil from the anchovies.

Pigeon Andaluz (sufficient for 2 pigeon):

1 stuffed wood pigeon (per person) or any small game bird, such as quail or partridge
1 small onion (sliced)
3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 green pepper (chopped)
3 tomatoes (grated)
1 cup of chicken stock
a splash of sherry vinegar
sea salt and cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons of non-pareilles capers (to serve)
1 teaspoon chopped parsley (to serve)

cebolla y pimiento verde

Rub some olive oil into an oven dish and lay sliced onion on the bottom. Put a layer of chopped green peppers on top.

ajo y tomate

Grate 3 tomatoes, mix in the garlic and sprinkle with salt and pepper.


Spread the tomato on top of the green pepper.


Pour on 1 cup of chicken stock and a splash of sherry vinegar.

paloma rellena

Add the pigeon and roast in a preheated oven at 200º C for 45 minutes. Turn the bird/s every 15 minutes or so.


While the oven is on, poach some sliced potatoes to accompany the pigeon.

paloma rellena al horno

When done, sprinkle with capers and chopped parsley. Serve with the above potatoes and a glass of Palomo Cojo (lame pigeon) Verdejo from Reuda.

This is to die for and packed with umami!

Posted in Drink, Fish, Food, Game, Meat, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fideuà Negra

fideuà negra

Fideuà is a seafood pasta dish which originally comes from Gandia in Valencia. According to legend, Fideuà was created by Gabriel Rodriguez Pastor, a cook on a fishing boat and his assistant Joan Batiste Pascual (known as Zabalo), in 1915. Apparently they often cooked paella for the sailors onboard ship, but the captain loved rice and was greedy – he always ate the lion’s share. In an attempt to share the food out equally, the cooks swapped the rice for pasta (fideos), in the hope that the captain would like the noodles less. Unfortunately, fideuà proved to be a big hit with the skipper – bad news for the crew, but a new dish was born. Like paella, fideuà has become an incredibly popular lunchtime dish on the coast of Valencia and Cataluña (no doubt elsewhere in Spain too), often as a  starter on a menú del dia.

cuttlefish ink

I previously posted my version of the most common type of fideuà dish found in Spain, but there’s also a less well known black version made with squid or cuttlefish ink. This thickens the sauce and adds a hint of the sea. The ink can be extracted from squid or cuttlefish at home, but it can also be found in sachets and jars at good fishmongers and some supermarkets.


Fideos are short pieces of pasta with the thickness of vermicelli or angel hair. The above are the kind of noddles most often found in restaurant fideuà. You can crunch up vermicelli to make 1 inch (2.5cm) fideos and in America, fideos are available in Mexican shops – used in making soup. There are several types of fideuà on sale in Spanish supermarkets, including Fideos No 2 which are like a tiny macaroni with a hollow centre to collect the sauce. Fideuà is the Catalan spelling – in Spanish the accent points the other way (fideuá).


1/2 kg raw mussels
1 small onion (chopped)
3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
4 teaspoons fresh parsley (chopped)
a glass of dry white wine
a pinch ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

ajo, cebolla y perejil

This is a very quick and easy way of cooking mussels. Rinse the molluscs under a cold tap, just before cooking – remove their beards and scrape off anything on the outside of the shell. Don’t soak them in water beforehand, it kills them! Tap the mussels and discard any that refuse to close. Using a large saucepan with lid, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Sprinkle on the chopped parsley and a little black pepper before pouring on a glass of dry white wine. Bring to a simmer, add the mussels, put the lid on, agitate and turn the heat down.


The mussels will steam and open when done (from 2 – 5 minutes). Allow the mussels to cool and remove them from their shells. Reserve the cooking liquid and add it to the fish stock.

caldo de pescados

Do cook your own fish stock if you have access to heads and bones, otherwise a good fishmonger will normally sell it in jars.

Fish Stock:

3 fish heads and bones
1 onion (roughly chopped)
6 cloves garlic
2 carrots (quartered)
2 sticks celery (quartered)
a large tomato (quartered)
2 bay leaves
a teaspoon of fennel seeds
a few sprigs thyme
a handful of fresh parsley
a level teaspoon black peppercorns
sea salt (to taste)
a glass of white wine
2 pints water
extra virgin olive oil

Brown the fish, pour on the wine, add the vegetables, herbs and water. Bring to a simmer skim off any foam and cook gently for 30 minutes. Allow to cool and strain.

Fideuà recipe (serves 4):

400g fideuà
2 pints fish stock
3 medium squid (sliced into rings)
5 large prawns (de-veined)
1/2 kg cooked mussels
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
a green pepper (chopped)
3 tomatoes (grated)
a glass of dry white wine
30g squid ink (about 6 sachets)
a dessertspoon fresh parsley (chopped) plus a teaspoon for decoration
extra virgin olive oil
allioli to serve

Fideuà is a fairly simple and straightforward dish to prepare, but requires constant attention, therefore I recommend getting everything ready in advance.

fideos tostado

First, pour plenty of olive oil into a hot pan and add the fideuà. Stir vigorously for 4 or 5 minutes until the pasta has browned all over. It tends to crackle a bit when golden. Remove to plate.

Fideuà is cooked in a paella pan, called a paella. This is a wide but shallow cast iron frying pan with handles on either side, ideal for cooking outdoors over a wood fire which provides a smokey flavour. Ideally, like paella, fideuà should be cooked out of doors, using a wood fire, though many Spanish people have special gas hobs with an inner and outer ring of flames. The inner ring is lit to cook the fish and vegetables and the outer ring is lit to reduce the stock. However, the largest gas ring, on a normal hob will suffice.


Turn the gas ring to the middle setting and cook the prawns in a little olive oil until they go pink. Remove and set aside for later.


Cook the onions in the middle of the pan – keep them moving until they take some colour and add more oil if the pan is dry.

pimento verde

Move the onion outwards and add the green pepper to the centre.


When the pepper has had a few minutes, move the vegetables to the outside of the pan (which is cooler), while you fry the squid  in the middle – until it takes a slight pink colour (4 or 5 minutes).


Again, mix and move everything outwards – grate in 3 medium tomatoes (ideally soft ones) – cut in half, grate the wet side and discard the skin.

ajo y perejil

Cook the tomato for a minute or two before sprinkling on the garlic and parsley.


After 3 or 4 minutes, return the fideuà to the pan and mix well with the other ingredients.


Combine with the precooked mussels.

fish stock

Have the fish stock hot and ready before pouring into the paella, along with the dry white wine – up to the nails (rivets on the handles).

tinta de sepia

Mix in the cuttlefish ink, so that the fideuà looks an oil tanker disaster. Have a quick taste to check the seasoning, then do not stir again!

black noodles

On an open fire or Spanish paella hob, the stock reduction and absorption takes about 5 minutes. With a domestic hob it takes 8 – 10 minutes. When you can see that the liquid has reduced, but there’s still a little below the noodles, reduce the heat to half way. Cook for a further 5 minutes. When it looks like the stock has been absorbed, turn off the gas. Put the wrong end of a spoon into the pan to check if you have any doubts. If you get the faintest whiff of burning it’s definitely done – do not cook further!


Place the cooked prawns on top of the fideuà.


Cover the paella pan with newspaper to allow the dish to rest for 5 minutes. Newspaper absorbs humidity, whereas foil keeps it in and it will drip back down into the food. Don’t leave it longer, or it will get too dry.


While waiting, mix up some allioli, to serve on the side.


Fideuà is a lunchtime dish and should be served at the table with a wooden spoon. Ideally it should stick slightly to the bottom of the pan to form a socarrat. The squid was melt in the mouth tender and had a very pleasant and lasting taste of the sea with a hint of fennel. I recommend drinking a glass or two of Calamar, Vino Blanco, Rueda Verdejo with the fideuà.

Posted in Drink, Fish, Food, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Corzo al Chilindrón

corzo al chilindrón

Chilindrón is a typical stew from Aragón, a mountainous Spanish region with the Pyrenees to the north and Cataluña to the East. Back in 1137, Ramon Berenguer IV (Count of Barcelona) married Petronilla of Aragon, and created a major medieval sea power. The Kingdom of Aragon ruled over Valencia, the Balearic Islands, two thirds of Italy, including Sicily and Sardinia,  for several hundred years. Parts of southern France, Navarre and Athens were also included in this empire at certain times. During the 15th Century, Ferdinand II Aragon married Isabella I of Castile, which was effectively the birth of modern Spain.

A chilindrón is a type of stew containing onions, sweet peppers, pimentón and jamón serrano, which is often cooked using lamb or chicken. The hearty flavour of the ingredients makes chilindrón ideal for game, such as roe deer (corzo) or wild board (jabalí) – both of which are common in the Pyrenees. I read in Culinaria Spain, that chilindrón dates back to the time of the Moors, though if that’s true the flavour would have been completely different because capsicum, pimentón and tomatoes all came back from the Americas with Columbus, who was sponsored by Ferdinand and Isabella. It’s worth noting that the neighbouring northern regions of Navarre (at certain points in history, Navarre was ruled by the crown of Aragón) and Pais Vasco also lay claim to chilindrón and it is often cooked with dried choricero peppers.

Receta de Corzo al Chilindrón (serves 4:

650g diced venison
150g jamón serrano
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
3 medium to large juicy tomatoes (grated)
3 sweet red peppers (cut in strips)
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
2 bay leaves
1 large glass or red wine
a couple of splashes red wine vinegar
sea salt and cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
chopped parsley (to garnish)

Chop the venison into bite sized pieces and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper – allow to come to room temperature before cooking.


Pat the meat dry and brown slightly in plenty of extra virgin olive oil. Remove to a plate.


Gently poach a large chopped onion in the same oil until soft and sticky – add more olive oil if necessary.


Stir in the garlic and grate on three medium to large, juicy tomatoes (discard the skin).

pimientos rojos

Slice three red peppers lengthways, discarding the stalks and seeds. Mix these into the pot. I saw a recipe which comments on the use of sweet peppers in chilindrón. Some recipes stipulate red or green peppers, while others use both. Mike Randolph states that his Aragonese great grandmother used whichever peppers were available at the time. So early in the year green, progressing to red later on.

jamón serrano

Chop up 150g jamón serrano (air dried mountain ham – prosciutto is similar) and add it to the chilindrón.


The venison can go back in too.

pimentón y vino

Pour in a large glass of red wine (use white for chicken) a splash of red wine vinegar, sprinkle on the pimentón and add two bay leaves.


Cover and cook in the oven at 160º C for two hours, or until the venison is tender. The same applies for lamb, though chicken will only take about 60 minutes. Check the seasoning before dishing up.


Sprinkle with parsley and serve with sliced and gently fried potatoes or rice and a glass of Teta de Vaca (cow’s teat) from the Calatayud DO wine region in Aragón.

Posted in Drink, Food, Game, Meat, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Cocido Montañés

mountain stew

Mountain Stew comes from Cantabria and is said to date back to the 17th Century. Cantabria is a mountainous region on the north Atlantic coast and it may be in Spain, but it can get very cold and wet. Cocido Montañés is quite specifically a stew which acts as, “El mejor remedio para olvidarte del frío que hace” – the best remedy to forget how cold it is! April has been unseasonably cold this year and so far it’s continuing into May, so a Cocido Montañés is absolutely perfect to blow the cobwebs away.


Originally, Cocido Montañés was called cabbage stew, but in 1966 the director of tourism for Santander (the city, not the bank), José Luís Herreros, sought to rename it, as a regional stew, like Cocido Madrileño (from Madrid) or Fabada Asturiana (from Asturias). After this Cocido Montañés could be found on the menus of most Cantabrian and many Spanish restaurants.

carne de cerdo en adobo

A typical Cocido Montañés contains pork ribs and belly (called panceta in Spanish) which has been marinated – en adobo. Meat, commonly pork, was preserved en adobo, with wine vinegar, pimentón, olive oil, garlic and herbs before the advent of refrigeration. I imagine that one would go out to the shed and pull a few pieces out of the adobo barrel and throw them into the cooking pot. See my recipe here for a traditional Spanish adobo, which is easy to put together and the meat can be marinated in it overnight, while the beans are soaking. The meat should be wiped to remove most of the marinade, which doesn’t go into the cooking pot (in this recipe). There is however, no reason why it can’t be used in some other cooking within a few days (mine was added to leftover roast pork to make another warming stew).

Receta de Cocido Montañés (serves 4):

300g pork ribs (adobada)
300g pork belly (adobada)
2 chorizo picante (soft for cooking)
2 morcilla (black puddings)
300g dried alubias blancas (haricot/navy beans)
1 large onion
2 sweet peppers (capsicum)
2 carrots
2 medium potatoes (peeled and cubed)
7 large cabbage leaves (cut into ribbons)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
extra virgin olive oil
1 heaped teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

Optional ingredients (some might say essential) are a pig’s trotter and/or a pig’s ear.

judías blancas

Soak the beans overnight, for at least 12 hours.

alubias y verduras

Rinse the beans and add to a large cast iron casserole, with water to cover (by about 3 fingers). Peel and cut the onion in half, cut the peppers in half (remove the pips) and add them, along with the carrots to the pot of beans. Bring to the boil and scoop off any white foam from the top of the water. Simmer for 90 minutes.


Peel and cube the potatoes – mix them in.


Put the marinated ribs and pork belly on top.


Cut the cabbage leaves into strips, but throw away the stems (or feed them to the pigs). These go above the meat to steam.

berza al vapor

Simmer with the lid on for a further 30 minutes.

verduras mezcladas

Remove the carrots, onions and sweet peppers along with several cups of cooking liquid. Blitz with a blender – one could also mash up the vegetables with a mortar and pestle.

cocido con verduras

Stir the blended vegetables back into the stew to thicken it.


Add the chorizo and morcilla. Cook gently, with the lid on, for another 30 minutes.


Chop 6 cloves of garlic and fry gently in extra virgin olive oil.

ajo y pimentón

As soon as it starts to look golden brown round the edges, remove to a mortar and pestle with the oil and a heaped teaspoon of pimentón de la Vera dulce (mild). Grind to a lumpy  paste.


Remove the meat and sausages  from the stew. Stir in the garlic paste, cut the meat into bite sized chunks and return to the pot.

cocido montañés

Check the seasoning and serve with a glass of orujo, which will put hairs on your chest and the cold is forgotten!

Posted in Drink, Food, Meat, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Venison and Kidney Pudding

suet pudding

I bought some venison at the farmer’s market on Sunday and mentioned to the game man, that I was thinking of making a venison and kidney pudding. Quick as a flash, he handed me a pair of venison kidneys and said, “Put these in your bag, they’ll be lovely.” After that I had to make a suet pudding!

Suet is a protective hard fat that forms around the kidneys of most large animals. When rendered (purified), suet has a high melting point with a mild smell and taste, which makes it perfect for making a light fluffy pastry or dumplings. Dishes such as steak and kidney pudding, spotted dick, jam roly poly, plum pudding (which has become known as Christmas pudding), etc. were traditionally wrapped and steamed in a cloth, in the days before people had ovens. Steaming took place above the cooking pot, where the daily soup, stew or gruel was being made. All the above dishes were particularly popular in the Victorian era and can be found in the recipe books of Mrs. Beeton and Eliza Acton.

Moving on to slightly more modern times, once cookers became normal in every kitchen, people adapted steamed puddings, so that they could be cooked in a glass or ceramic bowl, in a saucepan of boiling water. Many people in Britain still steam Christmas Pudding this way annually, on 25th December. Some commercial suet puddings are produced in cans – these were an absolute staple of post war Britain. The use of animal fats got a bad reputation for being unhealthy during the latter half of the 20th Century, but this has largely been disproved and over the last 20 years, butter, lard and suet have made a big comeback.

Steak and Kidney has become synonymous with British pies and puddings, but any unctuous stew could be used as a filling – kidneys are not obligatory. A steamed suet pudding is a sight to behold as well as being incredibly delicious – it could be described as the ultimate comfort food! But don’t just take my word for it, Calum Franklin has people queuing up for his delightful puddings and pies at the Holborn Dining Room – I’ve been lucky enough to have eaten three of his meat puddings (not in one sitting) and they are outstanding!

venison kidneys

Venison and Kidney Pudding recipe (serves 3):

350g wild venison (cut into bite sized pieces)
2 or 3 kidneys (venison or lamb) (cleaned and cut into bite sized pieces)
3 slices smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 medium onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 small carrot (chopped)
1 stick celery (chopped)
6 mushrooms (chopped)
1 dessertspoon fresh parsley (chopped)
2 bay leaves
a dessertspoon tomato purée
a large squeeze anchovy paste
1 large glass red wine
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
a splash of sherry (fino)
1/4 pint chicken or game stock
2 dessertspoons plain flour
a level teaspoon English mustard powder
a few turns sea salt cracked black pepper

butterflied kidney

Remove the thin membrane on the outside of the kidneys – it should peel off easily. Slice in half lengthways and remove the white fat and membrane core. Chop the venison and kidneys into bite sized pieces.

seasoned flour

Dredge both meats in 2 dessertspoons plain flour, mixed with a level teaspoon English mustard powder, sea salt and cracked black pepper.

kidneys browning

Lightly brown the kidneys

venison browning

followed by the venison, in some hot extra virgin olive oil. Do this in batches or the meat will poach and go sticky. Remove to a plate when done.

onion and bacon

Fry the onion in the same pan and oil. Any flour stuck to the bottom will eventually come free and add flavour to the dish. When the onions have taken some colour, add the chopped bacon.


After a few minutes stir in the carrot, celery and garlic.


Next the mushrooms go in, along with the anchovy paste and tomato purée.


Return the meat with the parsley, pour on a glass of wine, allowing the alcohol to burn off for a few minutes.


Stir in the stock, 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar and 2 bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, taste and add more vinegar or seasoning if necessary. Cover the casserole and braise for 2 hours in a preheated oven at 160º C.

pie filling

On tasting after 2 hours, I thought it needed a little sweetener and added a splash of Fino Sherry, which was perfect! Allow to cool completely before making the pudding.

Suet Pastry:

350g plain four (sifted)
175g fresh suet
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 sprigs thyme (just the leaves)
a pinch of fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
100 – 150 ml cold water

Do use fresh suet if you can find it – it’s available from some butchers and definitely online. If not, there is a cheap commercial suet product called Atora (since 1893) which can be found in most UK supermarkets. Atora is remarkably natural, being made up of 85% pre-shredded beef suet and 15% wheat flour. While being a British product, the name Atora is derived from toro, the Spanish word for bull. Suet has a high meting point, so as the pudding steams, the pieces of suet melt  at 45º – 50º C which produces fluffy holes in the pastry.

suet pastry

Sift the flour, baking powder, mustard and salt into a large basin and mix in the thyme and suet. Pour in a little water at a time and work the dough with a table knife. When the dough comes together start to use your hands and knead. Keep working the dough until it is smooth but not sticky – the bowl should be fairly clean.


Pinch off a quarter of the dough and save to make a lid. Push out a circle of dough (on a floured surface) with your fingers and knuckles – about 12 cm in diameter, a bit like a pizza (do use a rolling pin if you wish). Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough and fold in half.

pastry in pudding basin

Round the folded edge with your hands, unfold and gently lower into a well buttered 1 litre pudding basin.

fitted pastry

Mould the pastry into the shape of the bowl and trim off the overhang. This is much easier with suet pasty than pastry made with butter, which is brittle.


Fill the pastry with the cold venison and kidney mixture (hot filling melts the fat in pastry), leaving about a 2 cm gap at the top.


Fold down the edges onto the filling and moisten with water.

pastry lid

Use your fingers to make a circle of dough from the remaining pastry, which will form a lid.


Push the lid onto the wet pastry to seal.


Butter a piece of greaseproof paper to go on top (butter side down) and give it a small pleat – the pudding will expand while cooking. Fold a large piece of aluminium foil in two (about 12 cm square) and give that a pleat too! Cover the greaseproof paper with the foil, on top of the pudding basin. Using a 1 metre long piece of string, tie the paper and foil lid around the lip of the basin. A tight butchers knot on two sides is good. Make a handle out of the leftover string, to lift the basin in and out of the steam. Step by step pictures here, at Prue Leith’s Cookery School.


Place the pudding basin into a steamer, or a deep saucepan (ideally stand the bowl on a trivet or a piece of crumpled foil, so it’s not in contact with the saucepan, which can cause it to crack) of boiling water. It is usual to immerse the basin about halfway deep in the boiling water – it will take longer if it sits above. Steam for about 2 hours (it’s not critical) – do check from time to time to see that the saucepan doesn’t boil dry.

steamed pudding

When done, loosen the edge of the pastry with a knife.

cut open

Turn out onto a warm plate. Cut and serve with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. You may require additional gravy. I recommend drinking a glass of Los Arráez Arcos vino tinto (a crianza from Valencia) with the venison pudding.

Posted in Drink, Fish, Food, Game, Meat, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Corazones de Pollo

chicken hearts

I bought a kilo of chicken hearts this week for a silly price.

chicken heart kebabs

Half the hearts were marinated and scorched on the grill,

corazones de pollo

while the other half became a delicious Spanish stew.

I appreciate that many people are turned off by offal, but hearts are low in calories, contain lots of iron, selenium and zinc, along with several types of vitamin B. These B vitamins protect against high blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. On top of this, hearts have a mild flavour and a yielding rubbery texture like squid or octopus. lending themselves to spicy stews and slow cooking.

Corazones de Pollo Guisados (serves 2):

500g chicken hearts
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 green pepper (chopped)
8 medium mushrooms (chopped)
1 medium tomato (grated)
a level teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon pimetón de la Vera picante
1 teaspoon pimetón de la Vera dulce
a pinch of crushed chipotle chilli
2 bay leaves
a heaped teaspoon of chopped parsley and a little extra for garnish
a squirt of anchovy paste
a teaspoon of cornflour (called cornstarch in America)
1 glass dry white wine
a cup of chicken stock
a splash of sherry vinegar
lashings of extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)


Clean the chicken hearts, chop the tops off and brown them in olive oil – while doing so sprinkle with ground cumin and a little salt. When the hearts have taken some colour, remove them to a plate.


Gently poach the onion in the same olive oil – add more if necessary.


When the onion is soft, add the garlic and grate the tomato on top.


Stir in the green pepper and mushrooms.

mi corazón

Return the chicken hearts to the dish.


Mix in the pimentón, a pinch of chipotle or other crushed chilli and a squirt of anchovy paste.


Pour on the stock, wine and sherry vinegar.


Add the bay leaves, sprinkle with parsley and cook for 30 – 40 minutes, until the hearts are tender. Don’t overcook the stew, the hearts won’t thank you for it! When ready, mix a teaspoon of cornflour with 3 or 4 teaspoons of the cooking liquid (in a small cup or bowl) and stir it back into the chicken livers to thicken the sauce.

hearts of darkness

Check the seasoning and serve with fried potatoes, pasta or rice and a glass of Corazón Loco Blanco, made with Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo grapes, from Manchuela DO.

Posted in Drink, Fish, Food, Meat, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Judías Pintas con Cordero

lamb with pinto beans

While searching for a new Spanish recipe with white beans and leftover lamb, I came across recetas tradicionales using pinto beans instead.  I’m inclined to think that these are variations on an old recipe, dating back to before la Reconquista (reconquest of Spain). I suspect the origins are either Jewish or Moorish, because almost none of the recipes contain pork (which became almost obligatory relative to obedience to the Catholic church, in the eyes of the Inquisition ), but they do tend to contain cumin, which (Claudia Roden says) was an important spice used in Moorish lamb …and later Spanish pork.

alubias pintas

The pinto bean element to this recipe may be common now, but they definitely wouldn’t have been used prior to 1492, since they came from the Americas. The original bean ingredient would definitely have been fava beans (AKA broad beans), because that’s all we had in the old world. Interestingly, the word for beans in Spanish is alubias, but they are also known as judías. This puzzled me for 30 years, because judías means Jews. I asked lots of Spanish people over the years why they call beans judías, but nobody had the faintest idea. Last year I came across a Spanish text, on the etymology of judía. It states that there’s no written historical explanation, but there is a precedent relating to the Moorish occupation of Spain. It goes on to say that many of the foods specific to Jewish cuisine in the Levant, were prefixed Jewish in al-Andalus (Moorish Spain), such as Jewish thistle, Jewish vegetable, etc. This naming convention also applied to foods of other ethnic groups, such as Carthaginian, Kurdish, Persian, etc. It has been discovered that broad beans were originally domesticated in Israel, 10,000 years ago, which probably predates the farming of wheat and barley. So this particular naming convention would appear to have become ingrained in the Spanish language over time. However, this is not the case in South American Spanish where beans are called frijoles.

Pinto beans are a member of the common bean family, native to the Americas. The Spanish were much enamoured of the beans that they found in the New World and brought them back to farm. Many varieties of pinto beans now come from the North of Spain. I can’t say where these beans were grown, but I did buy them from Queviures Antolin in the Boqueria. Pinto comes from the verb pintar – to paint, which makes them painted beans!

pierna de cordero

The lamb ingredient in Judías Pintas con Cordero would normally be neck of lamb – here I’ve used leftover roast lamb. Any lamb with a bone would be ideal. If using fresh lamb, brown it first and add it to the stew with the potatoes.

Pinto Beans and Stock:

300g dry pinto beans
1 large onion (peeled)
6 cloves garlic (peeled)
1 stick celery
1 large carrot (peeled)
1 roast lamb leg bone
2 bay leaves
a couple of sprigs rosemary
a couple of sprigs thyme
12 cloves
1 1/2 pints water

alubias remojadas

Soak the pinto beans overnight for 12 hours.

caldo de alubias

Rinse the beans and put them in a pressure cooker with enough water to cover by about 2.5 cm (1 inch) – I used 1 1/2 pints. Add all the other ingredients (stud the onion with the cloves) and cook on high for 13 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally. Discard the bones, the cloves, herbs and celery.  The beans get cooked while making the stock – this can be done at the same time as frying the onions (below).

Judías Pintas con Cordero:

500g leftover roast lamb (cut into bite sized pieces)
600g cooked pinto beans
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
2 tomatoes (grated)
1 red or orange pepper (chopped)
1 leek (chopped)
3 medium potatoes (cubed)
1 pint lamb and bean stock
a glass dry white wine
a couple of splashes of white wine vinegar (to taste)
a large squirt of anchovy paste.
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
a teaspoon ground cumin
a teaspoon chopped parsley (for garnish)
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
extra virgin olive oil


Gently poach the onion in plenty of olive oil.


When the onion is soft, add the garlic and grate in the tomatoes.


Stir in the leek and orange pepper (capsicum).


Warm a teaspoon of cumin seeds and grind them with a pinch of salt.

comino y pimentón

Sprinkle on the cumin and pimentón.


Mix in the chopped lamb.


Spoon on the cooked beans, using a slotted spoon.


Grind the carrot and onion from the bean stock with a mortar and pestle or just combine them (like I did) with the stock, using a stick blender.

caldo mezclado

Pour the stock into the cazuela, along with a glass of white wine, a splash of white wine vinegar, a large squirt of anchovy paste and some cracked black pepper. The white wine vinegar cuts through the fattiness of lamb, in the same way that mint sauce (which contains vinegar) does.


Peel and chop the potatoes and add them to the dish.
Cover and cook on low for 40 minutes to an hour – until the potatoes are tender.

judías pintas con cordero

Check the seasoning and sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice. The stew was fantastically thick and creamy from the starch in the beans and potatoes, not to mention gelatin from the lamb bone. The cubes of potato had a fabulous way of almost dissolving in my mouth. I recommend drinking a glass of El Cordero y las Virgenes (The Lamb and the Virgins, by Fil.loxera & Cía from Clariano in Valencia) with the lamb and beans.

Posted in Drink, Fish, Food, Meat, Recipes, Spanish | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Beef Stew and Suet Dumplings

stew and dumplings

Most cultures that raise cattle for meat and dairy eat some kind of beef stew, however suet dumplings (and puddings) are particularly British. Suet is a protective hard fat that forms around the kidneys of most large animals. When rendered (purified), suet has a high melting point with a mild smell and taste, which makes it perfect for making a light fluffy pastry or dumplings. Dishes such as steak and kidney pudding, spotted dick, jam roly poly, plum pudding (which has become known as Christmas pudding), etc. were traditionally wrapped and steamed in a cloth, in the days before people had ovens. Steaming took place above the cooking pot, where the daily soup, stew or gruel was being made. All the above dishes were particularly popular in the Victorian era and can be found in the recipe books of Mrs. Beeton and Eliza Acton.

Suet can be obtained from some butchers, Smithfield Market and from online farm shops. My butcher has it frozen – he chopped  a bit off and stuck it in an industrial mincer. In it’s natural and rendered form it is not as common as it used to be, but there is a cheap commercial suet product called Atora (since 1893) which can be found in most UK supermarkets. Atora is remarkably natural, being made up of 85% pre-shredded beef suet and 15% wheat flour. While being a British product, the name Atora is derived from toro, the Spanish word for bull. There’s also a vegetarian “suet” available, but it’s made of palm oil, which will not melt at high temperatures like the animal fat and it’s bad for the planet.

Suet from cattle and sheep is also used to make tallow, which stays solid at room temperature and can keep without refrigeration. Tallow is used in manufacturing: candles, soap, bird, dog and pig food, biodiesel, printing, lubricants, medicines, etc. There’s a restaurant in London called Story, whose first course is the beef tallow candle burning at the centre of the table!


Beef Stew recipe (serves 4):

600g beef shin (chopped into bit sized pieces)
3 pieces of streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
2 sticks celery (chopped)
2 carrots (chopped)
1 leek (chopped)
4 medium tomatoes (grated)
4 medium potatoes (cubed)
3 portobello mushrooms (chopped)
2 teaspoons parsley
2 bay leaves
a dessertspoonful of plain flour
a pinch of English mustard powder
a pint of beef stock
a splash of red wine vinegar
a glass of red wine
a squeeze of anchovy paste
a good slug of olive oil

Suet dumplings are delicious in any stew, but beef stew with dumplings is the one I remember from childhood.

Chop the beef shin into bite sized pieces and brown in olive oil – this is best done in two or three batches.


Reserve the meat and fry the onion in the same oil.


When the onion has softened, stir in the bacon.


When the bacon has taken some colour, mix in the carrot, celery, garlic, leek and mushrooms (mine were cooked previously, so I added them at the same time as the stock).

potato roux

Give the vegetables 5 minutes or so and add the potatoes, along with the flour and a pinch of English mustard powder. Stir to create a roux – this will thicken the stew, while it cooks.


Grate on the tomatoes (cut in half, shred the wet side and throw away the skin).


Return the meat to the pan.

mushrooms, parsley and stock

Pour on the stock, red wine, red wine vinegar, sprinkle on the parsley and add the bay leaves. I came across a large amount of portobello mushrooms for pennies last week, so I cooked them and froze a few batches. My defrosted mushrooms went into the stew at this point.


Cook gently on the hob or in a preheated oven at 160º C for 2 hours.

suet flour mix

When the stew has been cooking for 2 hours, make the dumplings. Don’t mix them beforehand, the baking powder starts working immediately! Some recipes use self raising flour – this already contains baking powder as a raising agent.

Suet Dumplings:

125g plain flour – use a little more if necessary
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch salt
60g fresh suet
1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large basin and mix in the thyme. Pour on a little water at a time and work the dough with a table knife. When the dough comes together start to use your hands and knead.

suet dough

Keep working the dough until it is smooth and not sticky – the bowl should be fairly clean. If you add a bit too much water, a little flour will save the day. It doesn’t need to be exact. Don’t overwork the dough – the little pieces of suet should melt during cooking, at 45º – 50º C which produces fluffy holes in the dumplings.

beef stew

Flour your hands and roll small dumplings (8 or 9) between your palms.


Put the dumplings on top of the stew, close the lid and return to the oven for 20 – 30 minutes. If you want a more biscuity finish to the dumplings and a thicker stew, remove the lid after 10 minutes.

beef stew and suet dumplings

Cook for a further 15 – 30 minutes uncovered, until the dumplings turn slightly golden – check every 10 minutes or so. Garnish with a little parsley and serve with a glass of Tussock Jumper Monastrell from the Jumilla wine region in Spain.

Posted in Drink, Fish, Food, Meat, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Happy Easter

hot cross buns

Happy Easter!

I had something different planned for today, but when I went to Bread Ahead to buy my wholemeal sourdough bread this morning, the Hot Cross Buns literally jumped out and bit me! They looked so good (unlike the lackluster ones from supermarkets) having just come from the oven and today is Good Friday – the significant day for hot cross buns!

Hot Cross Buns date back to pagan times and the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of dawn and fertility, Eostre – the cross represented the four phases of the moon. It’s not hard to see why the Christians adapted hot cross buns and Eostre for Easter.

It is said that Queen Elizabeth I decreed that hot cross buns could only be sold on Good Friday, Christmas and for burials. Apparently, they were too good for other days. Good Friday stuck and until a couple of decades ago, when the supermarkets arrived, hot cross buns were only sold on that day. Personally, I believe that selling packets of inexpensive hot cross buns (from the week after Christmas) cheapens something special. I thoroughly approve of the fact that Bread Ahead only sell hot cross buns for the month before Easter …though a week would be better!

If you don’t live close enough to buy these special  hand made buns, here’s the Bread Ahead recipe:

To make 12 buns:

250g strong white bread flour
3g salt
40g caster sugar
6g mixed spice
3g nutmeg
30g unsalted butter
40g sultanas
25g mixed peel
30g peeled, cored and diced apple
8g fresh yeast (4 dried yeast)
140g full fat milk

The cross:

100g strong white flour
A pinch of caster sugar
A pinch of fine sea salt


100g caster sugar
50ml lemon juice
100g water

Put the dry ingredients into a bowl. Rub in the butter to make a dusty mass. Mix the yeast into lukewarm milk, add to the dry ingredients and combine. Turn out the dough and knead until it’s nice and smooth. Stretch out the dough into a circle and add the fruit to the centre, fold over. Roll and fold the dough until the fruit is evenly distributed. Place the dough in a bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave at room temperature for an hour or until it has doubled in size. Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Place the mixture on a lightly floured surface and cut into 12 pieces. Roll them into a smooth balls and place on the tray, leave plenty of room – they will spread out. Cover with a tea towel and leave to double in size.

While the buns prove make the cross mixture and the glaze. Mix together the flour, sugar, salt and 100g water until you have a smooth paste, pour into a piping bag with a 4mm plain nozzle.

Put the sugar, lemon juice and 100g water into a small pan. Bring to the boil and simmer until the temperature reaches 105°C, about five minutes. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

When the buns have proved, pipe a cross on the top of them and bake for 14-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a rack. After two minutes, brush with the bun glaze.

Posted in Food, Recipes, Shopping | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments