I have long been fascinated by the steamed and boiled puddings of the British Isles. My first exposure to them was via a richly spiced persimmon pudding that Mom made for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Later I experienced rich chocolate and toffee puddings, but I have long been curious about the savory puddings that served as such a staple of the pre-war British diet, so I decided to try it out.
Savory puddings are the antithesis of fast or convenience foods. For unpracticed hands, such as my own, it takes a good 45 minutes to get the pudding prepared. Then it boils for 2 ½ to 4 hours. On a cool autumn day, however, it makes for a delightful, quietly gurgling pot on the back of the stove.
The result of this cooking method, which is a sort of well controlled moist cooking method, is an intensely beef flavored filling in a flaky biscuit crust. As opposed to stews, where meats are immersed in liquid, the pudding filling is relatively dry, though there is a small amount of good beef stock included. The liquid assists in the breakdown of the connective tissues in the beef, rendering it tender and making the sauce rich and toothsome. By limiting the liquid, the flavor of the beef is not diminished, but, rather, is intensified. In a typical American style beef stew, meat is, in essence, boiled with vegetables until everything is a bit mushy. By immersing the meat in a volume of water, the beef flavor is diluted. Beef stew at its very best, such as the classic Southern French Daube Provençal, has a cooking broth that is rich in flavor so even if the beef flavor is diluted a bit, the trade-off is well worth it. The beef may lose some of its "beefiness", but it gains flavors brought by wine, stock, anchovies, olives as well as mirepoix. In the simpler beefsteak pudding we start with the same cut of beef, my personal preference is boneless chuck-eye steak which is rich in flavor and in connective tissue which contributes so well to the broth. Instead of immersing the beef in a cooking liquid, we are creating a closed cooking environment with a very limited volume of liquid. The liquid used is a good quality, rich beef stock. Other elements in the pudding are limited – they may include kidneys, mushrooms or oysters, but vegetables and starches are cooked outside the crust.
The crust itself is a biscuit-like affair. To my surprise, it cooks to a delightful pale brown despite being cooked in the water-bath. The recipe that I used was a pure butter crust, mainly because in my area butter is more readily available than suet. For the next foray I hope to get some suet and do either a true suet crust or, perhaps, part butter and part suet. That said, the butter crust came out quite nicely and lent a rich butter flavor to the finished product.
Here is the recipe that I used. It is Frankensteined from other recipes, but it worked well.
Steamed Steak & Mushroom Pudding
- 2 cups (284 gm) all purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp (4 ml) salt
- 2/3 cup (160 gm) butter
- cold water to mix
- 2 chopped onions
- 500 grams chuck-eye steak (or good chuck trim, if you are close to your butcher!)
- 6 large white button mushrooms or assorted wild mushrooms, quartered
- 3/4 cup (180 ml) good beef stock
- 1/2 tsp (3 ml) Worcestershire Sauce
- 3 tbsp (45 ml) all purpose flour
- fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste
Prepare the pastry by cutting the butter into the flour and salt mixture in a bowl until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Using a fork add cold water gradually and combine to make a dough. Do not over-knead! Sprinkle dough with flour, wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Sauté the onions in a little oil until tender, then combine with the beef and the mushrooms in a bowl along with the flour and dry seasonings.
Roll the rested dough out to about ¼" thickness and cut out a wedge amounting to ¼ of the total. Line a buttered pudding basin or bowl with the larger part of the pastry and fill with the beef and onion mixture.
Add the Worcestershire sauce and beef stock and top with the remaining pastry and crimp. Cover the top of the pudding with a round of parchment and then seal the top of the bowl with a layer of foil, tied in place with butcher's twine.
The bowl is placed in enough water to come half way up the exterior in a large sauce pot.
Boil for three hours, covered, being careful to keep the water about half way up the basin. When adding water, do so with boiling water so as not to lower the cooking temperature.
Remove the basin from the water and allow it to set for about ten minutes. Invert the basin on service dish, and allow it to stand for another three to five minutes. Carefully tap the basin with a metal spoon and remove from the pudding. If your pudding crust is firmly made, the pudding will stand! If your crust is too tender, it may collapse, but that should not be viewed as a defeat – the pudding will still be excellent.
Kidneys and oysters make lovely additions to a beefsteak pudding. In the case of kidneys, clean them well and leach them in milk for a few hours prior to making the pudding, and put them in with the beef. In the case of oysters, refer to Mrs. Beeton's work on British cookery – shuck half a dozen fresh oysters pour any liquid that they secrete off. Reduce the stock by the amount of the oyster liquor and proceed with the pudding. Cook the oysters enough to plump them just before you serve the pudding, and spoon a few oysters about the plate with the pudding. This is a foodie marriage made in Heaven, and it is suitably delicious for any festivity!