For the inaugural Morbid Meal, in honor of our discussion of the Sweeney Todd movies and plays, I wanted to peruse the nefarious cookbook of Mrs. Lovett. Sadly, this treasured tome has been lost to the ages. It was probably either confiscated as evidence or lost in one of many fires on Fleet Street. So instead I will do my best to attempt a reproduction of one of her infamous pies.
The recipe I chose is “Kate and Sidney Pie”. For those unfamiliar with rhyming slang, this turns out to be the classic Steak and Kidney Pie. (Whose kidney is still up to your discretion.) Steak and Kidney pie is a traditional staple in the U.K. It therefore has a standard recipe but every cook who has ever made it has added their own flair. The recipe provided below is my own interpretation. As a Yank, it’s probably blasphemy either way, however I hope my Anglophiliac tendencies are showing.
Choosing Your Kidneys
When it comes to kidneys, the preferred choice is veal, followed by lamb, then pork, and finally, given no other choice, beef kidneys. If this is your first time making the recipe, try pork if it is available. If that works out for you and you can not only find but afford fresh lamb or veal kidneys, absolutely give them a go. The Cook’s Thesaurus has a nice visual comparison of kidneys.
The beef flavor carries the dish, so if you can, find a well-marbled fine steak. This pie is peasant food, however, so whatever cut of beef you can get will be welcome to balance out the kidney.
Choosing Your Crust
There appears to be a bit of contention here. Traditionally, these pies were small and portable, like pot pies or pasties. In those cases, a nice firm pie crust is best. However, I’ve also had a pie that used a filo puff pastry dough for a crust and was therefore more like a turnover. In some households, biscuits or mashed potatoes (and variants like champ or colcannon) are used to top the pie. You could also buy a pre-made crust rather than make it, however, I am providing a recipe and instructions for making a hot water crust pastry.
- A 24oz jar. Full or empty, it doesn’t matter, as long as you can turn it upside down. You will drape your dough onto the bottom of the jar.
- Some parchment or waxed paper cut into strips, about 4 inches tall and long enough to go around the outside of the dough draped on the jar.
- Some aluminum foil, trimmed to a square large enough to wrap over the parchment covered dough jar; roughly 8 or 9 inches square.
- You could instead just use small pie tins, a 9-inch pie tin/dish, or even ramekins, but then you will miss out on all the fun of shaping your pastry shells.
Yield: 4 small pies or one 9-inch double-crust pie
4 oz (1 stick) butter
6 oz lard or shortening
1 tsp salt
5 oz water
2 lbs beef steak, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 lb kidney (3 kidneys), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup buttermilk (optional, needed only for pork or beef kidneys)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
7 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 cup onions, chopped
2 tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup stout or porter ale
1 cup beef stock or broth
- Measure the flour into a large bowl and set it aside.
- In a saucepan, add the butter, lard, salt and water and stir over medium heat until the fat melts.
- When the mixture starts to boil, take the saucepan off the heat and pour it into the bowl with the flour.
- Mix the dough with a wooden spoon until all the ingredients are combined. Feel free to use your fingers to help a large dough ball form. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, this will be a quick process.
- Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let it cool down for an hour. Do not refrigerate, just let it rest.
- No matter the type of kidney you choose, they all have a thin membrane around them. Some butchers will peel this off and leave just a small amount attached. If yours are still covered, carefully cut and peel this membrane off
- Cut the kidneys lengthwise to expose the white gristle within.
- Remove this white gristle thoroughly with either a very sharp knife or kitchen shears.
- Once you have removed the gristle, chop the kidney and set aside in a bowl.
- If you are using pork or beef kidneys, you will want to soak the kidneys in buttermilk for about an hour. This is to counteract the ammonia/urine content of the kidneys. Trust me — do NOT skip this step. Lamb and veal kidneys are more tender and naturally have a milder flavor, so you don’t need to soak them, but it wouldn’t hurt to do so.
- Lay out a piece of parchment or waxed paper and lightly dust it with flour.
- Turn your dough out onto the floured paper and roll it out to roughly 1/2 inch thick.
- Fold the dough onto itself, press down firmly with your fingers and then roll it out again. Repeat one more time. This will add structure and flakiness to the finished crust.
- Lay the dough onto a baking sheet and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it rest in your fridge for 30 minutes.
- While the dough chills and the kidneys soak, cut up your steak.
- In a Dutch oven or large saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat.
- Add the chopped steak and kidneys, season with some salt and pepper, and brown the meat for about 3 minutes. Remove the meat to a dish and reserve the liquid for later.
- Into the pan add 1 tablespoon of oil then stir in the mushrooms. Cook until light brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside with the meat.
- Into the pan add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and stir in the onions. Cook until translucent and browned, about 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle the cornstarch over the onions and stir together coating everything evenly, for about 2 minutes.
- Over the onions pour your stout, broth, and Worcestershire sauce then whisk together. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the liquid thickens.
- Add the meat and mushrooms back to the pan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and remove from heat.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
- Divide the dough into 4 balls. From each ball, cut off about a quarter of the dough. This small piece will be the top crust, the larger part will be the bottom and sides.
- On a sheet of parchment or waxed paper, roll out each piece of dough to a circle with a thickness of about 1/4 inch.
- Set aside your smaller top circle for now.
- Grease the outside of the jar and turn it upside down to rest on its lid (or mouth if you don’t have the lid).
- Take one larger circle of dough and drape it over the overturned jar making a nice tall shell. Smooth out the dough and fix any small cracks that gravity might inflict.
- Wrap the sides of the dough with a strip of paper.
- Fold a piece of foil to cover the base of the dough shell and the paper, creating a foil cup for it all to rest in.
- Carefully turn over your foil-wrapped dough shell and lift the jar out. Put this dough shell paper-foil cup on a baking sheet.
- Fill your shell with the meat and mushroom mixture. Try not to spoon in too much gravy, otherwise it will splatter out while baking.
- Take your small circle of dough and moisten the edges with water and place it on top of your filled shell. Carefully seal the two crusts together.
- Cut a steam hole in the center. Brush the top with either some egg wash, butter, or milk.
- Repeat with the remaining dough to make a total of four pies.
- Bake the pies for 25-30 minutes, or until the crusts are golden brown.
As it was the most readily available, I chose pork kidneys. I was able to get them from my local carneceria. Another nearby market, of the Asian/international variety, had pork and beef kidneys. My local gourmet grocery butcher had veal and lamb meats but no kidneys at all, not even frozen. They could probably acquire them if I asked. Kidneys are just not in demand.
My dietary restrictions also advised my choice of whether to use a stout. You can use any beer you prefer, but a stout, especially Guinness, is traditional. Since I have to avoid not only gluten but alcohol as well, I chose to double up the beef stock and cut out the stout. While I missed that wonderful tang of the stout, I did not miss the misery I would have otherwise suffered.
Regarding an accompanying beverage, if your diet does not object, a fine frothy stout pairs with this pie quite nicely. If you have any left after making your pie, you might even enjoy some while it bakes. Mrs. Lovett, on the other hand, seemed to be fond of gin. When the boy didn’t drink it all, that is.
In the end, thanks to this dish, I satisfied my love of all things British, my fascination with Stephen Sondheim musicals, and my morbid epicuriosity. I hope you will give this classic dish a try as well. If you absolutely cannot abide the use of kidneys in the pie, simply substitute with more steak, and what you are left with is another staple of British fare: Steak and Mushroom Pie. Don’t chicken out, though. Seems an awful waste. I mean, with the price of meat what it is, when you get it.