ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Steak & Kidney Anti-Pie

It's British Pie Week, apparently. (Well, it would be, wouldn't it? They have a week for fucking everything these days.)

Thing is, this could just be me getting older'n'shit, but I'm convinced that pies aren't as good as they used to be. Ironically, before we ever had British Pie Week, pies were actually tastier. Weren't they? Is it just me?

I enjoy a good pie as much as the next fat cunt, but all too often these days we seem to settle for disappointing fillings and bland, dry pastry. Yes, you can get some fantastic 'gourmet' pies these days, and pork pies designed to be served cold are probably better than they've ever been, but I'm convinced that your standard everyday hot pie used to be better.

Filling preferences seem to be shifting with time too.

Not a pie but very, very tasty
Back in the day, Steak & Kidney was almost certainly the nation's favourite, but I suspect it's been overtaken by Chicken & Mushroom in recent years. And Steak & Ale, which always sounds appealing, granted, but it's basically just Steak & Kidney without any kidney, because any good Steak & Kidney will have ale in it anyway.

I haven't seen any official data, or, ahem, pie charts on the subject, but even the McDonalds Apple 'pie' - a sort of battered, sealed pancake that doesn't qualify as a pie by any sane criterion - may even be the King of the pies these days.

And that symbolises exactly why pies really ain't what they used to be.

Anyway, here's my recipe for British Pie Week. And, being a natural contrarian, it's not even a pie. And yet, probably, it's still more pielike than anything Ronnie Mac has to offer.

Good old fashioned steak and kidney
I'm taking the pie filling out of the pie with this distinctly piesome-but-not-actually-a-pie recipe. They probably don't have a British Anti-Pie week yet anyway.

Beef. Ale. Kidney. Onion. All guaranteed to produce a gloriously unctious gravy if cooked for long enough.

Dumplings went out of fashion about the same time as kidney, so I'm bringing them back too, albeit with a unique and modern twist.

Your grandma probably wouldn't have added green tea to her dumplings, but it gives them a lift and complements the more traditional gravy very nicely indeed. 

Steak & Kidney with Green tea & Black pepper dumplings

Ingredients - serves two rather heartily:

Stewing beef, diced, a little under a lb
Seasoned meat into the pan
Lambs kidneys, about 1/2 lb, trimmed and chopped into bitesize pieces.
Onion, one large or two small, roughly chunked

Strong ale, a pint
Beef stock, about 1/4 pint ultra-reduced
English mustard
Worcestershire sauce
Plain flour
Celery Salt
Garlic Salt
Black pepper

Olive oil for cooking

For the dumplings:

Self-raising flour, 6oz
Butter, good quality salted, 2oz
Green tea, brewed and cooled
Black pepper


You may need to trim the white, uriney bits from your kidneys first - if possible ask the butcher to do this because they'll invariably do a better job than you or I. Unless you happen to be a specialist kidney butcher, obviously!

Great balls of flour (and butter, pepper and tea)
Otherwise, the first step is to season some flour to dust your meat. A little celery and garlic salt and a sprinkle of black pepper is sufficient for this recipe, but don't be afraid to be bold.

Once the meat is nicely dusted, heat a little oil in a big pan and brown it for about six or seven minutes, but make sure it's still pink in places.

When it's ready, transfer it to a casserole and mix in your chunks of onion. This might also be a good time to pre-heat the oven to about 125.

Deglaze your pan with the beer and add the stock, along with a generous spoonful of mustard. Give it a good stir and let it simmer for a few minutes until the mustard dissolves into the beery stock. Depending on the quality of your stock it might be necessary to add a bit of seasoning, but most pre-concentrated stocks are already salty enough.

If you're wondering about what sort of beer to use - and you should be - it's calling out for a strongish, malty ale, but nothing as burnt and roasty as a stout or porter. If it's reddish-brown and about 5-6% ABV, you're probably in the right ballpark.

You could still whack a pie crust on top...
Now, when your beer gravy is done, add a generous glug of Worcestershire Sauce and pour it all over the beef, then whack the lid on the casserole and into the oven it goes for at least two hours, ideally three or more.

Sound of harps... three hours later... sound of harps... three hours later...

OK, so probably the trickiest bit of the whole enterprise is making the dumplings, and you are going to get your hands dirty here.

Take a large mixing bowl and add the flour, grinding in plenty of fresh black pepper, then add the butter. Work it with your hands, gradually breaking up the butter and easing in the peppery flour - after a few minutes you should have it reduced to the texture of golden breadcrumbs, but if it seems too dry, add more butter, and if it's too sticky, add flour. Common sense rules.

When it's nice and crumby, almost like crumble topping, it's time to add some green tea, a little at a time, so you can form a nice dumpling dough.

...but we're dropping in some dumplingy goodness
Work it into a big, smooth ball, before breaking it apart and shaping smaller individual balls. You'll get the hang of it all pretty quickly and some even find this sort of thing theraputic in a strange, doughy way.

Take your casserole out of the oven - the steak and kidney should be looking and smelling rather lovely and heartwarming now - and gently place the dumplings on top, before replacing the lid and putting it back in the oven, perhaps turning the heat up to 150-ish.

The dumplings will take around 45 minutes to gently steam themselves - you can turn them over half-way through, though this isn't critical.

When it's all done, serve with a nice green vegetable, like some crunchy, freshly blanched broccoli, and enjoy the fact that it's not quite a pie.

To drink with this dish? The obvious candidate is a pint of ale, though you could try a cup of green tea to make some sort of eccentric statement.


  1. I just love this British delicacy. Funnily, I don't mind double carbing WITH the pie.

  2. I wouldn't eat the kidney, but that broccoli looks perfectly cooked, vibrant and green and not to soggy. Do you blanche & plunge?

  3. I tried this recipe and it worked a treat, Thank YOU Ben Vagina!

  4. wow, that look delicious, thanks for posting up this recipe, looks quite simple to make to. Thanks



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