Try this amazing steak and ale pudding from Valentine Warner. This is heart-warming comfort food at its best.
This pudding, made with pickled onions, is a delicious beast, a gutsy hero. Were it a person it would be the local, thick-wristed, silent giant who whops cricket balls from the village green to kingdom come. Be the first to boldly venture into the pudding: it’s most satisfying to see the steam swirling up and saucy meats spilling forth, and you cannot but think: corrr! Visit a good butcher for the meat, which should be well fatted – too lean and the braising beef will be no better than shoe leather.
Takes 50 minutes to make, 4 hours 15 minutes to cook, plus cooling
750g braising beef
3 tbsp plain flour
1½ tsp flaked sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
35-40g dripping or lard
1 medium onion, finely chopped
500ml real ale
4-5 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
350ml beef stock, or canned beef consommé
1 tbsp tomato purée
Butter for greasing
150g baby (or silverskin) pickled onions, drained and rinsed
Mustard to serve (optional) for the suet pastry
400g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
200g shredded suet
½ tsp flaked sea salt
Plus... A flameproof casserole and a 1.75 litre pudding basin
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan170°C/gas 5. Trim the beef of any tough bits of gristle but leave the fat. Cut the beef into cubes (roughly 3cm), then put in a strong plastic bag. Add the flour, flaked sea salt and black pepper. Tie the end in a knot, then shake wildly until the beef is well coated in the seasoned flour.
2. Heat 25g of the dripping or lard in a large frying pan and fry the beef over a high heat in two batches until well browned all over, adding an extra 10g fat when the frying pan appears dry. Transfer the browned beef to a flameproof casserole. Return the frying pan to the heat and drop in the chopped onion with a little extra fat if need be. Cook over a low-medium heat for 5 minutes or until softened, stirring often. Stir into the pot with the beef.
3. Deglaze the frying pan with half the ale, bringing it to the boil while stirring to lift all the sediment from the bottom of the frying pan. Pour this over the beef and onion mixture. Strip the thyme leaves from the stalks and add with the bay leaf, sugar, beef stock or consommé, tomato purée and the remaining ale. Grind all over with a heavy bombardment of black pepper. Bring to a healthy simmer, then cover and cook in the oven for 1 hour. Remove the lid and continue cooking for a further 30-40 minutes, stirring once or twice. After this time, the beef should be almost tender and the sauce should be thick. Remove from the oven, taste for seasoning, then leave to go cold.
4. Butter a 1.75 litre pudding basin. To make the pastry, sift the flour into a bowl and stir in the suet and salt. Gradually stir in enough water to make a soft, slightly tacky, spongy dough – you’ll need around 300ml. Turn out onto a floured work surface and bring the dough together to form a ball.
5. Remove just under one-third of the dough to make a lid for the pudding. Roll out the rest until 1cm thick and use a plate as a guide to cut out a circle, 27cm across, using a dusting of flour here and there to prevent sticking issues. Line the basin with the pastry, to a level of around 3cm under the top edge of the dish. This is important as you must allow for the pudding to rise. Be careful with the pastry; if it rips, the gravy will snake and create a mess. Trim neatly to make a flat edge on which to fix the lid.
6. Stir the pickled onions into the beef mixture, then spoon into the lined basin. Brush the top edge of the pastry with water. Roll the remaining pastry into a circle just large enough to sit snugly on top of the pastry edge, then place over the filling.
7. Trim the excess pastry, then press the edges together well to seal.
8. Tear a large sheet of baking paper that amply overlaps the rim of the basin and, over this, lay a similar-size sheet of foil. Tie with string. Put the pudding basin on an upturned saucer or small trivet in a deep saucepan and add enough just-boiled water to come halfway up the side of the basin after it’s put inside. (Alternatively, cook in a hob-top steamer.) Cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and put over a medium heat. Allow the pud to steam in simmering water for 2½ hours, adding more water when necessary. 9. Remove the saucepan from the heat, then carefully lift the basin from the water using oven gloves. Stand for 5 minutes. Cut off the string, foil and baking paper. Loosen the side of the pudding with a blunt-ended knife, then invert the pudding carefully onto a warm serving plate large enough for the filling to ooze into. Attack the resulting stronghold with spoons, knives and mustard reinforcements.