I am standing outside my house in an apron and a pair of slippers, holding kidney offcuts in my hands. I am not, unfortunately, holding my house keys — and the door has just slammed shut behind me.
For two hours, I sit in a café, thinking about the steak and kidney pudding blackening on my stove. When my boyfriend returns and rescues me, I fish carbonised offal out of the casserole dish. Bravely, we eat the small amount I manage to save. I vow never to make steak and kidney pudding again.
But it seems I’m a glutton for punishment (and a glutton generally). The next day, I buy more kidneys, put my apron back on, and try again. And it’s utterly worth it. There’s no way to make a steamed pudding handsome, but as the golden orb slides obligingly from its basin. I’ve never seen anything more beautiful.
Most of us remain squeamish about preparing kidneys at home, which is a great shame. They lend an earthy richness to a meat stew, and they’re cheap and nutritious. They are short on effort, once you’ve got to grips with de-coring them. Sharp kitchen scissors: snip carefully and it will come away neatly in one piece.
Oysters would once have been part of this mix, too. In The Pickwick Papers, Sam Weller remarks that ‘Poverty and oysters always seem to go together.’ These days, oysters are a luxury. It doesn’t make sense now to put them into a pudding that’s all about creating something hearty and glorious out of cheap cuts and cheap pastry.
Now, about that pastry. Suet is the fat from around the kidneys of sheep and cows. It creates a decadent pastry — softer than shortcrust, denser than puff — a pastry that longs for quintessentially British flavours: bittersweet marmalade or tender braised meats. Suet yields easily to a fork, spilling out its gravied goods. Milk powder stops the pudding turning a wan grey, and Henderson’s Relish — Sheffield’s superior answer to Worcestershire sauce — adds savoury depth. This is food for people who swing axes and sail seas, not those who sit in front of computers. But frankly, I don’t care. It’s the perfect dish for a lazy autumn weekend.
Steak and kidney puddings
Serves 4. NB This recipe is for two puddings, each serving two. If you’re brave, you can make one 20cm pudding and steam it for half an hour longer, but be warned: large suet puddings have a tendency to collapse under their own weight.
1. Preheat oven to 150°C. Halve the kidneys and snip out the white core. Slice into bitesize pieces and toss in flour. Fry the kidneys in butter for a minute or two, then remove from the pan and set to one side.
2. Cut the beef cheeks and oxtail into chunks and roll in seasoned flour. Heat oil in casserole dish, and brown the beef and oxtail in batches for 5-10 minutes. Return all the meat to the pan, add the ale, and deglaze by scraping any sticky bits off the pan’s bottom.
3.Chop the vegetables into 2cm pieces, and add to the dish along with the kidneys, stock and Henderson’s Relish. Bring to the boil, cover, and place in the oven for three hours. At the end, remove the oxtail bones.
4. For the pastry, mix together the dry ingredients, and add water until it forms a dough (you may not need all of it). Knead the dough briefly until smooth. Roll out to half a centimetre thickness, and cut four rough circles from it — about the size of a dinner plate.
5. Oil the bowls and drape a pastry circle inside each, leaving a little overhanging. Smooth it into the sides. Fill the pastry nearly to the top with stew, retaining some of the gravy. Cover each pudding with another circle, sealing the overlapping edges by pressing.
6. Wrap the top of the basins in greaseproof, then foil, to create a waterproof seal. Tie string around the collar of the basins to secure the foil. Saucers upside-down in the base of a large pan will serve as trivets. The basins should be half immersed in water. Simmer for two hours, making sure the pan doesn’t boil dry.
7. After lifting out the puddings, carefully remove the coverings. Run a knife gently around the inside of the basins to loosen the puddings, then place a serving plate over each one, and confidently invert it. Serve immediately, with the reserved gravy on the side.
2 12cm pudding basins
5 lamb kidneys
500g beef cheek
2 tbsp oil
2 celery sticks
1 bottle dark ale
500ml beef stock
2 tbsp Henderson’s Relish
250g self raising flour
2 tbsp milk powder