The online magazine
dedicated to the
discussion & revival
of British foodways.

NO.53
SUMMER2017

An African-American kidney pie by way of Britain.

In The Taste of Country Cooking, the incomparable Edna Lewis outlines a series of seasonal menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner, feasting…. It has not been much remarked upon, but her recipes, while carrying an obvious southern cast, also share roots with the British culinary tradition. One of them, a pie of kidney and potato laced with Sherry, presents an obvious example. “On a cold, snowy Sunday morning,” she would recall, “we often enjoyed a breakfast of kidney pie with hard-boiled eggs, oven-fried ham, country-style toast, damson preserves, coffee, and cocoa for the children, with a side dish of canned, stewed quince.” The pie “was,” she adds, “an extra dish served only for Sunday breakfast, Sunday being a leisurely day.”

Add a couple of gallons’ beer, cider, porter or stout and you would recognize the sideboard of an Edwardian hunt breakfast at the big house of an Earl in the English counties. Readers may find these comfort foods more suited to dinner, but that does not diminish their appeal. A pie for four.


Edna-Lewis-2.jpg

  • a good batch of puff pastry, like a thawed sheet from Pepperidge Farms (see the Notes)

  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 finely diced onions
  • 2 veal kidneys cut into 1½ inch chunks
  • 2 Tablespoons flour (preferably Wondra)
  • generous ¼ cup reasonably dry Sherry (Fino, Manzanilla, Rainwater or cheap fake; see the Notes)
  • 2 or 3 bay leaves
  • about 1 teaspoon dried thyme, more or less (see the Notes)
  • about 1 lb peeled potatoes cut into 1 inch chunks
  • hot beef stock
  • some Worcestershire
  • another 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • about 16 tiny onions, scored with a cross at the stem and peeled (or, for an easier rendition, ¼ cup minced parsley)
  • salt and pepper

 

  1. Set a heavy skillet (cast iron is ideal) over medium high heat, add the first tranche of butter and let it foam.
  2. Brown the diced onion in the butter.
  3. Meanwhile dredge the kidney chunks in the flour and sear them, shaking the pan with a certain violence, amidst the onion in the heavy skillet.
  4. Dump the kidney mixture into a 2 quart saucepan, deglaze the skillet with the Sherry, add the bay, thyme and potatoes to the saucepan followed by the stock and Worcestershire, bring the filling to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, then cook it until the potatoes nearly yield to the push of a butcher’s fork, usually in about half an hour.
  5. While the filling cooks, glaze the tiny onions by melting the second tranche of butter in a heavy skillet over medium high heat until it burbles and browns, stirring the sugar into the butter and rolling the onions around in the skillet with rigor until they brown, usually in no more than 10 minutes.
  6. After the kidney mixture has simmered for its half hour, add the glazed onions to it along with the parsley, season the mixture and let it cool.

Preheat the oven to 425˚◦.

  1. Once the filling cools, line a pieplate with half the puff pastry, dump the filling on top, moisten the edges of the bottom pastry and cover it with the rest of the pastry.
  2. Crimp the edges of the dough with a fork pushed into it a right angles to the circumference of the pieplate, cut a vent in the center of the pie and bake it until golden, usually in 30 to 45 minutes.
  3. Let the pie rest for a few minutes before service.

 

Notes:

-Of course you could make your own puff pastry from scratch, but it is difficult to distinguish from storebought.

-As we do reiterate, cheap fake American Madeira makes an excellent cooking wine. Paul Masson is the best impostor.

-Miss Lewis uses beef kidneys and they make a nice pie, but may be a bit strong for some American palates. She also uses but a single, “small,” bay leaf, water instead of stock and omits our Worcestershire.

-Miss Lewis’s pie lends itself to lots of lovely variations. It is, as she said, enhanced when served with hard boiled eggs. To further Anglify the dish, add a handful of hard boiled quail eggs to the filling as it cools. You need not cook them yourself; good quality quail eggs are available in cans at Asian, Portuguese and some other specialty shops. They taste good and cost a pittance.

-If you add the quail eggs you might omit the potatoes, but they do serve an exemplary absorbent purpose.

-To make Miss Lewis’s country toast, just abide by her instruction.

“We would slice some bread from our homemade loaf, butter it liberally, and place it in the oven. When cooked it would be browned in the areas where there was no butter and the buttered part would be golden and soft…. It can be done in the broiler as well, especially if the bread is placed on a hot broiler pan. That will crisp the underside of the bread and the top will be brown and crisp in spots where there is no butter. The combination of crispy brown and soft buttered bread is simply heavenly.”

-If you choose to bake rather than broil your toast go wit a temperature of about 425˚.