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Steamed mince pudding

Steamed mince pudding is by no means unique to Orkney. While savory steamed puddings are unique to Britain writ large, they represent traditional food in every region of the archipelago. This pudding based on mince, that is, ground beef, appears in An Orkney Feast by Alan Bichan (Kirkwall 2000), and its simple, even austere filling of only the mince, onion and dry mustard catches the Orkney ethos. It may appear counterintuitive, but this is an exceptional dish. Steaming the beef and onion in suet pastry, as Rupert Croft-Cooke knew of puddings more generally, concentrates flavors like no other technique. This may be simple but this is alchemy of the culinary kind. A pudding for four.

Orkney-Mince002.jpgFor the pastry:

  • 10 oz self-raising flour
  • 5 oz shredded suet (see the Notes)
  • salt and pepper
  • chilled water


For its filling:

  • 1½ lb good ground beef
  • a minced onion
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 heaped teaspoon dry mustard (like Colman’s)
  • salt and pepper
  • cold beef stock


  1. Make the pastry by mixing the dry ingredients with just enough chilled water “to form a dough,” as Bichan says, “that leaves the bowl clean.”
  2. Generously grease a 1½ quart pudding basin with butter.
  3. Cut away a quarter of the dough and shape the remainder into a thickish disc.
  4. Line the pudding basin by pushing the disc out and up the sides of the basin.
  5. Mix together the elements of the filling other than the stock.
  6. Fill the basin loosely with the beef mixture and enough stock barely to reach the top.
  7. Flatten the remaining pastry, dampen the edges of the pastry at the top of the basin and seal the pudding with the remaining pastry.
  8. Grease a sheet of pleated foil and crimp the foil over the pudding and secure it with twine.
  9. Steam the pudding for about three hours, “keeping an eye on the water level,” which should remain about an inch below the top of the basin.


-Atora suet is ideal, and widely available throughout the United Kingdom, but only the vegetarian variety is available in the United States. Even supermarket butchers, however, have suet, which costs a pittance and is easy to shred yourself.

-Try to use as little water as possible when making the pastry so it comes out light and fluffy.

-Turn a helpful trick recommended by Bichan and “line the bottom” of your basin “with a circle of greaseproof paper. This will ensure your pudding turns out without breaking.”

-Bichan’s version of this pudding is plainer still: It uses water instead of stock.

-You also might add a drip of Worcestershire to the filling and a teaspoon or so of dry mustard to the pastry.

-To make a sort of Shetland pudding, replace half the ground beef with saucermeat. Our recipe also is posted in the practical.