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.
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.