By Any Other Name

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Sometimes the hardest step in the journey of a dish from brain to plate is deciding what to call the damn thing – a comparatively recent problem. Back in the day, of course, even the finest of chefs would have cooked a menu of the classics, and the names as well as the recipes and presentation would have come straight from Escoffier; now originality is expected everywhere, and if high-flung menuese and its attendant plague of adjectives has (thankfully) become a thing of the past, then the current style of [ingredient, ingredient, ingredient] or [ingredient & ingredient] can be just as demanding. Commas or ampersand? What order? In such a sparse form, the scanty information you do give away becomes vital. Do you acknowledge the artichoke is raw, the mackerel is cured, the chilli is fermented, the yoghurt is seasoned, the chickpeas are spiced, the croutons are absent? Or do you leave the nitty-gritty to front of house, who will (probably) get everything wrong anyway?

This gets even harder when you start making things up. A chicken breast is a chicken breast, no matter what combination of cured and fermented items you put it on a plate with. What to call boiled pigs’ lungs, minced with onion and stuffed into intestine? This is a similar preparation to a haggis, of course, but the chieftain of the pudding race is made with sheep offal (the whole pluck, ideally) and stuffed into a stomach; I think you could get away with one change to this formula, but not two. Pig offal stuffed in a stomach, I’d happily call a pork haggis. Conversely, lamb offal in sausage form would make a good haggis sausage. A pork haggis sausage, though, is just silly. A pork light sausage? A pork offal sausage? I’d expect some liver in that, personally. A pork lung sausage? These get less appetising. I find myself wishing I’d put some blood in the mix so I could call it black pudding and have done. Pudding might be the way to go – by the time the things are grilled they’re barely sausage-shaped anyway – but I’m not sure the term is generally understood in that way, black and white puddings as well as the aforementioned chieftain notwithstanding. Offal pudding? Light pudding? You see my problem. The things are sitting in the freezer now, awaiting only a name.

THE UNNAMED SAUSAGE

I am 90% sure that no-one will ever follow this recipe.

the lungs and windpipe of two medium pigs

stock vegetables (onion, carrot and co)

4 sweet white onions

a little oil

250g toasted buckwheat groats

sausage casings

copious salt and pepper

 

Put the lights in a big pot with the stock vegetables and cover with water. Bring to a simmer and leave there for several hours, skimming the scum off from time to time, until the windpipes are very soft. Fish out the lights with a spider or similar and leave to cool a little, then pick through them, tearing the lungs into chunks and discarding the hard parts of the windpipe.

At some point during this, slice the onions and cook them with a pinch of salt in a little oil until very soft and golden, which will, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, take a while. Add the cooked onion to the offal, weigh the lot and add 2% salt by weight. If you have a kilo, for example, add 20g of salt. Add a good teaspoon or so of ground pepper, then blitz until fairly smooth and stir in the buckwheat. Chill overnight.

Stuff into sausage skins (or get your friendly butcher to do it), then place the whole link in a pan, cover with cold water, and poach very gently for 15 minutes. They can now be kept in the fridge or used immediately; either way, oil them a bit and grill, turning a couple of times, until the skins are shiny and starting to brown. Eat with fermented tomato ketchup and maybe a hash brown or two.

The Magic Pudding

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Sometimes it’s nice just to follow a recipe. I own a LOT of cookbooks and eagerly await new ones, although I rarely follow them directly. There are a few exceptions, of course; technical procedures like baking or pickling, or dishes from cuisines that are entirely outside my understanding. In general, though, I (and I imagine a lot of people) use cookbooks chiefly for inspiration, the more so the more complicated the book is. I have never, for example, followed an Ottolenghi recipe through from start to finish; the number of ingredients alone is enough to put me off, even though I’d happily use that many myself when improvising. Fergus Henderson’s books are a joy to cook from, but the sheer effort involved can often be dispiriting – if it doesn’t need ordering in advance from a butcher, it probably needs brining for 5 days or (the most extreme, if tongue-in-cheek, example) cooking on driftwood in the Hebrides.

 

Give me an Elizabeth David or a Claudia Roden, though, and I’d happily cook every dish. You look at the short ingredient list and think “How could that be nice?” – but it always, always, is. They are vague where they should be vague, and precise when they need to be, forgiving of substitutions and geographical issues with sourcing ingredients. Although they have both since been coffee-tabled up with hardbacks and photos, in their original editions they are perfect to work from, small enough not to take up half my work surface, cheap enough that I don’t worry about getting wine all over the pages… And with no varnished, styled images to compare the end product to, I’m generally happier with the result.

 

Another fine food writer who seems to have resisted the coffee-table trend is Elisabeth Luard. Her European Peasant Cookery has the authoritative and pleasingly wordy air of a well-written reference book, a Brewer’s or similar; you can dip in and out whether cooking or not, and find solid, time-tested iterations of traditional recipes free from authorial meddling. If you want to know how to make, say, a pork pie, without Tom Kerridge or whoever faffing about with it, this is the place to go. So, I had some ox kidney, a steak in the freezer, and half a pack of suet in the cupboard; where else to look?

 

STEAK AND KIDNEY PUDDING

A pudding for two. You’ll need a little pudding dish.

The only deviation this involves from Luard’s recipe is in halving the quantities, and in the manner of arranging the meat; she slices the steak into little fillets and wrapping these around the kidneys, which seemed like a waste of time.

PASTRY

125g self-raising flour

1 tsp salt

80g shredded suet

up to 100ml of cold water

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, then stir in the suet. Gradually mix in the water until you have a nice smooth dough. Roll out two-thirds to line your buttered pudding basin, roll out a lid, then get on with the filling.

FILLING

250g stewing steak (I used 1 flat iron steak, which was ideal), cubed

125g ox kidney, trimmed, cubed, and soaked in water and a little vinegar

about 6 button mushrooms, sliced

half an onion, diced

1 tbspn chopped parsley

50ml red wine

salt and pepper

Put a pan of water on to boil, big enough to house the pudding. Mix everything except the wine with a generous amount of seasoning, then pack into the pudding case (I know it seems weird to put in a raw stew mix, but it cooks beautifully in its pastry home). Pour the wine in, then dampen the edges of the pastry, cover with your lid, trim and crimp. Make a slit for steam, and cover with a disc of greaseproof and some foil, with enough give in it to let the pastry rise.

Place a folded tea towel into the boiling water, to protect the pudding from direct heat, then place the pud carefully on top. The water should come two-thirds of the way up the basin, so adjust as necessary. Cover the pan and boil for three hours, making sure it doesn’t go dry. When done, take it out and let it settle for a few minutes before turning out. Serve with greens and mustard.