Generally in this series I talk about my culinary disasters, destroying BBQ’s, wrecking kitchens, and generally having fun with my food. A couple of days ago I had a flash of inspiration. A dish that I have not had in over twenty years, Steak and Kidney Pie. I could taste it, this was going to be this weeks big adventure.

The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that this had to happen. My major worry was the pie crust. Steak and Kidney needs Puff Pastry. This is a beast to make for even the most qualified person (that excludes me right there!). I try Puff Pastry about once a decade. It is time consuming to make, you find yourself in a battle with a lump of dough that hates to get warm and needs frequent ‘rests’ in the refrigerator. Likewise the butter, you need it cold, but not frozen. If all goes well you end up with the best damn pastry crust in the whole universe. But to quote a film title, it is gone in 60 seconds!

Hours of labor are happily consumed in less time than you can say ‘yum’. Puff Pastry is somewhat akin to Phyllo, that well known middle eastern delicacy, yet it is also very different. They are different beasts, they may look similar, but the process and ingredients have different roots.

So, back to the plot. I was willing to take on the challenge of puff pastry. I could taste it!

Next came the issue with the pie filling. We have a freezer with all sorts of goodies in it. My eye was on a cut known as London Broil. Beef tends to come in one of two variations, tender and tasteless, or tough and flavorful. Top Sirloin seemed like the perfect solution. It has flavor, and the cost doesn’t rape the bank account.

I had checked my cupboards and pretty much (other than Oxo cubes) I was all set. Well, almost all set. I needed to get some kidneys. Purists prefer Lambs Kidney’s but I knew I was setting my bar a little high. A good backup is beef or pork. Taste wise it is a wash for the regular eater.

All I needed to find was some kidney’s. Now I will be the first to admit that I cannot ever recall seeing Kidney in my two (yes two) local supermarkets. But both brag having fresh meat and real butchers. There had to be kidneys somewhere.

Rather than wear out my shoes, I decided to use the phone. I called, and asked to talk to someone in the Butcher Department. It took a couple of attempts, but I finally got the head guy on the phone.

Do you have any Kidney?


Are you just temporarily out?

NO, we never carry it, no one wants it.

I was a little deflated. But I was not beaten. Supermarket number two sells all sorts of exotic stuff. They have everything from frozen Chicken necks to Turkey gizzards. Once again I let my fingers do the walking on the phone.

It was a quick conversation, the meat person thought that I was nuts! “Kidney?” the butcher asked in surprise, “What on earth would you want kidney for?”

What’s so wrong about Steak and Kidney pie? I watch the food TV channels, I see new and exciting dishes all of the time. They make it all look so easy. A quick trip to your local store and voile, you have everything you need. It is never that easy.

I used to collect cook books, rarely did I use them, but they were a great source of information and wisdom. For many years I had a (not quite first edition) of Mrs Beeton’s Book Of Household Management. It made for fun reading. Mrs Beeton covered all of the angles, from how to correctly dress a fresh killed deer, to dealing with an unruly servant.

At some point in the 70’s I acquired an equally fun book. It was a cook book from Germany written (guessing) in the 1920’s. What really caught my attention was the foreword. As I recall it said:

We have done our best to make sure that all of the ingredients should be available in your local store.

I love German food, so I read on. There was a really yummy sounding dish that involved Beaver Tail, alas my local supermarket was fresh out of Beaver. Bear Stew sounded fun. The book explained that Bear can be a little on the greasy side, but if cooked correctly was simply delicious. It goes without saying, my local supermarket was out of Bear! Without Bear, Beaver or any of the other yummy options, I did not go for the Saurkraut. The recipe was easy, take an aluminum bath tub, stick in 150 lbs of cabage and cover with a tarp! (add salt to taste). In seven days, it is good to go!

I don’t have an aluminum bath tub, and I am pretty certain that my wife would be less than pleased with me to find 150 pounds of rotting cabbage in the bath tub. She doesn’t swear often, but I suspect that this might tip her over the edge.

So why can’t I find Kidney to make my Steak and Kidney Pie? Lets face it, every animal has them. So what happens to the kidney? Pig snouts and naughty bits end up in Hot Dogs, is it the same for the Kidney?

There is little to endear people to English cuisine, but it is not as bad as it is made out to be. There is nothing wrong with the occasional bit of offal! What’s not to love about liver and onions or a Shepard’s Pie with oodles of Bisto gravy?

The upshot of all of this is that my Steak and Kidney Pie adventure is on hold pending some inspiration on obtaining the darn kidney. I think that what annoys me most is that I watch the TV cooking channels and the hosts never seem to have any problem getting whatever bizarre item they might need.  

Simon Barrett




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