Weird Crap I Cook: Steak and Kidney Pie

When Hi Lo closed in JP, I lost a full aisle of meats and organs that I had never cooked before.  Luckily, the local Stop & Shop added a few items that have made their way into a recent blog posts.  A quick scan of the meat section presents a handful of foods I have penciled in for future posts: pigs ears, bone-in goat meat, honeycomb tripe, and a couple other goodies.  But this post is about beef kidneys.

Just now noticing the "recipe and cooking instructions" on the generic peel-off Tender & Flavorful Beef label. My guess is the recipes aren't kidney specific

I’d seen steak and kidney pie on a previous visit to London and heard my English godmother discuss it, but never tasted it and certainly never cooked it.  It looked decent enough in pictures, like a beef pot pie, so I settled on it being the most innocuous use for the kidneys.

I learned my lesson from previous organ meat adventures and bought the smallest packages of meat that were available.  Even so, this was enough for steak and kidney pie to serve 6, so I ended up cutting both in half and freezing the extra.  You know, for when I feel like cooking kidneys again.

Funky looking stuff. Apparently there is a membrane covering kidneys usually that must have been removed by the white coated fellers at Stop & Shop

I rinsed the kidneys well and then went about trimming off the hard chunk of fat at the center and any weird(er) looking areas.  From there I cut into cubes that wouldn’t seem overwhelming in a mouthful of pie.

Not as funky looking, but helped clarify that I definitely ate a skewer of kidneys while in Morocco which I previously believed was liver. Trimmed out fat is in the background

Although the recipes I referenced instructed to use the kidneys as-is, I remember hearing that soaking in milk can help reduce any off-tasting flavors.  So I poured some milk in a bowl, added the kidneys, and put the bowl in the fridge for a couple hours.

While that soaks, a quick sidebar.  I’ve heard very bad things about how kidneys smell, and I was prepared for the worst.  However, they didn’t smell strongly of anything at all.  Once I started cutting, I did notice a slight smell that could be described as “uric”, but it wasn’t anything worse then the smell of blood at the bottom of a package of beef.  Back to the soakin’.

Looks way too much like yogurt with strawberries

I could tell something had worked, since the milk went from white to pink over the course of the soaking.

Not sure if it was entirely mental, but this looked a lot more innocuous than before the milk soak

After I strained off the milk, rinsed the kidneys, and patted them dry, I cubed the chuck and seasoned everything heavily with salt and pepper.

The chuck. Went with a ratio of about 2 parts chuck, 1 part kidney. If I am trying a new organ meat, I am always going to lean towards it being an ingredient more than a main event

The kidneys. Looks like more than it was, probably about a half pound once trimmed and looking more innocuous by the second

The plan was to cook all the ingredients separately in the same pan and dump them all into a large saucepan once they had been quickly browned.

The chuck went in first, then the kidneys (shown), then carrots/celery/garlic, and finally thick sliced brown mushrooms

Once everything had browned, I deglazed the pan with some sherry and poured it over the ingredients.

I would, and do, put sherry into everything. It's never an unwelcome flavor

Over medium heat I stirred in a heaping tablespoon of flour, let it cook for a few minutes, then added a spoonful of tomato paste, a bay leaf, and a spoonful of concentrated beef stock.

The seared mushrooms actually were kept off to the side until all ingredients were combined and simmering. Wanted them to keep some texture

A quick sidebar on the concentrated stock.  I will do a full post on making it at some point, but it’s basically a reduced version of 10 pounds of roasted marrow bones, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, a bottle of red wine, and water.  All boiled down to 2 cups of strongly beef flavored gelatin that makes a great sauce starter.

This was an attempt to show how thick the concentrated stock is, but really it just shows off my gnarled thumb. Been biting my nails too much lately

Back to the cooking.  With the strong flavors of the tomato paste and concentrated stock added, there was no need to use beef broth or anything similar to add more flavor.  So, I used a beer instead.

Much as I think the best cooking wine is Charles Shaw, I think the best cooking beer is whatever is oldest in the fridge. This is a German beer leftover from an Oktoberfest party a few weeks ago

After adding an additional splash of water to completely cover the meat and vegetables, I reduced the heat to a simmer.

I didn't like the color at this point. I was hoping for dark and rich and had my doubts that it would get there. I was probably moping around the house and starting arguments with Janet

Over the next two hours of simmering I attempted to skim off any fat and congealing funkiness that rose to the top and stirred regularly.  Against my pessimistic concerns, the sauce reduced, darkened, and thickened to the color and consistency I was hoping for.

Forgot to take a picture before I started spooning it out

The filling went directly into a loaf pan while I worked on the crust.

Those air pockets made me happy since they showed how thick the filling was

The crust started off with a standard tube of Pillsbury crescent dough, rolled out flat onto a piece of wax paper and pinched along the pre-cut areas to make one uniform piece.  Once fully laid out, I folded it on itself to make a a rectangular shape that would fit inside the loaf pan.

Could have put more effort into pinching the pre-cut lines into a uniform piece, but close enough

After a brushing the raw crust with some egg wash, the pie went into a 400F oven for 30 minutes.  Which left me with this:

This picture should make any doubters interested in this meal, even if you substitute in stew meat for the kidneys

The loaf added up to about three good sized portions, which was more than enough since only Conor and I were planning to eat it.  Mashed potatoes and peas seemed like a decently British pairing, but I substituted some leftover celery root/potato puree for the traditional mashed.

I thought this actually looked like a nice authentic plate that Benny Hill would stand up from and then chase around some ladies in bikinis with a creepy look on his face. That previous sentence made no sense to you if you didn't watch Benny Hill reruns in the 80s

The pie was extremely rich and had a delicious combination of flavors from the carrots, onions, beer and concentrated stock.  The best bites were either a little crust and a little pie filling or some of the mash and peas with the pie filling.

You could definitely tell when you were eating pieces of chuck vs. kidneys, due to the texture and flavor.  The kidneys were like tender rubber bouncy balls: very dense but also easy to chew.  The flavor wasn’t overpowering or off-putting, especially surrounded by so many other complimentary flavors, but you could definitely tell you were eating organs.  The flavor was irony and gamey, kind of like overcooked lamb.  Conor pointed out the lamb similarities while eating it and I thought it was a dece analogy from someone with such an unrefined palate.  Just kidding, it wasn’t that great of an analogy.

Will likely talk more about cod cheeks or roasting bones next week.