Medieval Moods

Traditional Chicken and Ham Suet Pudding

When English winter has properly set in and I feel like the sun will never come out again, this is a recipe that get me through.

Even more than just generally producing what I hope is reasonably nutritious food for my family, I love delving into the past to try and recreate recipes from days gone by. This one, out of the National Trust’s Complete Country Cookbook has to be one of the most delicious dinners I have ever produced! It’s a real “stick to the ribs” kind of meal that is definitely made for this damp climate.

I’m told by the recipe that savoury puddings were a staple of the 19th century cookery of Sussex and Kent but I had never made a steamed pudding before, quite suprising considering how long I’ve lived in England now. Not that people in England eat them anymore. Just like most countries, I suspect, many “modern” English are too busy and/or too lazy to cook a proper meal, let alone one that would take so long. Even the traditional Christmas pudding here now comes with microwave directions. But to be fair, it isn’t the preparation that takes so long, it’s the cooking itself — the pudding steams for an hour and half!

This is a great dish to use up leftover chicken and ham. It seems like it might be quite heavy but the lemon zest added to the crust keeps it so fresh! I don’t own a pudding basin (yet!) so mine was made in a 2 litre glass mixing bowl and put in a large stock pot to steam. Just keep checking to make sure the pot doesn’t boil dry, adding water down the side of the pan if you need to, but this is a VERY forgiving dish so don’t worry too much! All the ingredients except the crust are cooked before you start to steam it so 10 minutes here or there won’t make a differnce. We served ours with simple boiled potatoes and peas. The sauce pools on the plate flavouring both with it’s lemony goodness! This recipe serves 4 hungry eaters!

  Chicken Pudding 

1 chicken, skinned and boned, cut into pieces (I used 4 boneless,skinless chicken breasts for convenience)

plain flour for coating

butter for frying

450 ml hot chicken stock

salt and pepper

1 T chopped fresh tarragon (1/2 T dried is fine)

1 T chopped fresh parsley (though I love fresh parsley and used more!)

100 g cooked ham, cut into thin strips or small cubes (I used leftover roast ham that was in the freezer)

100 g button mushrooms, chopped

Suet Crust

100 g bread crumbs (fresh is best but I used packaged with no problems)

200 g self-raising flour (if you only have plain flour, add 1 T baking powder to the flour)

1/2 t salt

1 t grated lemon zest (I just used the zest from the whole small lemon)

115 g shredded suet

1. Coat the chicken pieces with flour. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the chicken. Fry gently until brown. Add the stock, cover and simmer gently for 30-40 min, then allow to cool slightly. Season with salt and pepper, tarragon and parsley.

2. Meanwhile, make the suet crust by combining the breadcrumbs, flour, salt, lemon zest and suet. Add enough water to make a workable dough. Roll out to line a 1.2 litre (2 English pints) pudding basin or a pyrex bowl. (Reserve about 1/4 of the dough to make the lid.) Lift out the chicken pieces and layer them alternately with the ham and mushrooms, then pour over the rest of the liquid from the chicken. (It will seem quite thin but that is fine. It’s so flavourful in the end!)

3. Cover the bowl or basin with a large piece of foil or you can use the more traditional method of greaseproof paper and tying it with string. Lower the bowl into a large stockpot filled with boiling water. The water should reach about halfway up the side of the pudding. Cook steadily for 90 minutes, always making sure there is adequate water in the pan to boil.

***Take care in lowering the pudding in and taking it out! I was able to use a combination of oven gloved and tongs but definitely give your pan a dry, cool run before you are working with a heavy pudding and boiling water!***