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The Nasty Bits: Veal Kidney Pie

[Photographs: Chichi Wang]

The majority of kidney pies contain cubes of simmered steak. But when it comes to my savory pies, I really just like mine with a whole lot of offal. On a recent trip down south I tasted my share of exemplary pecan and butterscotch pies, but there were so many times when I thought to myself, "Gee, now if only this pie had kidneys in it."

Veal kidneys are one of my favorite pie fillings. Milder in flavor than those of pigs, veal kidneys are also more tender and, in general, more likable. I've written before about the unique function of kidneys that make them particularly challenging for the cook. Even when the kidneys are fresh, there's an initial sweetness that's followed by a baser, earthier flavor. While I happen to savor a whole kidney charred quickly on a grill, most diners are more likely to enjoy their kidneys when there are other distractions on the plate.

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Instead of steak, I like to pair my kidneys with root vegetables like potatoes and turnips. The contrast between the starchy texture of the vegetables and the tender, fatty flavor of the kidneys is a much better one, in my opinion, than the meat-on-meat combination of steak and kidneys. For the crust, I've used only lard and only butter in the pastries, both to similar effect. A crust of lard will be richer than one fashioned from butter, but both serve the all-important function of sopping up the juices of the gravy. You can make yours with a crust or leave it bottomless, as I tend to do, depending on the depth of your vessel. The deeper the pot, the more time is required for the bottom crust to finish, which poses a problem if your contents are tender kidneys rather than long-stewed meat.

A savory pie takes well to whatever additions you may have in stock. Once you've made the base of kidneys, tubers, and gravy, you can toss in any number of vegetables, like sautéed mushrooms or leeks, or add a chopped carrot or two.

Veal Kidney Pie

About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor."

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