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discussion & revival
of British foodways.

NO.52
SPRING2017

A rag pudding from Robert Owen Brown and its surprising variation.

This pudding acquired the homely name from its cooking vessel. The pudding cloth precedes the basin, and despite the workaday nature of the fabric to our eyes, it was a revolutionary innovation when an anonymous English cook stumbled into the idea sometime during the seventeenth century. Before the brainstorm, boiled puddings required the gut of an animal and so were special treats, but once the cloth entered service all manner of savory and sweet puddings would become an English staple.

It remains a mystery why no other culture adopted the pudding with such enthusiasm: Puddings are nutritious and cheap, and the cooking process concentrates the flavors in the filling to create something both unique and special.

This pudding is about as cheap as a pudding can get, but as Owen Brown claims, this plain “poor folks’ food with no herbs or spices” is “delicious.” It also is a good choice for your first pudding because nothing can go wrong.

 


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For the pastry:

  • -about ¾ lb shredded suet (Atora is ideal or in its absence shred your own)
  • -about ¾ lb self-raising flour
  • -pinch salt
  • -about 6 Tablespoons water

 

For its filling:

  • 3 Tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil (but see the Notes)          
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • generous Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • a finely diced big onion
  • a peeled and finely diced carrot
  • heaped Tablespoon flour (preferably Wondra)
  • about a cup or more good beef stock (see the Notes)
  • salt and pepper
  • beef gravy

 


 

  1. Set the oil in a heavy skillet over high heat and brown the ground beef, then remove it from the pan.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium in the same skillet; if your beef is lean you may need a little more oil. Cook the vegetables until they soften, then remove them in turn.
  3. Sizzle the butter in the skillet, whisk in the flour and allow the roux to color gold.
  4. Stir the stock into the roux, return the other filling ingredients to the skillet, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the filling until it absorbs the stock.
  5. Take the filling off the heat, season it and then chill it while you make the pastry.
  6. To make the pastry just combine all its ingredients to make a ball of dough.
  7. Roll out the pastry in the shape of a rough rectangle about the size of two sheets of 8½ by 11 inch or A4 paper on a floured board.
  8. Smear the filling across half the pastry sheet in the long direction and roll up or fold the other half over it to form a sealed pocket. You want a solid filling rather than a spiraled jelly roll effect that intermixes filling and pastry.
  9. Carefully wrap the pudding in a cotton cloth (like a dishtowel) tied at both ends and steam it for three hours.
  10. By tradition, and it is a good one, rag pudding is served with gravy and mushy peas.

 

Notes:

-In common with other accomplished cooks, Owen Brown prefers canola, or rapeseed, oil. We do not like it.

-You cannot add too much stock so long as it is not salty. If you have the time double the amount and reduce it as instructed. The concentration of the beef flavor adds an entire dimension to your rag. For his part Owen Brown specifies only about ¾ of a cup of stock. More is better.

-To make a bfia rendition of rag pudding with spice, substitute lard for the oil (a good move anyway), omit the carrot and add a generous half teaspoon or more cinnamon at the end of Step 3. The combination appears as ‘The Cardinal’s Ragu’ in The Splendid Table by Lynn Rossetto Kasper, which appeared back in 1992. According to Kasper, the sauce first was cooked for the Cardinal of Imola during the eighteenth century. Italian it is, and intended for pasta, but English cooks traditionally have reached for cinnamon and other ‘sweet’ spice to make savory preparations and the addition of cinnamon to simmered beef is beguiling,

-Other varieties of ground, or minced, meat and their stock may also go into a rag pudding as well as offal, alone or in combination with the meat. Venison and its offal are good too. The flavor of the liver is surprisingly mild.