Following on from my previous article about British iconic food I would like to introduce you to another British Icon from its origins through to today with its many variations; Steak and Kidney Pudding. The steak and kidney is so British that there are various rhyming-slang terms used to describe it – “Kate and Sydney Pud” or “Snake and Pygmy Pie”.
Tracing the history of the steak and kidney pie, and its cousin the pudding, has been more than a little difficult. As with most ancient dishes their origins have been lost in time. But pies, as in meat or other products wrapped in pastry, have been synonymous with London and England since medieval times. In those days it is uncertain what you might have found inside your pie, certainly offal or game, possibly swans, or even kittens.
Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers has a pieman who keeps his prices low by making them from kittens. Or maybe you have seen the movie with Helena Bonham-Carter, Sweeney Todd;The Barber of Fleet Street!
What is certain is that before the days of refrigeration the pastry was used as a means of preservation. The contents of the pie were sealed inside the pastry using clarified butter and kept for some months. It does seem that meat pies have always been a British favourite with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales making mention of a dish of Steak and Oyster. In fact until possibly the late 19th century Steak and Oyster Pies was the norm. Oysters were extremely plentiful and considered a cheap ingredient for the filling.
The first written recipe for steak and kidney appeared in 1694 in a publication known as “The Compleat Cook ” with ingredients including prunes, currants and nutmeg. That most famous of British cooks from Victorian times, Mrs Beeton, first published a recipe for steak and kidney in 1861. Her recipe was for a steak and kidney pudding, which is slightly different to a pie – a pie is baked, a pudding is steamed or boiled.
Back in the time of Mrs Beeton very few households would have had an oven for baking a pie. The pudding, however, is much easier to cook by placing in a pan of water and cooking over the open fire. A pudding bowl is lined with suet (the fat surrounding veal kidneys), mixed with flour and the pie mix put inside. A suet lid is then put on top to seal the pudding and the whole lot is then boiled or steamed.
The result is a delicious soft pastry case with beautiful tender pieces of steak in a rich gravy on the inside. The fat from the suet cooks into the flour binding it together and the contents just steam in their own juices – heavenly!!
Over the years the recipe has evolved to include British Ale or even Guinness and various seasonings and herbs have been added. In the past, bone marrow was used to enhance the flavour of the gravy, today the marrow bone is often used to garnish the pie, with it, perhaps, sticking through the top of the pastry. The choice of kidney will also affect the flavour. Whether you choose strong tasting ox kidney or milder veal kidney or even use lamb kidney.
Here I will give you my version of a Steak and Kidney.
To make 4 individual pies you will need approx 750g cubed stewing steak, 250g ox kidney cut into pieces, you could also use veal kidney or lamb or pork (your butcher may well do a steak & kidney mix), 1 onion diced, clove garlic, bay leaves & herbs, a spoon of flour, a glass of wine or beer and water.
Start by browning the meat in a saucepan deep enough to hold all the ingredients. Now add the onion and garlic and continue to cook. Once the meat is browning and the onion is mixed in add a spoonful of flour and stir in. At this stage I like to throw in a glass of red wine or beer and allow to cook out a little. You will notice that the flour will start thickening the sauce, now add enough water to just cover the meat and bring to the boil. Once boiled turn down the heat, season with the herbs, salt and pepper and leave to simmer covered for about 1 hour.
After an hour remove the lid, the sauce should have thickened a little but will continue to thicken without the lid, check the flavour and that the meat is tender. Roll out your pastry, line the pie dishes, fill with the steak & kidney and cook the pie in a pre-heated oven at 180C. Egg wash the top of the pie to add a lovely shine to it.