Steamed Chicken and Chilli Pudding with a Spiced Crust

During the cold months we need so-called ‘comfort food’ for all sorts of reasons. To me, nothing brings more warmth and reassurance than an old-fashioned steamed pudding, either savoury — epitomized by steak and kidney pudding — or sweet, perhaps best exemplified by a jam sponge. However, it is possible to improve upon the classic recipes for these steaming old faithfuls while still retaining their joys.

This aromatic pudding has a gently exotic, lemony filling and a light, rich crust. It is equally suitable for Sunday lunch, a dinner party or just a homely supper, and needs only a crisp green vegetable such as broccoli or Savoy cabbage to accompany it, or simply a green salad.

Ingredients

  • 900 g/2 lb boneless skinless chicken
  • 25 g/1 oz plain flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 fresh red chillies
  • 5 cm/2 in piece fresh ginger
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 3 medium chicory
  • 1 small red pepper
  • coarsely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
  • salt
  • black pepper

For the crust

  • 175 g/6 oz self-raising flour
  • 3 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 level teaspoons ground mace
  • 4-5 pinches cayenne pepper
  • 100 g/4 oz white breadcrumbs
  • 175 g/6 oz butter (grated from a frozen packet of butter)
  • 1 medium egg

Method

Cut the chicken into largish chunks. Put the flour into a bowl and season with salt and black pepper. Add the chicken and turn it round to coat with the flour. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat, add the chicken pieces and fry just to brown them on all sides. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, make the crust. Put the self-raising flour in a bowl and mix in the paprika, mace, cayenne pepper and a sprinkling of salt. Stir in the breadcrumbs. Then, holding the block of frozen butter in a cloth at one end, coarsely grate three-quarters of it (175 g/6 oz) into the flour and breadcrumb mixture, mixing it in very lightly with your fingertips. Whisk the egg lightly in a measuring jug and make it up to 175 ml/6 fl oz with water. Gradually stir this liquid into the flour mixture, then bring together lightly with your hands and form a ball. Cut off a little over a quarter of the dough and set aside for the lid. Roll out the large piece of the dough fairly thinly on a floured board into a circle 33-35 cm/13-14 in across. Butter a 1.7 litre/3 pint pudding basin. Carefully lift the large piece of pastry and use to line the basin, pressing it together if it tears and leaving the excess hanging over the rim.

Put a large saucepan half full of water on to boil. Cut open the chillies lengthways under running water, discard the seeds and stems and chop the flesh finely. Peel the ginger and garlic and chop finely. Cut the chicory across into thick slices. Cut the red pepper in half, discard the seeds and stem and slice thinly. Mix the chillies, ginger, garlic, chicory, red pepper and grated lemon rind in a bowl with the browned chicken. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and black pepper.

Spoon the mixture into the pastry-lined basin, piling it up in a mound at the top. Fold the overlapping pastry over the filling and dampen the edges. Roll out the reserved dough into a circle big enough to make a lid. Place on top of the basin and press the edges lightly to seal them.

Butter a piece of greaseproof paper, make a pleat in the middle and put it over the top of the pudding. Put a piece of foil fairly loosely over the paper and tie it securely round the rim of the basin with string. Attach a piece of the string to make a handle. Lower the basin into the saucepan of boiling water. Cover the pan and boil gently for 3-3½ hours (or 1 hour in a pressure cooker), topping up the water now and then so it doesn’t boil away. Serve the pudding in the basin, wrapped in a large white napkin.

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