‘Ciste’ is a Gaelic term for coffin, and in culinary terms a ciste is essentially a suet pudding without pastry other than the lid. A ciste is easier and a little quicker to make than a fully lined pudding, and more forgiving: The pastry is less inclined to get sodden, and if you want lots of hearty suet sponge, just make the topcrust thicker. You also can bake rather than steam it.
This recipe is our rather distant variation of one by Philippa Davenport that appeared some time ago (the date long since lost) in the weekend section of the Financial Times. We have not encountered something similar anywhere else. It may not appear British at first, but early English recorded recipes, both manuscript and print, include both coriander and turmeric, while sheep and citrus have been British staples for centuries, so the preparation is traditional in spirit if not in fact, or at the very least a worthy hybrid. One of the best of all savory puddings. Four servings of ciste.
For the filling:
- a lemon
- about 2 lb boneless lamb (shoulder or neck, or leg in a pinch), cut into 1 inch chunks
- 2 lamb kidneys or ½ veal kidney, cut into ½” dice (optional but delicious)
- large onion or two smaller ones, chopped
- a heaping teaspoon of turmeric
- a pinch of cayenne
- 2-3 teaspoons of neutral (like grapeseed) or olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
- A handful of coriander (cilantro), stems separated from leaves and chopped separately
- 1-2 cups lamb stock if you have it, water if not
- a chopped chilli
- hot sauce
For the pastry:
- 8 oz self-raising flour plus ½ teaspoon of baking powder or 8 oz all-purpose flour and 1½ teaspoons of baking powder
- 4 oz suet
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- The chopped coriander leaves you have reserved while preparing the filling
- About ½ cup of water, more or less
- Grate the lemon peel, then cut the white pith away from the fruit. Toss the pith and cut the segments away from the core and spokes of the lemon: Toss the core and spokes.
- Salt and pepper the lamb chunks and sear them in a little oil in batches if necessary (do not crowd the pot) over high heat in the flameproof and ovenproof pot you will use to bake the ciste. Remove the lamb from the heat.
- Sear the kidneys (if you are using them) and remove them from the heat.
- Reduce the heat to medium high, add the onions and garlic to the fat in the casserole and stir them until golden brown.
- Add the flour, turmeric and cayenne, and stir rapidly to coat the vegetables, then add the lemon segments and zest.
- Add the stock or water, bring to a simmer and return the lamb and kidneys to the pot; simmer partially covered for 45 minutes or until the sauce thickens a little.
- While the filling simmers, make the pastry.
- Mix together everything but the water.
- Stir in the water to bind and finish mixing the dough into a ball with your hands. If the dough sticks to your fingers and pulls itself apart, mix in a little more water.
- Flip the ball of dough onto a floured board and pat it into a disc just broader than the diameter of your pot.
Preheat the oven to 350˚.
- Once the sauce thickens a little, remove the pot from the heat, then stir in the chopped coriander stems and chilli.
- Place the pastry disc onto the filling, then cover with a layer of crimped and buttered foil, then the lid of the pot if you have one: Try to leave about an inch of space between the pastry and its covering to allow the pastry to rise.
- Bake the ciste for an hour, then check it. The pastry is done when it looks and feels firm but fluffy and springy rather than gooey. If it is not done, recover the casserole and bake it a little longer.
-Make sure to push the pastry well into the edges of the casserole so the gravy does not bubble around the edges and make the pastry soggy.
-The original recipe does not include kidney, chilli or stock, uses less turmeric and only includes coriander in the pastry, so we take no liberties in claiming it for bfia.