Regular readers have no doubt picked up on our growing love affair with offal. Over the last three years we’ve embraced cooking and eating the more esoteric, wobbly and less-eaten parts of various animals… mostly successfully. In part this has been driven by our curiosity; in part interest in rediscovering traditional dishes (thanks to championing chefs like Fergus Henderson and Robert Owen Brown), and in part because it’s a cheap and healthy foodstuff. Oh, and we’ve laid a few demons to rest in the process too…
When we were young, our mum used to serve us tongue sandwiches, and I loved them. Despite being a reasonably smart kid, I never made the connection between the name ‘tongue’ and the actual muscle inside an animal’s head; I just assumed it was another odd quirk of the English language. My illusions were shattered when I walked into the kitchen one day to find mum making pressed tongue: setting a boiled ox tongue in jelly, then pressing a plate down with an old-fashioned iron. Suddenly I put two and two together and realised why the slices were round, and curled. Although I was fascinated by the size, texture and feel of the ox tongue, I was also pretty creeped out. Both familiar and alien, one glimpse of the tongue was enough to change my attitude to it as a foodstuff. No longer was it a welcome morsel to find in my packed lunch, now it was a giant freaky cow tongue. I didn’t eat tongue again for over twenty years.
The Portuguese tapas bars of Stockwell have helped us both confront our offal concerns: Miss South bravely took on her teenage nemesis, liver, at Bar Estrela, and the year before were in another place nearby when I decided to tuck into a big plate of slow-cooked tongue and peppers. It was delicious – prejudice-poppingly so – and since then I’ve scoffed on tongue in everything from lunchtime barms; carved from a whole pig’s head at the Mark Addy, cooked by the aforementioned ROB, and in the shadowy world of The Offal Club, where I enjoyed more tongue-from-the-head. So tongue, and offal generally is popular here at North/South Food.
We’re also lovers of language, wordplay and punning, and I’ve long entertained the desire to do something deliciously edible with tongue and cheek.* Tongue-in-cheek, tongue’n'cheek… well, how could you not want to pair up these two meats, for comedic and gastronomic effect? After all, they’re close neighbours, natural bedfellows even. Ahem. At first I toyed with pie-making, but came round to the idea of suet pudding instead, inspired by rag puds. after getting some tips from star chef Nic Duncan, and advice from Miss South, I felt confident enough to give it a go. Thanks to our friends at Porcus, I’ve had the pleasure of access to some wonderfully fresh, healthy and less common piggy bits in the last few years. So I placed an order for some cheeks and tongues, and was duly presented with some fantastically fresh and flavoursome Tamworth pork to play with.
Pig cheeks fell out of favour for many years, but have recently made a comeback… and for good reason. Slow cooking—in this case poaching them in a meaty, boozy stock—means the meat tenderises to the point of falling apart, and they taste gloriously rich and porky. A good butcher should be able to source them for you, given advanced notice, and they’ve started turning up in supermarkets such as Morrisons and Waitrose. They’re cheap, look and taste like meat rather anything too overtly offal-ly, and they’re perfect for a strategic hit of intense porkiness in a range of dishes.
Pig tongue is less common than ox tongue, but if you ask a decent butcher he may well be able to source them for you (and will probably be interested to hear what you plan on doing with them). Tongue’s also ideally suited to low, slow cooking to meltingly soften the tissues. Bury black pudding has thick chunks of fat which render down when cooked slowly, so this helps to baste the meat as it cooks, and adds a rich savoury quality and gloss to the gravy. I first made this savoury pudding last month, and it all went well until I tried the remove the finished pudding from the Pyrex bowl I’d steamed it in. Having never used suet before, I forgot I needed to grease the bowl first… despite Miss South’s advice. Oops. Despite the suet determinedly clinging onto the bowl, the dish itself was delicious, and the samples I offered to various friends were first cautiously, then voraciously consumed. Definitely one to make again, I thought.
As luck would have it, I was sent a Mermaid 2pt pudding basin to review just a couple of days later. For a man who’d never made a steamed pudding before last month, this was too much of an omen to ignore… so I decided to remake the pudding and refine my recipe slightly (predominantly by reducing the amount of meat a little, compared to first time). This time, thanks in part to a liberal application of William’s Butter (top tip for folk in the North West, his handmade butter is truly excellent) and a quality anodised aluminium pudding basin, I managed to successfully ease the pudding out onto a plate… where it sat for about 90 seconds before the suet walls cracked, as if in slow motion, and thick gravy oozed from out under tendrils of steam.
At that moment I gave up trying to take photos and instead divvied it up between myself and a friend. The paprikakrém in the recipe gives the dish a bit of zing, but we augmented this by tasting a trial batch of my friend’s GetSpiced Scotch bonnet hot sauce, which was delightfully fruity but packed a helluva punch.
The verdict from all who’ve tasted this savoury steamed pudding is that it’s a winner. Get over the potential squeamishness of eating tongue… cooked this way it’s stunning soft, more tender than steak… and slow-cooked pig cheek is as succulent as pulled pork. I’d go as far as to say this superior pork number should stand shoulder to shoulder with the classic beef steak and kidney pie. And I don’t mean that in a tongue-in-cheek manner either.
Tongue ‘n’ Cheek Pudding
- 4 pig cheeks
- 2 pig tongues
- 1 Bury black pudding link
- 500ml chicken stock
- 250ml Marsala
- 250ml red wine
- 2 Bay leaves
- 1tbsp paprikakrém (Hungarian paprika paste)
- A couple of teaspoons of Lancashire Sauce** (or Worcestershire Sauce)
- Cornflour to thicken
- 150g suet
- 300g self-raising flour
- 200ml or so ofwater (start with 150ml and add more to achieve correct consistency)
You’ll also need
- 2pt / 1.4l pudding basin or heatproof bowl
- Baking parchment
- Kitchen foil
- Cook’s string
First, wipe down the cheeks and tongue with a cloth, and pat dry. Heat a heavy-based pan at a high temperature and brown the cheeks and tongue to seal them (if using a nonstick pan add the meat straight to the hot surface; if not, coat it beforehand with a thin wipe of oil so they don’t stick). Once browned, place them in the base of the slow cooker. Slice open the skin of the black pudding and crumble the contents on top of the pork meat. Add a generous quantity of freshly ground black pepper, a tablespoon of paprika cream (or mix a spoonful of tomato purée with some cayenne pepper for a similar effect). Deglaze the pan you used to brown the meat with a splash of the Marsala, then pour it and the rest of the wine and stock over the meat in the slowcooker so it’s covered fully, then fit the lid on firmly.
Cook overnight in the slow cooker at the low setting. You’ll awake to a wonderfully rich savoury aroma, and you’ll find the meat should be meltingly tender and sitting in an unctuous gravy. If you don’t have a slow cooker you can cook them similarly in a casserole in the oven at the lowest temperature for 5-6 hours, but it’s not as economical or efficient as a crockpot. Remove the meat for the cooking liquid and leave to cool: meanwhile transfer the liquid to a saucepan to heat on the stove. You should find the black pudding has broken down, providing body and sheen to the gravy, but stir well over a medium heat to thicken. You may want to thicken the gravy further; a tablespoon of cornflour mixed with 2 of water in a glass, then stirred into the pan should be perfect. Now’s a good time to make the suet pastry.
First, grease your pudding basin with butter. Mix the suet and flour in a bowl, adding water and stirring to make a rough dough. There’s no need to overwork it. Roll the pasty out to about 0.5cm. Place your pudding basin upside down on the rolled out dough, and carefully cut out a circle around 2cm wider than the edge of the basin. This will be your lid. Ensure the rest of the pastry is rolled out enough to easily line the inside of the pudding basin. Let it down gently into the body of the basin to create a snug lining. This can be a bit of a faff; you may need to carefully pat and shape the dough so it snugly lines the inside of the bowl. Leave 2cm of pastry hanging over the edge.
When the meat has cooled enough to handle, tear the cheeks apart: they’ll fall apart easily. Remove the skin from the cooked tongues: it might be a little fiddly to start with, but is much easier after cooking than before. You can either thinly slice the tongue, or tear it as you did for the cheeks. Mix both meats together, then carefully fill the pastry-lined bowl with them. A good way of ensuring the best-distributed filling is to add a layer of meat the thickness of your thumb, then pour some gravy over. Repeat this process until the lined bowl is almost full … then top up with gravy. If you’ve not got the time to layer the contents, no problem: just mix to the right consistency and fill. Wet the edges of the pastry hanging over the bowl with some water, then position the lid in place and press down the whole way around with your finger to crimp and seal it. Once stuck down, neaten the edges with scissors or a knife so they’re flush with the bowl.
Next, take a square of kitchen foil which is cut generously larger than the width of the top of the bowl. Cut a sheet of kitchen parchment to the same size. Place the foil on top of the parchment, and then halfway along the length of the square, fold both sheets back on each other, then back again, to create a pleat of 2-3cm. This will allow the contents of the bowl room to expand when steaming the pudding. Fit this double sheet to the top of the bowl, crimping the foils tightly over the edge, then wrap kitchen string twice around the rim of the bowl to secure it. Before you cut the string, tie it over to form a handle, like that of a bucket: this will help when lifting the bowl out after steaming. Finally, trim the parchment and foil back as close to the circle of string under the bowl rim, so water is less likely to creep inside the pudding basin when cooking. If all this sounds like it’s going to be troublesome, relax. I watched this useful BBC video online, demonstrating the technique better than words ever could.
Place the bowl in a large pan with a well-fitting lid; if possible placing the bowl on a trivet or steamer inside the pan, and add 4-5cm of hot water. Fit the lid and steam at a low heat for 2.5-3hrs. You should see the parchment and foil lid expand – that’s where the pleat comes into its own – when you lift the lid. Be careful when removing the basin from the pan, and the foil and parchment from the basin… it’s going to be hot. The final flourish is to gently tease out the contents from the basin. If all goes well and you greased it / used a good non-stick basin, you should have a perfectly formed steamed pudding, which will probably crack open and let out a slow steaming rivulet of gravy or two, before collapsing gently with a triumphant sigh. This is a wonderfully rich, comforting, tasty and filling winter pudding, so keep the side dishes simple: some buttery mashed potatoes and steamed sliced cabbage is just perfect. Serve with a glass of red wine, or a bottle of decent stout, and enjoy!
* I’m by no means alone in pairing tongue and cheek for a meal (a quick search online reveals a broad range of candidates) but I didn’t come across another steamed pudding. If anyone does know of a recipe please let us know via the comments: I made this up as I went along so would be interested to know if there’s a ‘proper’ recipe to follow. I’d definitely give it a go…
** One of my favourite condiments, only recently discovered it.