Last weekend I took part in a little thang organised by the Barbecoa butchery and restaurant.
The idea was that a bunch of strangers would pick up some beef short ribs from the butchery on the Friday and bring them to the restaurant on the Monday evening, cooked, for a bit of tasting and judging. I got involved partly because of the opportunity for a bit of friendly competition, partly to eat other people’s food, but mostly because it involved some free meat.
These days, slowly smoked BBQ ribs with a sticky sauce are all the rage and that was the obvious thing to have a go at cooking. Indeed, that was what most of the other entrants did.
But I decided to do something different – not really in an attention seeking way, it’s just I don’t have a decent BBQ. [The decision may also have been influenced by the fact that when I spent 20 minutes smoking some trout a few weeks ago, one of our dear neighbours had passive aggressively enquired whether our flat was burning down; had I, say, borrowed a BBQ, 8 or so hours of smoke would almost certainly have ignited a Bay of Pigs style incident.]
So I braised the ribs quite slowly, before slipping the meat off the bone and stuffing this into a suet pudding. Rather than go classic British (kidneys, port, red wine or stout), I Spanished it up a bit by using dry Oloroso sherry. I also included some skinned and roasted sweet red peppers to cut through the heavy meat.
The result? Very pleasing. A total of six hours of relatively slow cooking meant that the meat was tender and unctuous, but it still retained a decent bite and structure. I liked the sherry influenced sauce (assisted by a tiny hint of star anise) and the peppers were also excellent.
Happily, the judges thought it was pretty good too and I placed second out of twelve. The winner was a chap called Andy Annat, who took the more traditional BBQ route. It turns out Andy is a bit of a champion barbecuer, that he sells these and, most importantly, had a secret weapon in the shape of his 9 year old daughter Millie. His ribs ware definitely good, so no complaints from me about the result.
The difficulty with this sort of event is that you don’t really get the opportunity to properly enjoy the fruits of your labour. So I went through the process all over again this weekend, selflessly motivated by the desire to feed my friends and to check that my recipe worked so that I could confidently pass it on to you …
… actually, I really made it so that I could take some better pictures [this blog thing is becoming a bit of an issue].
But this did allow me to check a few things and fill a few stomachs.
My pastry improved second time round, but I felt the filling in first pudding was marginally tastier. I think I know why that is and the recipe below reflects that. I also reckon the ribs I collected from Barbecoa were better than those I picked up from Whole Foods’ butchers on Kensington High Street (which is not a terrible butchers by any means). This a genuine observation, not a spam comment from me; you can see from the picture at the top that the Barbecoa ones looked good. So well done them.
A steamed suet pudding is a hearty alternative to your normal Sunday roast and (cue Rick Stein voice) is not done often enough these days. Below these photos (which you should click on for a slideshow – the full size pics are quite nice) is a recipe. It might look a bit like War and Peace, but the method is actually very simple and, though it requires 6 hours cooking time, does not require much attention. We ate it with some parsnips cooked Young Turks style (which is slowly in a little butter until they break down and look crushed) and some blanched Spring greens.
Sherry braised short rib pudding
Fills a 1.5 litre pudding bowl (which gives 6 large servings)
For the beef fillingA tea mug of plain flour, salt and pepper
1.5 kg beef short ribs, on the bone, but separated into single rib portions
100g smoked lardons
1 onion, roughly diced
1 medium leek, halved lengthways and chopped into 1 cm wide crescents
1 medium carrot, peeled, and chopped as per the leek 2 sticks of celery, chopped like the leek 300ml dry Oloroso sherry
2 tomatoes, halved
2 bay leaves
Big sprig of thyme
1 1/2 star anise
1 tbsp tomato puree
3 cloves garlic, crushed with your palm or heavy knife
300ml beef stock
Water (as required)
Salt and pepper 3 red peppers
For the pastry350g self raising flour
150g shredded beef suet
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp English mustard powder
Salt and pepper 200 ml cold water
First up is the braising. You might do this the night before you want to eat it.
Put the plain flour, salt and pepper into a tray or a bag and coat the ribs with them. Brown them in a large frying pan with a bit of vegetable oil on a high heat. Be bold and get some good colour. Do in batches if necessary, removing when you’ve got a nice, golden brown ‘Maillard’ reaction going on. Shouldn’t take long. Let the same pan cool a little and then add the lardons. Fry for a few minutes, then dump in the chopped onion, leek, celery and carrot. Sweat for two of three minutes, before pouring in the sherry. You want this to bubble rapidly and reduce by about a third. Add a handful of flour, stir around for a minute or so and then pour all of this into a large casserole. Place the ribs on top, add the stock and water (add enough water to not quite cover the meat), the tomato puree, tomatoes, star anise, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and a good grind of salt and pepper. Bring up to a simmer, make a cartouche and put it on top of the meat, place a lid on the casserole and stick it in the oven to cook at 130 C for 3 hours.
Blacken the peppers under a grill/on your hob/with a blow torch. Place in a bowl with some cling film on them and 5 minutes (or longer) afterwards, push the skin off the peppers. Cut into halves and remove the seeds, then roast with a little oil at about 180 C for 20-30 minutes so they become really super sweet. Cut each half into half again (lengthways). Skin the shallots, leaving them whole.
After two hours, give the contents of your casserole a wee stir and place the peppers and shallots in the mix.
Once the three hours is up, the meat should slip easily off the bone, but not break up without a little fight. This is good. Remove from the heat and let it all cool down. Now get your hands dirty and pick out the meat, removing the bones and any fat and sinew. Break the meat apart, keeping the pieces chunky (around 3cm square) where you can. Put the meat in a separate bowl and discard the bones, fat and sinew. Also pick out the shallots, peppers and lardons – a tiny fiddle, but worth it and add these to the bowl. Then pass the sauce through a sieve, letting it drip dry. Throw away the mush and pour the sauce back over the meat. Chill and go to bed.
The sauce will have congealed a bit overnight. Warm the meat over a bain marie and then strain the meat again.
Make the pastry by mixing all the ingredients (except the water) in a large bowl. Add the water little by little until it comes together. Cling film the pastry ball and let it relax in the fridge for 10 minutes. In the meantime, butter a 1.5 litre pudding bowl, make a foil top for the bowl with a pleat in the middle (for when it expands) and butter that too. Flour a work surface or board. Take your pastry out, cut quarter off and re-cling. Roll the pastry into a ball and then flatten this with a rolling pin to a little more than half a cm thick. Line the pudding bowl. There should be about 2cm of overhanging pastry when you’re done. Fill the pastry bowl with the meat, shallots and onion, making sure the vegetables are distributed evenly. Pour in half of the sauce, reserving the remainder for a gravy. Roll the final quarter of pastry to the same thickness as before to create a lid, and use the overhang to tuck this in and seal the pudding. Seal with the pleated foil lid.
Steam the pudding for 3 hours. I did this by simply putting the pudding bowl in a steamer over some simmering water and covering that with foil. You could go old school and place in a large saucepan with water going about halfway up the bowl, putting a lid on it and sticking it in the oven. To do that, though, you ought also make a handle out of string so you can lift the pudding out again. I’m not very good at knots, hence the steaming.
Once those 3 hours are up, remove the pudding bowl from the steamer, dish up your veg and warmed gravy, then remove the foil, place a flat plate over the top, turn it over and confidently take lunch to the table. Remove the pudding bowl and wait for some oohs and ahhs. Then enjoy eating it.