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 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
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.
Dredge both meats in 2 dessertspoons plain flour, mixed with a level teaspoon English mustard powder, sea salt and cracked black pepper.
Lightly brown the kidneys
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Round the folded edge with your hands, unfold and gently lower into a well buttered 1 litre pudding basin.
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.
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.
When done, loosen the edge of the pastry with a knife.
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.