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Aggie Jekyll’s pudding of chicken, mushroom & sausage

As noted in the lyrical, Mrs. Jekyll assumes that her reader knows how to make a pudding and its suet pastry. That assumption is no longer wise. In common with the older recipes, Mrs. Jekyll spoons her filling ingredients into their pastry nest raw, but in common with modern practice we have browned them to reduce the time required to steam the pudding so that the pastry turns out lighter than its older relative. This is a superb pudding.

Chicken EatingYou will want a six or eight inch pudding basin, or ceramic pot of similar dimension.

For the filling:

-1 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter
-1 ½ lb boneless chicken thighs cut into 1 inch pieces
-4 breakfast sausages (we use Jones) cut into ½ inch pieces
-¼ lb good veal or pork filet cut into ½ inch tiles
-about 6 oz small mushrooms, quartered
-a large shallot, peeled, trimmed and minced
-1 heaped Tablespoon flour
-about 1 ½ cups chicken, veal or pork stock
-2 teaspoons mushroom ketchup
-hot sauce
-salt and pepper
-2 teaspoons chopped parsley

For the pastry:

-10 oz self-rising flour
-5 oz shredded suet
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-¼ teaspoon salt
-white pepper
-½ teaspoon dried thyme
-barely enough cold water to bind the pastry into a firm dough

To make the pastry:

All you need to do is thoroughly combine the dry ingredients and trickle in enough water barely to knit the pastry into a ball. Cut a quarter of it away for the lid, and roll out the two clumps into discs to line and top the basin. The lining pastry should overhang the rim by about an inch so that you can seal the pudding shut.

To assemble the pudding:

  1. Melt the butter and then brown the chicken, sausage, veal or pork, and mushrooms in turn over high heat.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook the shallots until they soften.
  3. Stir the flour and thyme into the shallots until the flour loses its raw appearance, increase the heat to medium high and pour the stock into the pan.
  4. Bring the stock to a boil, scraping the pan to incorporate the debris from browning the meats and mushrooms, and then reduce the gravy to a simmer.
  5. Add the mushroom ketchup with a little hot sauce, season carefully with salt and pepper, and simmer for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and stir in the parsley.
  6. Generously grease the your basin or pot with unsalted butter.
  7. Line the basin or pot with ¾ of the pastry, making sure to push it snug around the circumference where the bottom of the basin meets its sides.
  8. Carefully mix the browned ingredients and fill the pastry with them, then pour in only enough of the gravy to cover (you can heat the surplus later to serve at table with the pudding). Push some of the shallots down into the filling.
  9. Cover the basin with the remaining pastry; make sure to seal the edges.
  10. Loosely cover the pudding with lightly buttered foil crimped to allow for expansion; crumple the foil tightly around the basin beneath the pastry without disturbing it.
  11. Place the pudding on a trivet or overturned saucer in a pot big enough to cover the pudding, pour boiling water around it to a depth about 2/3 of the way up the basin, cover, and boil the pudding for about an hour and a half.
  12. Turn (or, for the timid, spoon) the pudding out of the basin and serve with the reserved gravy.

Notes: The original recipe omits the shallots and places the raw meat and mushrooms right into the pastry liner. That is the practice traditionally followed until the third quarter of the twentieth century; it requires a boiling time of at least two hours, which can result in a wettened, much heavier crust than the method we have outlined, which produces a light and fluffy one: Your choice.

It is not mandatory to butter the basin, but if you do you are likelier to get a nice crisp skin on your fluffy pastry. The pudding is less likely to fall apart when you turn it out of the basin too.

Do not be intimidated if you have not handled suet pastry; it is among the easiest and most forgiving doughs to make and ‘roll.’ In fact it does not require a rolling pin; instead, push the dough out along a floured board by gently bounding it with the heel of your hand. After a few thumps you will get a feel for the art and can extend the pastry without causing fissures. If you do create one, just push the pastry back together. It will adhere and you can move right along.

Jane Grigson has a useful tip: “Tie a string handle round the rim of the basin, so that it can easily be lifted in and out of the steamer.” Jane Grigson’s English Food (London 1974) 244. Some pudding basins have four notches at the compass points of the base so that you can make a similar handle by stringing the basin like a loosely beribboned present.

Atora, a British company, packages shredded, floured suet in handy little boxes; each one will get you through about two puddings. They unfortunately do not appear to be available in the United States, possibly an unnecessary hangover from the BSE scare. If you dislike the idea of suet, ‘vegetarian suet’ also is available in little boxes from Atora and it is available in the United States at specialty shops, like Myers of Keswick in New York, that stock British products. It works about as well as the real thing.

It is not, however, at all difficult to shred suet. Just push it through the biggest holes of a box grater.

All butchers and supermarkets have suet on hand from trimming beef: If you do not see it in the butcher case, ask for it. Many people in the northeastern United States feed it to birds, especially in wintertime. The lightest suet encases the kidneys and traditionally is prized for making pastry, but any beef fat that is free of sinew and not too firm will do. You can freeze what you do not use.

The sausages inevitably find their way to the top of the filling to embed themselves in the pastry. Do not be alarmed; that enhances its flavor.

Do not be alarmed if you try to turn out the pudding onto a serving plate for a pretty domed presentation and it collapses instead. That happens to experienced pudding cooks too, adds to the general hilarity, and the pudding tastes just as good. Just make sure to use a platter big enough to contain the collapse.