Sunday, September 22, 2019

steak-and-kidney pie: the prep and the lunch

[WARNING: graphic imagery of a beef kidney being worked on!]

Prep for the steak-and-kidney pie took several days. I took my sweet time buying brisket and the beef kidney, then I made the pie crust Friday morning. What follows are pics from Friday-night prep (which went past midnight and strayed into Saturday morning) and Saturday's hike and lunch. Friday-night kidney prep first. This was gross and fascinating.

Below, we have the mostly thawed beef kidney, which I had purchased at Majang Meat Market and stored in my office's fridge all day long. I was curious and excited to be working on this alien blob of organ meat, which was unlike anything I had ever handled before. Behold:

The kidney looked pale when I unwrapped it, but it began to "blush" soon after, as you'll see in subsequent photos. I got the impression that the kidney had quite a bit of blood in it.

The kidney, flipped over and now blushing. You see the huge fat deposit:

All the tutorials I saw and read said that you have to remove the fat deposit. This turned out to be about a third of the kidney's total weight, which may be one reason why the meat is so cheap. In the pic below, I've sliced partway through the fat hunk. As I did so, I jokingly muttered to myself as if I were a surgeon: Now resecting the main mass...

Progress. Here's the kidney with the first chunk of fat removed:

I'd never broken down a kidney before, but I did my best, assisted by my super-sharp German knife, which was a birthday gift from my coworkers. Despite the knife's sharpness, cutting away the fat proved to be difficult work, and I know I ended up removing too much perfectly good kidney meat. Whenever that happened, I did my best to rescue the good meat by trimming it off the liberated fat chunks. The image below gives you a sense of how the fat deposit went inside the kidney and wasn't merely an external part that could be easily removed. Witness the carnage:

The kidney was torn up when I was done with it, but all in all, I didn't think it was a horrible fat-trimming job. Do you see the tiny pile of "rescued" meat in the upper-left corner? Look:

I cut up the kidney and soaked the pieces in cold water (into which I'd added salt and a bit of vinegar) for two hours. The kidney went from red back to pale again:

I also slapped the brisket into the oven with no dry rub. After smelling the dry rub (I had extra rub stored in my kitchen cabinet), I decided the spicy, Tex-Mex flavor of the rub would be too strong and would kill any attempt at making the pie conform to an English flavor profile. The brisket had been well brined, though, so it was already flavorful. Here's the meat, which ended up baking for three hours, covered in foil:

It's now after midnight, so it's technically Saturday in the early morning. The following pics show the end of kidney prep and the making of the pie filling.

Kidney, post-soak, drying on a paper towel:

In the pic below, I'm breaking the kidney down further, prepping it for a cook. Interesting to note that the kidney, up to this point, seemed to have no odor at all, not even when I held a piece close to my nose and sniffed:

Following the cute girl's advice (see her video here), I put oil in a pan, fried up some thinly sliced onions, then dumped in the kidney chunks, fried them quickly, poured in beer and water, brought the whole thing to a boil, then immediately reduced the temperature to a simmer and left things that way for 45 minutes. The frying:

Kidney chunks are browned. They look like snails and smell like liver:

So, yes: now there's an odor, and the odor isn't piss, as some online wiseacres claimed. The kidney became redolent only once I started cooking it. Here are the kidney pieces, simmering away in a broth of beer and water, with a layer of brown, foamy scum having been removed:

Kidney pieces, removed from the boil. I'm not liking the smell, frankly. This causes me to remember that, when I had that steak-and-kidney pie years ago, I don't recall smelling or tasting the kidney at all: the organ meat, being denser than muscle, had merely added texture to the pie. The unpleasant smell from my own cooking felt like a bad omen.

Omen or not, I sliced the kidney thinly (looks like mushrooms):

And here's the kidney, mixed with the chopped-up (and meltingly tender) brisket, ready to receive a dose of stout-infused gravy on its way to becoming a pie filling:

Below is the gravy, boiling away. I ended up making two gravies: one was the brown gravy for the pie filling, which included stout and Worcestershire sauce. The other was "blond" gravy for the mashed potatoes; that gravy was infused with milk to lighten the color.

Pie filling, gravy'ed up:

And that was it for my prep that night. Here's a quick preview of what I'd prepared (the intensely orange carrots eventually got paired up with frozen peas for a peas-and-carrots mix that also included butter, salt, and pepper... oh, and that's cayenne on the taters):

My English friend Neil came by early Saturday morning, and we hiked a bit along the Tancheon (the Tan Creek). Here are two pics from Neil's camera:

Neil and I hit a local coffee shop because he was jonesing for coffee (the Brits apparently don't drink much tea anymore). Afterward, we wandered back to my place, and I finished prepping for lunch. On the menu: (1) steak-and-kidney pie, (2) mashed potatoes with blond gravy, and (3) peas and carrots. I had also made a dessert of chocolate panna cotta, but dessert slipped my mind, and Neil ended up leaving without having any chocolate goodness. A shame, that. The pie was fairly ugly-looking, but the crust came out as perfectly as it had the previous three times I had made pie. Here are some prandial images.

Alignment of the planets: pie, taters, and peas/carrots:

A second look:

A closeup of the pie. The crust looked horrible but tasted fantastic:

Neil pronounced the colorful vegetables "photogenic":

Taters, up close and personal:

Yes, it's true: the whipped cream in the pic below is homemade. I added turbinado sugar and a bit of vanilla extract to give the cream character.

According to Neil, the meal was very good. Whether it passed muster as a truly English version of an Englishman's beloved dish is still a bit of a mystery. I told Neil I was pretty sure that the pie I'd eaten years ago had had a redder filling than mine; it had looked a bit burgundy-colored. Neil affirmed that that color would have been more traditional, so I think I lost some authenticity points there.

My own feeling is that the pie I made—even though Neil himself had seconds—wasn't anywhere near as good as the pie in my memory. I almost feel as if steak-and-kidney pie has lost its charm for me, and given how much sheer work goes into prepping a kidney, I'm not in any rush ever to attempt this pie again. Since I have another slab of brisket ready to go, I'm going to make a good old steak pie (yes, the Brits do those, too), using the leftover peas, carrots, and mashed potatoes as part of the new pie filling, and adding some cooked-down mushrooms as well. The kidneys literally left a bad taste in my mouth, so I'm happy to be rid of them for Round 2 of pie-making. Neil, for his part, said the kidney didn't dominate the dish. The fact that he had a second serving was reassuring; at the very least, the pie had been edible.

It was a real shame that we didn't have dessert, but we were both pretty full after our main meal, so perhaps skipping the chocolate panna cotta was for the best.


John Mac said...

Wish I knew a vegan to share this post with!

Looks delicious, although I'm not a big fan of kidneys. Other than my own of course!

Good job, and it appears to have been quite a job putting that meal together.

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks. Most of the work involved prep. After that, everything came together fairly quickly. Tonight, I'm making a good ol' steak-and-mushroom pie. I still have plenty of stout-infused gravy left over.