Steak and Kidney Pudding, London
Can there be any more British dish than steak and kidney pudding? And is there a more endangered one in the whole of our national culinary art?
Surprisingly the pudding has according to the wonderful Jane Grigson a relatively short history. She places its invention somewhere in the mid-19th century based on its appearance in various cookbooks. Gloriously it was once it seems – or at least the steak-only version - known as John Bull pudding. Given that British cookery was famed for its steamed puddings long before the period set down by Mrs Grigson, an alternative may be that it was such a commonplace of the better kitchens in this land that authors did not bother to record it.
The use of kidney, which to make a decent pudding must be at least a quarter and preferably a third of the meat component, defines the American view of our cuisine – Americans refer to kidney pie with a frisson of horror, steak and kidney pie being the baronet to steak and kidney pudding’s earldom – noble, but not so elevated.
In literary descriptions of food few can rival John Mortimer ’s celebration of Rumpole’s love for the dish. And it is something that deserves celebration and respect, cooked lovingly for hours to reach a deliciously gloopy texture inside, and savoury crust outside. The question of whether to use oysters in the dish, often added in times past to give an extra unctuous quality to the gravy without any oyster flavour remaining to clash with the meats – is one to which the only answer can be suck it and see. But what is certain is that the dish deserves really good quality beefsteak – rump probably the ideal – and fresh kidney – ox my preference, as though coarse if cooked quickly it is robust enough to retain its form and flavour after long steaming.
The best steak and kidney pudding I ever tasted was at Rules in Covent Garden , London’s oldest surviving restaurant and an institution within British cookery. Not only was the dish perfect in itself, but when I ordered stout to accompany it – a far better complement than any wine – there was not a trace of the surprise and even disdain such a request has produced elsewhere.