Anatomy of a Dish

Anatomy of a Dish

Dexter’s Hot Meat Doughnut

Dexter did what every restaurateur hopes to achieve: created a hit dish that had hungry punters lining up, clasping their Instagram. Now the Preston restaurant sells at least 100 Hot Meat Doughnuts per service - well over 1000 each week. Some groups arrive solely for the brisket-filled spheres. “We've had a few boys smash six, get double sets, and we're like, "There is other stuff…” says co-owner Sam Peasnell. To unravel the not-so-mysterious appeal of meat-stuffed sweets, we spoke with chef Tom Peasnell about the secret to Dexter’s doughnuts.

The Inspiration

The seeds were sown for the Hot Meat Doughnut in London, where Tom was working at famed barbecue joint Pitt Cue. Refining his skills as a pitmaster in the restaurant, he and Adam were able to break out with more casual dishes at a trailer on the Thames. “Down there we were experimenting with some real fun stuff, but also stuff that we couldn't put in the restaurant solely because it was a bit too dirty for the restaurant,” he says. Along with a Yorkshire pastry known as the Rascal Biscuit, the future Dexter team were also eating their body weight in Bao, the ultra-addictive Chinese dumpling. “The Asian steamed buns are pretty much the same way we construct it, although instead of letting it prove and steam, we let it prove and fry it,” Tom explains.

The Smoke

Work on the Hot Meat Doughnut begins days before they’re packed in their paper bags. First, Dexter’s chefs select a grain-fed brisket to smoke overnight. The marbling score’s got to be between three and five-plus; otherwise it’s just too fatty: “ If we go anything over that sort of marble score, the brisket holds so much fat that it sort of just leeches into the dough,” says Tom. Once it’s suitably tender, the point end’s carved off and reserved for mains portions. The flap section (and the burnt ends) are destined for the doughnut. And, all the drippings from the smoker are collected, rendered and turned into a demi-glaze to deliver that extra beefiness.

The Dough

The most temperamental component of a doughnut is, obviously, the dough. Using a mix of baker’s flour with 10 per cent protein, yeast, water, salt, butter and fresh milk from St David’s Dairy, fresh pastry’s mixed up twice a day. It’s kneaded only lightly, to stop the ‘nuts from turning chewy. Depending on the time of year, it then proves from anywhere between 15 minutes and an hour. It’s in the proving the fluffy magic happens - that or disaster. “If you're not proving them right, they’ll just turn to stone, essentially,” says Tom. “Or if you over-prove it, the meat mixture will heat up, and it will just explode the doughnut, so you've done all the work for nothing.”

The Stuffing

An unexpectedly complex task is stuffing the hot meat into the proven dough, keeping up speed while maintaining a pleasing shape. “Adam thought we knew how to do them, and we were taking ages to do one,” admits Tom. “And then, we took a couple of staff on that have worked in a few really good Asian restaurants in Asia, and they introduced us to a whole new technique. We were doing it on a bench, now she's just doing it in the cup of the hand.” At present, one person’s employed full-time just to make doughnuts - but Sam and Tom reckon they probably need two.

The Frying

After stuffing, the meaty orbs are left to prove again before heading to the dedicated doughnut fryer. It’s filled with 100 per cent grape seed oil, which has an extremely high smoking temperature and imparts minimal taste to the finished product. “We tried rendered beef fat, and stuff like that, we thought it would be good, but it changes the colour of the dough too much,” explains Tom. “When someone bites into it, we want it to be white and fluffy.” Cleanliness is next to godliness when it comes to frying, too: unlike many restaurants, Dexter changes out the oil daily. “It's a bit of a cost, but it's just one of those things,” says Tom. “It's pretty important when you're submerging a food in oil that you're not putting it in something shit.”

The Sugar

Despite all the yakka that goes into constructing the doughnut, it’s the simple act of rolling it in sugar and paprika that brings the dish to life. “Once they come out of the fryer, we always try one without the sugar anyway, just because someone's hungry, or someone will pick it up and eat it, but it's nowhere near as good. It sort of just tastes like a, I don't know, really uninspiring,” admits Tom. “But then when you add the sugar, it just balances it all out beautifully. The sugar's what brings it all together.”