Firstly, I’m not a passionate advocate when it comes to offal. I will only eat it if it is turned into something special and I can forget it’s offal on the plate. So there is hope for you.
I can, at a push, eat liver if it is cooked nicely (not overdone, slightly pink) and in a very tasty onion gravy that masks the flavour. Serve it with a mountain of buttery mash and I’m just about ok. I’ll give sweetbreads a go because the name has no bearing on what they actually are, and the French are very good at turning these little nuggets into something quite lovely.
But one thing I have never been able to eat on their own are kidneys. I could never quite get my head around the fact that kidneys are designed to siphon toxins from an animal’s body. Surely that can’t be good to eat. And that smell.
So, it may come as a surprise that I am writing about steak and kidney pie. This recipe is the one exception (there is only one) to my aversion to kidneys. You see, something remarkable happens when you cook kidneys with a good cut of beef, good stock, red wine and a smattering of a few other ingredients for a couple of hours. Gone is the smell of a male public toilet and hello delicious, rich gray with melt-in-your-mouth beef.
Well, add to that a buttery and flaky short crust pastry and you have in my view the tastiest pie on the planet. Rich, tasty, meaty, flaky, moist and all the yuk factor of kidneys melts away in your mouth like they never existed.
If you are unsure about offal, this recipe is for you. You’d never know you were eating it.
Gone on, give it a go. You only live once.
I used the recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “The River Cottage Meat Book”. It’s a fab book, if you like meat. Good, hearty traditional and honest food. His recipe calls for homemade puff pastry, which is a little time-consuming for me. So I plumped for Delia Smith’s short crust flaky pastry. Dead easy and a winner in my book.
- 1kg of beef skirt or chuck steak cut into generous cubes (you can ask the butcher to cut it up for you)
- 400g of kidneys, cored and cut into chunks (again, ask your butcher to do this for you)
- A little oil
- Up to 50g of plain flour, seasoned
- 1 glass of red wine (a generous glass!)
- 1 onion sliced
- 1 tablespoon of tomato ketchup
- 1 teaspoon of English mustard
- 1 bay leaf
- About 750ml of stock (I used veal stock)
- 350g of button mushrooms
- Salt and pepper
The pastry (note you may have to increase the proportions because I didn’t quite have enough to line the dish and put the top on)
- 225g of plain flour
- 175g of cold butter
- a pinch of salt
- Cold water to mix
- One egg yolk
Start by making the pastry. Make sure the butter is cold. Cut up the butter into cubes and add to the flour in a large bowl. Using a palette knife, stir and break up the butter so that mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Don’t use your hands. You’re trying to keep the mixture as cool as possible. My hands are as hot as hell – good for massage, rubbish for pastry making. I’m ok with that. But it means need to keep my hands as far away from the pastry as possible.
Then add cold water little by little (about a tablespoon at a time) and continue to mix using the palette knife. When it all comes together and the bowl is clean, pour it out onto a work surface and bring the dough together. You don’t need to work it much. If you do, you’ll lose the flakiness. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for an hour or so.
Now make the filling. Heat a little oil in a heavy based frying. Dip the beef in the plain flour, dust of the excess and fry the meat in batches until browned.
Do the same with the kidneys. Transfer the meat to a heavy based casserole or saucepan.
When all the meat is browned, deglaze the frying pan with half of the wine and add this to the meat.
In the frying pan, add a little oil and fry the sliced onion until softened. Add the onions to the meat, along with the mustard, ketchup, bay leaf and enough stock to cover the meat. Add the rest of the wine.
Cook on a very gentle simmer for one and a half hours, until the beef is fairly tender, but not quite finished. Leave to cool. At this point, brown the mushrooms and add to the meat mix.
Roll out two rectangles of pastry, one to fit the top and a bigger version to fit the bottom and sides. You’ll need to roll the pastry out about 5mm thick.
Line the dish with the largest bit of pastry, right up to the lip of the dish. Trim any excess. Brush the inside with egg yolk. Spoon in the meat so that it is higher in the middle than the edges. Then spoon in the juices.
Cover the pie with the smaller piece of pastry and add to the top of the pie. Crimp the edges to seal it.
Bake the pie in a moderately hot over (190 C) for 50 minutes to an hour, until the pastry is golden brown. Serve with vegetables and buttery mash.