Suet? The stuff we feed to birds? Yup, that's the stuff:) This challenge caused a bit of controversy in the forums, right from the moment it was posted. Some declined to participate this month, while others looked for suet substitutes. Many got right to it and started producing puddings. I wasn't one of those, of course. I thought it sounded like a really interesting challenge, as I had never cooked with suet, but we were having a freak heat wave when it was announced, and the idea of steaming something for 5 hours did not appeal. Luckily (?) the weather reverted to seasonal chilliness and the challenge was on!
I went to the butcher shop looking for suet, and I swear the butcher did a happy dance when I asked for it. He came racing across the store to with a container of veal suet and questions about what I was going to do with it. He was quite happy that I was making something to eat and not bird food with it. Butchers are so enthusiastic about their craft! I don't eat that much meat, so I rarely go to the butcher's, but this one is my new go-to shop. In fact I went back later in the week to get the ingredients for the filling, but first let me tell you about rendering the suet.
Do not do this at home! The suet has no smell when cold, but when heated it immediately filled my apartment with this super-greasy smell. I do believe I sat there for the whole hour it took with a wrinkled up nose, feeling nauseous, and waiting for it to be ready. Of course, this was after I had separated the fat from all the attached membranes, but that part was fine--I'm not squeamish in the kitchen at all. I won't show you any photos of the suet, as it may be harrowing for some (like me--no need to relive the smell). The suet pastry was odourless, though, and very easy to make and work with.
Now I needed to decide what to fill the puddings with. I decided to go with veal, as I was using veal suet. I know this doesn't make much sense, but bear with me. Most recipes seemed to include chunks of meat, as in steak and kidney pudding. I wondered if a larger cut of meat would work, so I bought some veal shanks and made osso bucco. I seasoned and browned the veal shanks, but removed one and refrigerated it, browned, but still raw inside, for the pudding. I didn't want it to be overcooked inside the crust, and I was afraid this was going to be a very expensive waste, with the price of veal shanks. I cooked one shank in the sauce made with marsala (remember the tiramisu challenge?), reduced and cooled the sauce, and then used it with the reserved piece of veal shank in the pudding.
I lined the 0.5L pudding basin with the pastry and put in lots of the sauce and vegetables, with the veal shank nestled in the middle. I then covered it with more pastry and trussed it like a turkey (actually, wrapped it in pleated wax paper and foil, tied the layers tightly to the bowl, and made a string handle). It was now ready to steam, which I did stovetop in a large pot, with an inch or two of gently boiling water, for 3.5 hours. It was well past bedtime then, so I put it in the fridge and reheated it for dinner the next day by steaming it for an hour.
Not the best photo, but this is the inside of the osso bucco pudding, with some gremolata sprinkled on top. It was delicious! The veal shank I cooked inside the pudding was much more tender and flavourful than the one I cooked on top of the stove. The sauce had that wonderful gelatinous quality and the bone marrow was fantastic with some salt and gremolata. The suet crust, however, I didn't like at all. It browned beautifully, and rose, but it was just a bit odd in texture and didn't seem to have much flavour. Maybe I was still disturbed by the rendering, or maybe it just needed more salt, but I ended up throwing it all away.
For the sweet pudding, I decided to go with a Sussex Pond pudding. This pudding is made by encasing a whole lemon with lots of brown sugar and butter in a suet crush and steaming until a sauce is formed. I just wanted to make a tiny one, so I used a small Meyer lemon and a few kumquats.
I sliced the fruit thinly, and refrigerated it overnight with the brown sugar and a few crushed pods of cardamom. The next day, I put it in the crust in a 0.2L pudding basin, layering an obscene amount of butter above and below the fruit. I should only have steamed this for an hour, as it was so small, but I left it for 2 hours, so I did not get the pond effect of the sauce running out. Instead it was a thick marmalade-like filling. It was absolutely delicious, and I ate most of it before I managed to stop myself and get a picture, hence the copious amount of whipped cream. I still didn't love the suet crust, but it was better here.
Update! I came home from work today and decided to make a third pudding. This time I chose a chocolate sponge pudding made with butter. I followed this recipe, but lined the buttered pudding basin with sliced almonds and sugar, and added a few tablespoons of Amaretto to the batter. A half recipe steamed in a 0.5L basin for 45 minutes, and was rich, dense and delicious.
This was such an interesting challenge--it was the first time since I joined that I used a totally new ingredient! Check out the slideshow to see all the fantastic pudding creations by the Daring Bakers.