On the pans - P Franco

Words: Steve Ryan   Photography by Steve Ryan

On the pans - P Franco

Venison Steamed Pudding and Creamed Leeks


Famous for its wine and celebrated for its food, P Franco has a new resident chef: Anna Tobias. We called by as the weather was turning wintry - a perfect time to try her venison pudding.
P Franco was opened by Liam Kelleher and James Nobel (of Nobel Fine Liquor) in early 2014, as a wine bar with a food offering of cheese and charcuterie. They source wine from makers that use organic and biodynamic fruit and no chemical preservatives, supporting small farmers that care deeply about the soil, land and water source.
Phil Bracey, who joined as front of house in 2015, introduced food with chef Will Gleave in the November of that year. There is just one long table in the centre of the room and just 14 seats. No reservations. They began a series of six-month-long chef residencies and have since hosted six chefs from Tim Spedding to Anna Tobias, who started at the end of September this year.
Anna was offered the residency and immediately said yes. She had been freelancing for a year, since her departure as Head Chef at the Rochelle Canteen, and was excited to get back to writing menus again. She describes her approach as “simple food being done well without too many jazz hands”. There are just Anna’s hands in the designated kitchen area at the back of the room, where she holds court with some induction hobs and a small prep space.
These limitations have inspired the chefs who have cooked here and the menus they have created, leading to the respect that P Franco enjoys today. Anna’s style of cooking is a perfect fit. “What’s so nice is that each chef is given total freedom to cook how they like,” she says. “I’d say my food is probably a little more traditional and nostalgic than my contemporaries, and perhaps also slightly more rustic and hearty.”
P Franco
Serves four
For the venison stew
600g venison shoulder or haunch
300g pork belly
100g bacon lardons
2 onions, chopped
Half a head of celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
10 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
2 sprigs of thyme, picked
1 bay leaf
Flour for dusting
1 large glass of red wine
Salt and pepper
Sunflower or vegetable oil
For the pastry
320g self-raising flour
160g suet
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg
160-200ml water
Butter for the moulds
For the leeks
2 leeks
50g butter
60ml double cream
1. Cut the venison into a large dice, about 2x2 inches. Remove the skin from the pork belly and cut into a dice about half the size of the venison. I use pork belly as venison is so lean that it needs a little fatty help. Keep the skin, roll and tie it. This will help give the stew a glossy and more unctuous texture.
2. Season the venison and pork with salt and pepper and lightly dust in the flour.
3. Coat a large heavy-based saucepan or casserole with enough sunflower to cover the base. When it’s piping hot, add the venison and pork in batches and colour well on both sides. Set to one side.
4. In the same pan, brown the lardons and, once crispy, add the onion, carrot and celery and allow to sweat for a good 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms, thyme and bay leaf and season. Cook for another 5 minutes.
5. Add the venison and pork back to the pan, along with the roll of pork skin. Stir well, then add the glass of red wine. The wine should only come about a third of the way up the meat. Trust me, it will let out plenty more liquid and will cover the stew. If you add too much liquid, you’ll end up with a thin and runny sauce.
6. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for at least 2 hours at a very gentle heat. The venison should give when you twist it with a fork. If it’s still a bit tough then continue cooking until tender.
7. Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary. At this point, you could serve the stew as it is with mash or polenta.
8. Allow the mixture to cool completely. This part of the recipe can be done well in advance and is happy to sit in the fridge for a few days if required.
9. Make the suet pastry by mixing the flour, suet and salt together. Beat the egg into the water and add two thirds onto the flour mixture. Mix with your hands. Add enough water that you have a very soft and pliable dough but not a sticky one. You may not need all the water.
10. Butter your pudding moulds (which should roughly have a capacity of 300ml).
11. Separate the pastry into four balls. Roll out two thirds of each ball to a ½ cm thickness and line the pudding moulds. Roll out the other third to the same thickness to make the lids.
12. Put the cooled stew into the moulds leaving a 1cm gap at the top. How did your stew look? Was there a generous amount of gravy? If not and the stew was thick but not oozey, then add 2 teaspoons of water onto each pudding so that there is a good gravy moment when you open the cooked pudding later.
13. Brush a bit of water onto the rim of the pastry and place the lid on top, pinching the sides gently. Trim off the excess pastry so you have a neat looking pudding.
14. Cut sheets of foil that are one-and-a-half-times as wide as the moulds. Fold each piece of foil in half length-ways with the shiny side facing out. Tightly wrap each pudding in the foil, really scrunching the sides firmly. I have personally never pleated my foil (which I realise is slightly controversial) and have never had a problem…
15. Place the puddings in a steamer and steam for an hour and a half.
16. In this time, make the creamed leeks. Remove the dark green tops and first layer of leek. Split down the length and wash thoroughly. Slice the leeks into 1cm pieces.
17. Melt the butter in a saucepan and, once frothing, add the leeks and cook at a high heat without colouring for 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, place a lid on the leeks and cook for a further 10 minutes. Keep stirring the leeks every few minutes so that they don’t catch on the pan. Add the cream and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper, and a few generous scrapes of nutmeg.
18. Once the puddings have cooked, take the foil off and loosen the pastry from the mould with a table knife. Then, turn out onto a plate and serve with the leeks. The steamy pudding should look very inviting on a cold winter’s day.
If you can’t easily get hold of venison, then this dish is equally as delicious with beef (chuck is a good cut). In this instance, leave out the pork belly and increase the weight of the beef. A kidney wouldn’t go amiss either.