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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Beef and kidney pies


I've been wanting to make these pies for some time, but it's hard to find enough grass-fed stew beef at once, and nearly impossible to get hold of kidneys.  So I've been stocking up on the beef (some of it even had freezer burn), and when I got hold of a kidney, it was time.

I wasn't sure what recipe to follow, and I was feeling lazy, so I sort of just threw things together from what I had (which included some fajita meat along with the chuck.  Probably a waste of good fajita meat.)  The onions had been in the freezer for some time, the result of a recipe for pumpkin soup that never got made (and which I now can't find). I can't remember how many onions it took, probably about 4, and they were caramelized for close to an hour.  They were VERY sweet.  I bought the Murphy's to make this, but found an open bottle of Guinness in the back of the refrigerator.  (Blasphemy!)

Watch the salt.  The broth will cook down and become concentrated, so you don't want to add too much salt to start.  I made a similar pie a few years ago (beef and ale), and I don't think they were quite salty enough. You also want to think about how salty your crust will be.  I prefer a salty filling and mild crust.

I thought a rich dough would go well, since the filling is fairly lean, so I looked for a cream cheese pastry.  The ratios vary widely -- I didn't want one that was TOO fatty, so I compared them and chose one that was sort of in the middle.  I used the quantities for a 2-crust, 9-inch pie.

Here's what I used:

2.5 lbs stew beef, grass fed, cubed
1 beef kidney, cut into large cubes
2 portobello mushrooms, cubed
8 ounces regular mushrooms, cubed
about 1 cup deeply caramelized onion
3-4 tablespoons flour
1 can Murphy's stout + less than half bottle Guinness
1/2 box beef stock
few dashes Worcestershire sauce
few sprigs marjoram
1 bay leaf
black pepper
salt

Pastry
2 cups (dip and sweep method) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4½ ounces cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces, cold
12 8 tablespoons salted butter, cut into 3/4-inch cubes and frozen
4 tablespoons lard, cut into 3/4-inch cubes and frozen
2 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Brown the beef in batches in olive oil over high heat; remove from pan, cut into bite-sized pieces, and set aside.  Cook kidney pieces until browned; set aside.  In the stew pan, cook mushrooms in olive oil until soft.  Add onions. then sprinkle with flour and stir to coat.  Add the reserved meat and remaining stew ingredients and bring to a boil.  (Use some stout or broth to deglaze kidney pan and add liquid to stew.)  Simmer over low heat, uncovered, until broth has reduced and stew is thick and barely runny, about 2 hours.  (This is really to your desired firmness.)  Cool.

Meanwhile, in a food processor mix flour and baking powder.  Add cream cheese and process until the cheese is the size of large peas.  Add butter and lard, and process until none of the butter is larger than a small pea.  Add water and cider and process to blend.  It will not stick together.  Pour into a plastic bag and knead until it comes together.  Form into two discs, one much larger than the other, wrap tightly and refrigerate at least one hour.

Roll out the smaller disc of dough 1/8 inch thick or thinner.  Cut out 6 pie lids, generously sized to fit the tops of your tins.  Set aside.  Add scraps to larger disc and divide into 6 pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball, then roll out to a circle at least 8 inches across.  (The diameter needs to be equal to the length of two heights of your tin, plus the width of the bottom, plus at least 1 inch [to create a 1/2-inch overlap with the lid].) Fit the rounds into large muffin tins, clipping out the excess and sealing seams by dampening the dough and pressing edges together.  Leave plenty of dough above tin.  Fill cases with meat stew just to the tops of the cases; do not over fill.  Place a lid on each, dampen edges, then fold the excess dough from the sides inwards to cover edges of lid.  Skewer a hole in the center of each pie to let steam escape.  Bake at 400F for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown on top.  Allow to cool for about 10 minutes in pan, then carefully remove each pie and serve, or cool fully on a wire rack.


Prior to filling the cases, I thought the stew might be too thick, so I loosened it with more broth. Then I added salt slowly, tasting it after each addition, until I was satisfied.  I felt it needed to be slightly saltier than a soup stew because it was being paired with the pastry. 

I had a lot of trouble finishing the pies so that they looked nice.  The key, I think, is to have plenty of overlap between the tops and the sides.  The more filling you want in your pies, the more overlap you'll need.  It's certainly easier to overlap the sides over the top, rather than the other way around (although the second way looks nicer.) 

Conclusion:  These turned out really well.  They were a bit too salty, but only slightly.  I also would have liked a little more gravy, which could have been accomplished by adding more broth (or cooking it down less.)  The pies were very rich, between the kidney and the pastry.  These are supposed to be an individual meal, but halfway through I felt I'd had enough and needed something lighter to balance the meal.  Next time I would try the pastry recipe with the least amount of fat.

Recipes: 
A good steak and kidney pie via BBC Good Food
Proper beef, ale, & mushroom pie via BBC Good Food
Gary's beef, onion, and & Guinness pies via MasterChef Australia
Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust via Epicurious 

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