Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Steak and Kidney Pie (with a difference)

This post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog

How does one improve on a classic such as steak and kidney pie? This is the question that has been vexing my brain of late and when I say that I have spent many a long evening in front of the fire; staring, contemplating, deliberating deeply and smoking my pipe; let me tell you, this picture of solemn thoughtfulness is not an exaggeration. 

Well actually, it is an exaggeration. But honestly, I have thinking a lot about how I could improve upon this humble and economic pie. Some might say if ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But most recipes could do with a tweak here and there. And by jove, I think I’ve cracked it Watson.

I have of course had some help along the way and when it comes to looking for inspiration, nothing quite beats the hive mind of Twitter. The first suggestion, which came from the kitchen of Clerkenwell Kitchen, was to use the lesser known (in this country at least) onglet steak as the main meaty component of the pie. Also known as ‘hanger steak’ this dense cut comes from the diaphragm of the cow and is full of rich iron flavour. Some detractors might say that it doesn’t suit long cooking but believe me, this isn’t the case. Chef Emma Miles also recommended using a strong dark ale to braise and to make sure the steak was thoroughly browned first, so that was duly noted. For the onglet, I popped to Turner and George and I must admit when I asked the butcher for his opinion on using it in a pie, his silence, which stretched for what seemed like 15 minutes, did unnerve me somewhat. So when he finally responded with - "Yeah, I reckon that'll work" - I breathed a long sigh of relief. And it does work, it's a beautiful cut of meat that is packed with flavour.

The second tip or trick that popped up in my timeline came from food writer and pressure cooker campaigner Catherine Phipps and her bold statement was to sling some smoked oysters into the pot. Namely the tinned variety. Now this practise isn’t as unusual as it sounds as oysters used to be flung into pies with gay abandon, particularly back in the day of Queen Victoria when they were cheap and plentiful. Plus the idea of adding some smoke to the mix really did appeal, to add some extra depth to that essential gravy. So in they went too.

Smoked oysters
However, when it came to the pastry, that’s when things started to turn ugly and all the soapbox merchants started to come out of the closet. “I would go for puff.” “Why not try filo? “It should be suet for gawds’ sake!” And yes, perhaps this pie should have a suet crust, to tie in with the kidney. But I ended up plumping for an easy shortcrust, ready-made too (gasp), to make a buttery, crumbly hat to set upon a ceramic dish and contain the beautiful, bountiful filling within.

Then it really kicked off. “Don’t make a stew with a lid Urchin! I am warning you!” said some chef called Chris Brumby, who professes to know a lot about pies. Because he has like, his own business selling pies. Or something. I have been here before though and I once got into a really heated and vehement argument over the internet with some chap who took umbrage with my enthusiasm for topping with meat with discs of pastry and calling them pies. We very nearly organised to step outside to settle our differences you know. But it turned out that he lived in Germany, so it wasn’t very practical. 

Tucking into pie
It does go to show just how passionate people can get about pies though and if I had to acquiesce, yeah, a proper pie should be really be enveloped within cocoon of flour and fat. But I had the children screaming at me for dinner, so I went for the quick fix. If you have the time though and are looking to make a sumptuous steak and kidney pie for British Pie Week, I would recommend you go the whole hog and make a proper casing.

Finally, after all that, you might well be asking what did I do to add to the mix? To make this pie all quirky and different and magical. Mushrooms dahling! I added sliced chestnut mushrooms to my steak and kidney pie.

Pie filling before the lid was put on
Yep, that’s right and you know what? They tasted delicious so you can get off your high horse right NOW!

Steak and kidney pie – serves 6

750 gms onglet steak, chopped into mouth sized chunks
400 gms ox kidney, cored and chopped into a medium dice
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
250 gms chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp of tomato puree
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and roughed chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tin of smoked oysters, roughly chopped
100 gms plain flour
300 mls beef stock
300 mls dark ale (Guinness is good!)
500 gms ready-made shortcrust pastry (or make your own us using this guide on Great British Chefs)
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper, to season
Butter, for frying


A quick note before we start. As is often the case with stew, you can make the filling a day before if you like and leave in the fridge overnight so that the flavours have time to develop.

Start by placing a large saucepan on the hob over a medium heat and add a knob of butter to melt. Add the onion and slowly sauté for about 15 minutes, until the slices go soft and start to caramelise. Add the garlic and herbs and stir through for another minute or so and then add the tomato puree and chopped smoked oyster and cook through for another couple of minutes. Then take off the hob.

Next take a bowl and throw in the flour and add a liberal amount of salt and pepper, then add the chunks of steak and toss them around to get an even coating. Place a frying pan over a high heat, add some more butter and quickly cook off the steak, ensuring that it is browned all over with some nice crispy edges and then add to the vegetables and oysters. You will probably have to do this in two batches. Then, after adding even some more butter to the pan (sheesh!) again quickly fry off the diced kidney and add to the main pot. Deglaze the pan with some of the beer and pour over the meat mixture, along with the rest of the beer and the beef stock.

Then place on the hob and bring up to a gentle simmer, add the sliced mushrooms, stir through and loosely cover and leave to slowly cook for 2 hours. When done, leave to cool slightly and preheat your oven to 180C.

When sufficiently cool, take a round pie dish or shallow casserole about 20 cms across and spoon the meat mixture in. Don’t fill to the top though, try and leave a gap of say 2cms . If you feel like there is too much liquor, use a slotted spoon for the meat mix and place the saucepan back on the hob to reduce the gravy further. Also, remove that bay leaf, if it still floating around in there.

Another shot of the filling
 For the pastry ‘lid’ roll out your shortcrust on a floured surface, until it is the thickness of a pound coin and then drape over the top. Cut away the excess with a knife and press the pastry to the edge. With the excess pastry, you can roll into a long snake and line along the edge of the dish to make a lip of some description but don’t forget to brush some water on the edge first. Liberally brush the pastry with the beaten egg and cut a small hole in the centre for steam to escape.

Place in the oven and cook for 35 – 40 minutes and then reduce the heat to 160C and cook for a further 15 minutes, until the pastry is golden and beaming.

Hmmm pie.................with a lid
Take out and serve by spooning a glorious lump of meaty filling on the plate, topped with a wedge of pastry, alongside some mash and green vegetables.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Diana Henry's Borlotti Beans and Kale, with Anchovy and Rosemary Sauce

It's been a bit of a humdinger weather wise in my neck of the woods this week and if you've been lucky enough to receive some of the same, then surely your heart has been lifted by radiant beams of sunlight and the prospect that spring is just around the corner. Unless of course, your name is Giles. In which case, you is a bit of a miserable bar steward, innit.

But yes, I have been out in the garden quite a lot. Making the most of it, pottering about, tidying up, shoes off, bare feet, with toes digging into the barren earth and soaking up the awakening energy beneath. Kneeling too, praising the return of the divine goddess Ēostre and rolling in patches of wild garlic under the cherry tree. Where it seems incidentally, that all the cats in the neighbourhood have been doing their business over winter. I must do something about that. No matter though, I am simply happy to be able to get back outside, into the open air, and if my wife refuses to let me back in after practising my usual faux-pagan rituals, well I can always go for a wash in the River Ingrebourne at the bottom of the garden can't I.

This year I have got big plans. Plans that were formulated last year on a scrap of paper but didn't quite come to fruition because erm, I got busy with other .......important matters. However, after binging on George Clarke's Amazing Spaces - Shed of the Year recently, I am almost certainly and very definitely going to build a spectacular wooden den this year, out of reclaimed bits and bobs. All complete with clay oven, log burner and a hot tub fashioned from the hull of a jet engine. It really is going to be amazing and when it's done, I am going to invite George over for a beer and a soak and smugly say for the cameras that it really didn't cost that much or take that much effort at all. Although in the back of my mind, I suspect it will be just the opposite of that.

One thing I also want to do is up the ante with growing vegetables at home. Maybe not quite to the same dizzying heights of Joel Bird's Allotment Roof Shed (Shed of the Year for 2014) but I think I could do a bit more on the horticultural side at home because growing your own is so very satisfying. I had quite a good crack at it last year and when I visited my mini pot-bound plot this week, I was surprised to see that my kale had sprung back into life. An event which, after three and a half paragraphs, segues neatly into this recipe post.

Cavolo Nero (not so sexy kale is just out of shot)
Before I continue though, I suppose I should put the record straight about kale. In the past and on Twitter especially, when it comes to this much lauded brassica, I have been a perpetual p*ss taker. Kale has been on the trumpeting health bandwagon for some time now. To be thrown into smoothies, dehydrated for crisps and applied as a magic alternative to Preparation H, when ground with chia seed, goji berries and f**king coconut oil. Which is fine, if you are into that sort of thing. What irks me though is that I believe this very tasty, albeit slightly bitter leaf, is no different to any other cabbage really. OK, from a nutritional point of view, it does punch above its weight but eating 10 kilos a week isn't going to turn you into one of those skinny, former model, 'lifestyle' cooks that are presently so abundant in the food meeja. And I do pity those poor girls, because eating nothing BUT f**king kale all the time must be a real drag.

ANYWAY! Let's have a look at this wonderful recipe by food writer Diana Henry which can be found in her book A Change Of Appetite. A book about healthy eating funnily enough, but one that certainly doesn't bash you over the head with serene yet ultimately empty ideas. In her own words 'None of the recipes here are 'cranky' or punishing (or I wouldn't eat them).' And I would say that is true because every single one of them looks tempting. Divided into seasons and interspersed with personal observations about eating, ingredients and dieting myths, the overall tone is one of gentle encouragement, born out of experience; combined with an approach that says 'Hey, it ain't rocket science folks.' I like that. I also like the look of her spiced quail with blood orange and date salad, a sumptuous slice of her blackberry and apple rye galatte, and her rich bowl of red mullet and saffron broth with Corfu garlic sauce.

The one recipe that stood out after a first flick through though was Diana's borlotti beans and kale with anchovy and rosemary dressing. As I am quite partial to an anchovy or two and I was intrigued as to how they would fit in with earthy Roman beans. And seeing as I had a recent rebirth of kale, along with some cavolo nero (which is far more prettier in my opinion) it only seemed right that this should be the first recipe to try.  Suggested as a dish that can be eaten alone or as an accompaniment to meaty fish such as monkfish or to be eaten with an old fashioned roast, I went for simple roast chicken that had been sprinkled with a fine dusting of smoked salt from the Cornish Sea Salt Co.

And oof, what a gorgeous mix of flavour so it was. All garlic and delicate chilli heat, tempered by a shot of citrus and the dose of good carbohydrate from the borlotti beans was really filling. So much so that I am glad that Mrs FU pressed my hands down when she saw me with a spud and my peeler and told me to step away from the sink. I blame for the one-sixteenth of Irish in my blood for always wanting to necessitate potatoes for my plate but she was right, they weren't needed.

The absolute hero of this dish has to be the anchovy and rosemary sauce though. Lumpy and slightly unsightly yes but drizzled all over the beans and kale and the chicken (for good measure) this piquant dressing brought everything together with all the aplomb of a conductor at the Royal Albert Hall. My only complaint would be that Diana's instruction doesn't enable you to make nearly enough of the stuff needed. Double up I say! Double up Diana!

On that note, here is the recipe, with kind permission from the author. Give it a whirl.

Borlotti beans and kale with anchovy and rosemary sauce
Serves 4 as a main course.
6 as a side dish

Beans, garlic, leaves

200g dried borlotti beans, soaked overnight and drained 
1/2 head of garlic (halved horizontally), plus 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
a few parsley stalks
1 dried chilli, crumbled
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
3 celery sticks
8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
500g kale
1/4 tsp chilli flakes

1 tsp rosemary leaves
6 cured anchovies, drained of oil
juice of quarter lemon, or to taste
2 and a half tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Beans, kale, salt

Put the borlotti beans into a heavy-based pan with water to cover, the half head of garlic, parsley stalks, chilli, carrot, bay, two of the celery sticks, each broken in half, and 4 tbsp of the extra virgin olive oil. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to its lowest, cover and cook for an hour, or until the beans are tender but not failing apart. Drain the beans and remove the garlic, parsley stalks, carrot, bay and celery. Return the beans to the pan with 2 tbsp more of the extra virgin olive oil and the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper.

To make the sauce, pound the rosemary in a mortar then add the anchovies and crush to a paste. Gradually add the lemon juice and then the extra virgin olive oil, a little at a time, grinding as you go. You aren't making a mayonnaise, so don't expect this to emulsify. You'll be left with a lumpy sauce, but the pounding just melds all the elements together. Add pepper and set aside.

Rip the kale leaves from their coarse ribs (discard the ribs) then plunge the leaves into a pan of boiling water. Cook for five minutes, then drain.

Dice the remaining celery stick and heat the remaining 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil in a large pan (preferably a sauté pan). Cook the celery for one minute, or just until it is beginning to soften but hasn't yet lost its bite. Add the sliced garlic and chilli flakes and cook for another minute, then add the beans and kale. Carefully heat these through without squashing them or overcooking. Check for seasoning, add some more lemon and serve with the sauce.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Slow Roasted Shoulder of Goat with Preserved Lemons, Garlic and Coriander

This post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog (I will start posting some original stuff on FU soon!)

I’ll never forget the day when my slightly officious, curtain-twitching wife said to me -  “Dan, there are two goats in our front garden.”

I have heard of lots of other reports before, ranging from heated neighbourly disputes to the time that the fire brigade turned up to put out a barbecue that had got out of control (not mine by the way). However, up until then, I don’t think I have ever heard anything quite so bizarre as that. So I looked out the window too. And there they were, on the lawn, eating our grass. My son Fin also sidled up to the windowsill and we spent a good few minutes watching the pair, snuffle about the place before finally Fin announced “That’s Herbert and Gerbert.”*

Of course! Herbert and Gerbert! From up the road! How could we forget! Now, whilst I wouldn’t describe our setting as being entirely bucolic, we do have some fields surrounding us and there is a smallholding nearby, so it was obvious what happened. Herbert and Gerbert had escaped. So I took upon myself to usher them back, which wasn’t easy. Even with the aid of two carrots, it took me nearly thirty minutes to coax them back with various people in the street waving gaily at me from their windows as I did so. Grinning and laughing at my rubbish attempts to become a goat herder.

The final home stretch consisted of my pleading for them to hop back over the fence from which they came. But they just stared back at me with those devilish eyes of theirs, chewing on morsels of carrot. There was nothing for it, I had to pick them up and carry them over the threshold and as I did so, each one decided to deposit a present into the cusp of my arms before being lowered to the ground. And then, with neither a bleat of gratitude, the pair of them both sauntered off into the thicket. So I shouted at them “Next time, you two might not be so lucky.” All whilst smacking my lips and brushing muck off my jacket.

The curious thing though is that I don’t think I have eaten much in the way of goat. Bar a typical goat curry here and there and it was only after another chance encounter of passing the butcher’s window at the Quality Chop House Shop in Farringdon, London, that I actually bought some to cook with. The goat in question came from Cabrito Goat Meat, who are based in Devon and source their goat, or kid meat, by raising billies across various farms in the South West. Billies that ordinarily would be culled at birth. Within the dairy industry, boy goats are deemed as waste and yet to immediately sideline them out of the food chain seems even more wasteful. So for Cabrito to transition them out of the system and give them longer, happier and more purposeful lives should, in my opinion, be applauded.

I found this all out by looking at their website by the way. Back at the butchers, my general enquiry went along the line of “Um, I’ve never cooked goat before, what cut should I take?” and after much consultation with my bearded, sombre friend, we decided on half a shoulder, to be roasted long and low.

That was before Christmas and it has taken me nearly three months to getting around to doing anything with the joint (don’t worry, it has been in the freezer) but we had a good go this week, treating it with a Middle-Eastern makeover and I have to say, it was delicious. The meat itself was sweet and delicate and totally without that cloying undertaste you sometimes get with lamb. Coupled with the preserved lemon, garlic and coriander, the overall effect is intensely aromatic and the smells in the kitchen will get you salivating in no time at all. I served it up with some plain couscous and a herby salad, but I reckon roasted peppers and aubergines wouldn’t go amiss here. And be sure to save the leftover gravy that resides in the bottom of the roasting tin, to drizzle over the meat and use for dipping a day or two afterwards even, using slices of toasted pitta.

As for Herbert and Gerbert, they are safe for the time being but if they escape one more time and start chomping at my grass again; well, I will not be responsible for my actions.

Slow Roasted Shoulder of Goat with Preserved Lemons, Garlic and Coriander
Serves 4 (with plenty for leftovers)

Half a shoulder of goat, on the bone (approx 1.4 kgs)
3 preserved lemons, washed and flesh removed, rind roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
Half a bulb of garlic, cloves peeled and roughly chopped
1 small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
1 tbs coriander seed
1 tbs cumin seed
100mls olive oil
Salt and pepper to season
200mls water


First make the marinade for the goat by placing the preserved lemon, onion, garlic, coriander and olive oil into a food processor and blitz to make a paste. Toast the coriander seed and cumin in a dry frying pan on the hob for a minute or two and then grind as fine as possible using a pestle and mortar (or spice grinder!) and stir into the paste. Add a good amount of seasoning and then spread the paste all over the shoulder joint.

 Leave to marinade for two hours in a tray or bowl. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 220C.
When ready, take a roasting tray, cut out a long sheet of greaseproof paper and line the tin with paper overlapping on either side. Place the goat in the middle, scraping out all the excess marinade and smooth all over. Pour the water around the sides and then wrap the paper around the joint (think en papillote). Then seal further still by covering with a sheet of doubled up foil.

Place into the oven, immediately reduce the temperature to 140C and slowly cook for 3-4 hours.
When ready, the meat should be practically falling off the bone so slice or pick off carefully and serve with couscous, a herby salad and plenty of the remaining gravy.

A plate of goat
Slow Roasted Shoulder of Goat with Preserved Lemons, Garlic and Coriander (and cous cous and salad)
*For the record, Herbert and Gerbet are not their real names. Fin named them as such that day and we still don’t know what their real names are.