After all, I'd already devised a recipe for Steak & Kidney Pie but hadn't cooked it as of yet - well, not for the blog. In fact, I still haven't cooked that precise pie because I got waylaid by the idea of the suet pastry that was involved with the Jamie Oliver Kate & Wills Wedding Pie.
This pie, I started cooking on the Saturday lunchtime, prior to when we were due to eat it on the Sunday evening. I cooked the beef shin in the slow cooker, you see. Being beef shin, it takes a lot of slow cooking to bring the meat to the point of being tender enough for our old teeth to cope with. I'm afraid my days of wanting to gnaw my way through tough beef are long gone. I just can't see why I should have to, when I've got a slow cooker! I was hoping that - as with a lot of things - if I cooked the beef the day before, it would have had time to let the flavours develop before using it in the pie.
The other great thing about beef shin is that it contains a large amount of connective tissue - the greater part of which I trim off before cooking, but what is left slowly dissolves over the cooking process and renders the gravy so glossy and rich. You just don't get that with the more expensive cuts of beef.
Mind you, I say "more expensive" cuts, but our (just under) 1kg of beef shin cost just short of £6! I can remember - not so long ago, either - it would have cost just under £5. Just that relatively small rise of a pound is making me think whether we can afford to use it in future. It may be more economical to buy 800g of beef brisket (which is slightly more expensive) but not have to trim so much away.
One mistake I made with this pie is to forget to soak the kidneys in milk before including them in the pot. I have done this in the past and can confirm that it isn't an old wife's tale, but it does leave the kidneys with a gentler flavour. For all that these were lamb's kidneys, they were mighty powerful - so powerful, in fact, that they were a bit too strong for hubby's taste. If I'm honest, I'll admit that I liked them - in fact they were the best bit of the pie, for me!
Son & heir absolutely loves the pastry - so much so that I was begged to make something with the offcuts of the raw pastry, that he could take to school to eat in his break times!
I pan fried the kidney until just rare, before adding it to the meat mixture and baking. However, hubby found this pie disappointing, because the pieces of kidney were too large for his palate and the gravy didn't taste particularly of kidney. He prefers a more overall flavour of kidney, whereas I prefer to trip over a flavour shot of kidney by finding a larger piece in amongst the steak. He was also disappointed that the can of Mackeson's that I'd used to slow cook the shin - he said - had disappeared. So far as I was concerned, I could still taste it but that was largely because I'd been tasting the beef mixture all the way along - and I knew how it tasted before the Mackeson's was added! It wasn't one of the prime flavours, but then it wasn't supposed to be. This was, after all, a Steak & Kidney pie rather than a Steak & Ale pie.
Still, I enjoyed the pie very much - as did son & heir. If I was to make another, I would ensure that the kidneys were cut into smaller pieces and perhaps some kidney was cooked with the beef, to ensure the gravy carried the kidney flavour along with everything else. The pastry? Well, I wouldn't change a thing.
STEAK & KIDNEY PIE (slow cooker version) Feeds 4
1 tbsp olive oil
a knob of butter
1 onion, halved then each half cut into sixths
a sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
fresh thyme, leaves removed, to make approx 1 tsp
700g beef shin, trimmed and diced (start with 800g untrimmed)
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp tomato puree
200ml gentle smooth stout
1 heaped tbsp plain flour
500ml beef stock
1 tsp English mustard
1 tbsp Mushroom ketchup (or Worcestershire sauce), to taste
4 lamb's kidneys, cored and diced small.
For the pastry :
150g plain flour
50g Atora shredded suet (I use vegetable suet)
an egg yolk, for brushing.
1. On day one, in a frying pan on a medium heat, place the olive oil and butter. Add the onions and fry until they are just beginning to colour and have softened. Add them to the slow cooker, switch it on to low and replace the lid.
2. Increase the heat to high and add the diced beef, frying without stirring until browned and the cubes have caramelised on at least two sides - but don't let them burn! Add the chopped herbs and the meat from one of the kidneys. Cook until the kidney has browned, then add the lot to the slow cooker and replace the lid.
3. To the frying pan, add the flour and tomato puree and stir until the flour has lightly toasted. Then add the stout and stir, then gradually add the stock, stirring in between each addition to break down any lumps that might have appeared. Add the mustard and the mushroom ketchup. The object of the exercise is to have a smooth thickened gravy by the end of it. Pour into the slow cooker and give everything a good stir to settle it into one even layer. Replace the lid and leave it to chuckle for a minimum of 4 hours.
4. Cool and place in the refrigerator until the following day.
5. On day two, make the pastry by putting the flour, suet and butter into a bowl with a good pinch of salt. Using your thumbs and forefingers, rub the butter in to the flour until you have something resembling a crumb mixture. Stir in 60ml of cold water (or thereabouts) and use your hands to pat and push the mix together to form a rough dough. Ignore the urge to mix or knead, as you don't want to overwork the flour and have your pastry become tough. Wrap the pastry in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until needed.
6. Pre-heat your oven to 180deg C/350deg F/gas 4. Get the frying pan back out and add a little olive oil, over a medium heat. Add the remainder of the kidney and fry until browned but still rare. Decant into a deep pie dish.
7. Spoon the meat mixture into the frying pan, leaving the gravy in the bowl, and heat it through. Decant into the deep pie dish and give a stir, to distribute the kidney well.
8. Add the gravy to the frying pan and simmer to reduce. You're looking for a good thickish consistency that will coat the back of a spoon. Once you have that, decant into the pie dish.
10. Brush beaten egg over the top of the pie and place in the oven to cook for around 45 minutes or until the pastry is golden and looking lovely.