Speaking of funny conversations in the butcher's (we were), we had this exchange:
- It's freezing. Steak and kidney pie would be nice.
- My mother always made it without kidneys.
- Well if she made it without kidneys, it's not steak and kidney pie, is it? You can only have steak and kidney pie if it's got kidneys in it. By definition.
- The English make it with kidneys, the Scots never use kidneys.
So we start with a discussion of what to have for dinner and in a few sentences we're discussing the reasons for the Battle of Bannockburn.
Amazing isn't it? No wonder so many of them migrated to Australia ... to leave behind all that warring. (And the weather's better, despite current conditions. At least you can still drink coffee outdoors in the depths of winter.)
Steak and kidney won, by the way. I got to cut up the kidney and remove the tubes. What is it with women and offal?
There are many recipes for steak and kidney pie, with two broad streams of thought. The first holds that the meat is cooked first. The second is that it is all baked in the pie. I prefer the second, but we went with the first.
Season and flour the cubed steak and lamb, veal or ox kidney (ox kidney may have a distinctive perfectly natural aroma which can be reduced by first soaking in water for an hour or two). Cook in oil and butter until no longer pink, then set aside. Cook a chopped onion in the same pan, adding more oil or butter as necessary, until almost translucent. Then add the cooked meat, some sliced mushrooms, a bay leaf, a little tomato puree or some worcestershire sauce and enough beef stock to almost cover it. Simmer for thirty minutes, checking the fluid level. It should thicken a little. Set aside to cool slightly.
Invert your pie dish over rolled-out puff pastry and cut out the 'lid'. Cut out another strip to press around the edge.
Remove the bay leaf, place the meat filling in the pie dish with some chopped parsley, brush the dish edge with egg, press the pastry lid into place, add the extra strip border and flute it with a fork. Cut an air vent dexterously in the top, brush it with egg, and bake for 45 minutes. If the pastry starts to blacken, cover with foil.
Serve your pie with lashings of steaming mashed potatoes, honeyed carrots and peas piled up high, with tomato sauce in a gravy jug on the side.
And a beer on the other side.