When 89 of my classmates and I landed in London, England, for a semester abroad in January of 1998, those of us not yet 21 (myself included) could drink legally. After unpacking and settling into our flats, most of us headed to a local pub, the Daniel Gooch, to christen the semester with a pint (an unceremonious first pint for those of us who were 20 years old). The following month, feeling somewhat cheated and looking for a bit of excitement on my 21st birthday (almost 16 years ago, to the day!), I returned to “The Gooch” and ordered an English staple: steak and kidney pie, exciting because the “kidney” in kidney pie doesn’t refer to beans but to organ meat; exciting because we were in the wake of the “mad cow” disease in the UK. Eating beef, therefore, came with the rush of taking one’s own life in one’s hands, something that could have been achieved, come to think of it, by renting a car and trying to adjust to driving on the left-hand side of the road.
If the winter of 1998 was notable for the daring culinary adventures of a young college undergrad (there was also dining on haggis in a pub on Edinburgh, Scotland’s Royal Mile), it was also notable for being Britain’s warmest winter on record in nearly 300 years. Some sixteen years later now and enduring the coldest Michigan winter in decades, one begins to crave comfort foods. The mind returns, therefore, to hearty English pub fare. That is how, just a couple of weeks ago as the mercury hovered around 1 degree Fahrenheit (that’s -17 degrees Celsius, blokes), I busied myself preparing steak and kidney pie with Scottish Highland beef.
Working with kidney meat, one observes the surface to be slippery and its texture almost spongy–like a cross between steak and tofu. The raw kidney meat with which I was working smelled of earth and barn, attributes that may be credited to the fact that this was high-quality pasture-raised beef. It was wholly pleasant to the olfactory senses and had even an invigorating effect. Once the steak and kidney was cubed and browned, it was stewed in a mixture of carrots and onions with flour and beef stock. Seasonings were added and, after about an hour or more, the mixture was placed in a clay pie dish, topped with puff pastry, and cooked to golden brown. The meal was a thoroughly savory one, and one that we enjoyed in front of a crackling fire as we drank a robust Cabernet Sauvignon. Sir Daniel Gooch, that 19th Century Baronet, would have smiled approvingly upon the scene, I am sure.