Classic steak and kidney pie never appears to have enjoyed much of an inroad to modern America. The Editor’s 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking includes a sort of recipe but it is half-hearted and unsuitable, its inclusion more doctrinal than real; Joy aspired to symbolic universality. By the year 2000, however, the bestselling Martha Stewart Cookbook , which ran to nearly six hundred tight pages, contained not a single recipe for kidney, let alone one for pie.
Philadelphia may represent an exception to that norm. In the guise of beef and kidney pie it survives on pages of the city’s cookbooks into the second half of the twentieth century. Most of the Philadelphia versions are simple, closer to the early British recipes than to many of their modern manifestations.
In 1947, the exuberant Margaret Yardley Potter introduced her recipe from At Home on the Range by declaring: “Now, in honor of our British cousins, let’s have beef and kidney pie.” Her variation is unusual in its use of half-and-half, and like cooks all over Louisiana she is a devotee of Kitchen Bouquet.
Sixteen years later, Anna Wetherell Reed published a more traditional version in The Philadelphia Cook Book of Town and Country that, unlike most American pies, uses the more traditional suet pastry. It is a comparatively simple pie because the pastry is easy to make and the recipe includes only a topcrust; in that sense it more accurately is what the Irish call a ciste rather than a pie. By either name this is a good choice for beginners who want to attempt one of the world’s iconic dishes. For those reasons, and because it is the more recent survivor, we will select her recipe for now. Six servings.
For the filling:
-4 Tablespoons unsalted butter (you may need a little more)
-about 1 ½ cups sliced mushrooms
-flour for dredging the beef
-1 ½ lb flank or chuck steak cut into 1 inch chunks
-2 veal kidneys, trimmed and sliced into coins about 3/8 inch thick
-a bay leaf
-1 teaspoon dried thyme
-1 teaspoon dried marjoram
-salt and pepper
-beef stock to cover
For the pastry:
-2 cups flour
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-½ teaspoon salt
-1 cup cold shredded suet
-1 cup icewater
- Melt about 1/3 of the butter over high heat in a heavy skillet and sear the mushrooms, then put them into a nine inch pie dish at least 1 ½ inches deep.
- Dry the beef like an obsessive or it will not sear, then lightly dredge it in a trace of flour.
- Melt another 1/3 or so of the butter over medium high heat in the same skillet and sear the beef until it acquires deep brown stripes. Do not crowd the chunks or they will merely steam and dry; fry them in batches if necessary. Add the beef to the mushrooms.
- Toss the remaining butter into the hot skillet with the kidney coins and sear them; add them to the mushrooms and beef.
- Deglaze the pan with a little stock and add the pan juices to the beef mixture; be sure not to miss any of the debris in the skillet.
- Add the bay, marjoram and thyme to the filling, then enough stock just barely to cover it and stir things up.
Preheat the oven to 225°.
- Let the filling cool while you make the pastry.
- Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt, then gently spoon the suet into the mixture; mix it gently but well.
- Add the water and lightly knead the pastry until uniform and firm, then form it into a disc about 1 ½ inch thick and chill it for ½ hour.
- Flour a cutting board or countertop and expand the disc of pastry with the palm of your hand until it is big enough to cover your pie dish comfortably. You do not need to wrestle with a rolling pin.
- If you have a pie bird, place it in the center of the filling, then top the dish with the pastry, trim it and crimp the edges with a fork. If you do not have a pie bird (you should get one), cut a hole in the center of the pastry to vent the steam.
- Either way, decorate the pastry with the scraps (Use some imagination, show some flair. It’s fun.)
- Bake the pie for 2 ½ hours. If the crust gets darker than bronze at some point, tent it loosely with foil to prevent scorching.
- The Editor has provided considerably more guidance than Wetherell Reed, who appears to assume that her reader is steeped in British foodways. That strikes us as an unwarranted assumption these days.
- The bfia recipe also changes the sequence of browning the ingredients for the filling. Wetherell Reed uses a relatively large proportion of kidney so we did not want it to jump the line and overpower everything else. She calls for beef instead of veal kidney too; the flavor is considerably stronger and may prove too much for American palates unaccustomed to the offal, but is not at all bad.
- The bay is the Editor’s addition; she also has doubled the amounts of marjoram and thyme.
- If you like, deglaze the pan with some decent and robust red wine, a traditional variation.
- The Editor always adds a glug of Worcestershire dash of Kitchen Bouquet at Step 6.
Brussels sprouts are a traditional accompaniment; green salad with oranges is a good lighter alternative. Consult our recipes for options.
The British always serve steak and kidney pie with boiled or mashed potatoes; satisfying if quite filling but you do not need them.
And bring out your best Barolo, Bordeaux or Burgundy. This is a special dish.