Captain Cook (can’t cook, trying anyway) tries his hand at a steak and kidney pie

PUBLISHED: 16:02 19 April 2017 | UPDATED: 16:10 19 April 2017

Ready, steady, bake. James Hayward, mixing bowl at the ready! Photo by Lynne Mortimer

Ready, steady, bake. James Hayward, mixing bowl at the ready! Photo by Lynne Mortimer


This month, our culinary explorer wrangles with a traditional pastry dish - steak and kidney pie.

James with his brand new pie dish. Photo from James Hayward.James with his brand new pie dish. Photo from James Hayward.

Meet my recent purchases: an enamel pie dish and a pie raiser – essential equipment for my latest foray into proper, traditional cooking. The latter, in the form of a blackbird in full throttle, performs a dual role in the pie-making process, supporting the middle of the pastry lid and providing an outlet for any pressure build-up.

I am afraid I have jilted Nigella yet again, and this month turned to Ruth Watson, the Suffolk hotelier and former hotel inspector for a five-star recipe for a steak and kidney pie. Whether the result deserved five stars, I have left others to judge.

MORE: Captain Cook (can’t cook, trying anyway) makes a cheese souffle

Rolling out his shortcrust pastry.  Photo from James Hayward.Rolling out his shortcrust pastry. Photo from James Hayward.

Anyone wishing to repeat my experience and create a pie big enough for six (so not quite of Desperate Dan proportions) will need:

For the pastry: 250g plain flour, plus extra for rolling, 140g cold unsalted butter, one large egg yolk (for separating technique, see last month’s recipe), and one small egg whisked with 1tbsp milk for brushing onto the pastry lid before it goes into the oven.

For the filling: one ox kidney (Ruth Watson gives the weight of this as about 400g, which seems to be the average for an “ox”. The one I bought weighed 395g). They are not always that easy to come by, and you might need to ask a butcher, but don’t think you can substitute pig’s or lamb’s kidney – they won’t cook slowly enough, 1kg trimmed British top rump beef (not the cheapest of cuts, but the bite-size pieces get nice and tender while holding their shape well, 250g flat mushrooms (don’t peel, just wipe), 3tbsps groundnut oil, 100g unsalted butter, one large onion, peeled and thickly chopped, 50-85g plain flour, depending on how thick you like your gravy (I went down the middle, about 70g), 600ml off-the-boil water, 1tbsp Marigold Swiss vegetable bouillon powder (first time I’ve bought this), and one large bay leaf.

Out of the oven and smelling delicious.  Photo from James Hayward.Out of the oven and smelling delicious. Photo from James Hayward.

I made the pastry first. The flour is whizzed (I used our 1980s food processor) with a pinch of salt and the butter, roughly cubed, until it looks like breadcrumbs. The egg yolk is whisked with 3tbsps water, and this liquid is then added to the mixture, which is whizzed again until, and this happens very suddenly, it forms a big lump of pastry. I kept it in the fridge overnight, wrapped in cling film.

I cooked the meat a day ahead, too. That way, I was able to skim off the fat that had solidified on the top. “Button-mushroom”-sized lobes are cut from the kidney – getting rid of the white core in the middle, and the beef is cut into cubes. The mushrooms are chopped into chunks, too.

The pieces of kidney are fried first in 1tbsp of oil, until they are lightly coloured. They then need to be drained in a colander. After the frying pan has been wiped, the onions are fried in 25g of the butter and another 1tbsp of oil for about 10 minutes, then transferred to a large casserole with a slotted spoon.

The finished plate. Photo from James HaywardThe finished plate. Photo from James Hayward

The flour is tipped into a large plastic bag, and seasoned, then the beef and is thrown in and the bag shaken until the cubes are evenly floured. Removing the beef from the bag, it is fried – this has to be done in batches – until nicely browned. Keep the flour. As each batch is done, it’s transferred to the casserole.

Lastly, adding more butter/oil to the frying pan if needed, the mushrooms are fried for about two minutes then added to the casserole with the drained kidneys, hot water, bouillon powder and bay leaf, plus the flour left in the plastic bag, all of which should be stirred well. The covered casserole is then placed in the oven for 75 to 90 minutes on fan 140C until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick. This was then left to cool and kept in the fridge overnight.

The next day I returned the pastry to cool room temperature, then rolled it out thinly on a well-floured work surface. Putting my 30cm by 23cm, 6.5cm deep pie dish upside down on to the pastry I cut out the pastry lid, using the tin as a guide but leaving a little extra width. I made some 6cm-wide strips out of the left over pastry, and these were used to line the lightly buttered rim of the dish. The blackbird’s shoulders were buttered, too, and he was placed in the middle of the dish before filling it with the meat mixture. I have to admit that at this point I panicked over the colour of the filling and the amount of seasoning, so I guiltily added an Oxo cube dissolved in a little hot water.

The pastry rim was brushed with a little water, then the pastry lid draped over it, the edges pinched to seal.

A few slashes to the lid (the blackbird had automatically poked its head out), a brush with the egg wash and the pie was baked in a pre-heated oven (180C, reduced to 170C after 20 mins) for 45 minutes.

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