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.
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."
- 1 veal kidney, trimmed of its fat and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
- 2 medium potatoes, cubed
- 1 turnip, cubed
- 3 cups beef stock
- 2 tablespoons butter or lard
- 1 tablespoon flour
- For the pastry:
- 1/2 cup butter or lard, cut into 1/2 inch squares
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
- Iced water
- To glaze:
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
To make the pastry: Toss the butter or the fat in the flour until coated. Add the salt. Add a little ice water and bring the dough together with your hands, sprinkling no more than a few teaspoons of water. On a well-floured surface, shape the dough into a square. Sprinkle more flour onto the square to prevent sticking later; then roll out the dough into a rectangle approximately 1/2 inch thick. Fold the rectangle lengthwise in the shape of an envelope; then roll and repeat. Dust with flour as needed. Repeat this procedure at least 3 or more times, preferably 5 times, taking care not to warm or soften the dough too much as you roll. Cover the pastry with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator.
To make the filling: Heat a heavy skillet or pan over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon or so of butter. Toss in the kidneys and quickly saute to brown the surface, leaving the interior raw. Remove from the pan.
Deglaze the pan with the beef stock, reducing the liquid by half.
In the meantime, make the roux: Add the remainder of the butter to a saucepan and melt over low heat. Add the flour, mixing to make a paste. Toast the flour in the butter for a few minutes, until the roux is light golden brown. Add the reduced stock and simmer gently, until the liquid is thickened and coats the back of of a wooden spoon.
Bring a pot of water to boil and add the cubed potatoes and turnips. Simmer for 10 minutes, until tender. Drain and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
To assemble the pie: Place the kidney, turnips, and potatoes into a pie pan or ovenproof pot. Cover the ingredients with the gravy so that the liquid comes up to approximately 3/4 of the kidneys and vegetables. Roll out the chilled pastry into a sheet approximately 1/4 inch thick. Carefully lay the pastry sheet over the kidney mixture and crimp the edges with a fork. Puncture the surface once or twice to allow for air vents. Lightly brush the egg glaze over the pastry.
Place the pie in the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the interior is very hot. Serve immediately.