Halloween falls during deer season in most states and this unique U.S. holiday is marked by the consumption of large amounts of candy that is beloved by kids, but which no one really needs to eat. As an alternative, I often cook an unusual wild game dish such as the following recipe for Steak and Kidney Pie.
This is a traditional English dish that I knew only by reputation. My English friends here in Central Georgia and I discussed it a few years ago when they taught me to cook Cornish Pasties. They, like generations of Cornishmen before them, had come to the U.S. to work in the mining industry (kaolin, or China clay, here in Georgia) and had brought their traditional recipes with them.
Steak and Kidney Pie was a dish that I had never seen, never eaten, and if I had ever read a recipe, I had forgotten it. These preconditions and the fact that I had recently killed a 180 pound 140-class deer with large kidneys, made this an excellent choice for my annual Halloween YouTube cooking video. In England I was told that they use lamb’s kidney, but I don’t shoot many lambs. Deer I got, and deer I used.
Perhaps my most noted previous effort was in 2012 when I cooked “Bear Paw Pumpkin Soup for Halloween.” This was a dish that I described, “as being eatable, but I would not go out of my way for it.” In sharp contrast, “Deer Steak and Kidney Pie for your Dear” turned out to be an excellent dish, even on my first attempt and although I used the last of some left-over ingredients that I needed to clean out of my freezer and fridge.
The current video may be seen on my YouTube channel at: http://youtu.be/ziv62aKdmgo. .
Kidneys are found attached to the rib cage on the backs of all species of mammals by fatty connective tissue. Not unexpectedly, they have the shape of kidney beans, although the beans were named for the organ; not the other way around. Kidneys are dark red in color and vary in size, depending on the type and age of the animal. The set that I had weighed between 4 and 5 ounces, and each one had a mass that was about like a tennis ball. My deer was shot through the shoulder and lungs, so the kidneys were cleanly extracted and put in a plastic sandwich bag to be stored in the refrigerator while I cooked other parts of the deer.
From this deer I cooked, in order, Deer Liver and Onion Gravy with Grits and Bar-b-qued Deer Ribs while I packaged the deer and made two varieties of deer sausage. I had already decided that I was going to cook the Deer Steak and Kidney Pie, and I even made a special trip to town to get some fresh baby carrots.
Filled with ignorance and expectations, I decided that the appropriate ratio of kidney meat to deer steak was likely something like 1:3. This meant that to my relatively small amount of kidney I would use three times as much deer meat to bulk up the dish. I retrieved a small deer roast from my freezer that was dated 2010, and I decided that this would be a fine time to consume it.
I cleaned the roast by cutting away the oxidized meat and connective tissues. I removed and discarded the fat from the kidneys, sliced and diced them into 3/8th-inch cubes and soaked them in a little water. I thought about skinning them, but did not. Skinning turned out to be unnecessary.
In my relatively free-form style of cooking, this is about what I used for the pie filling.
2 diced kidneys from a large deer cut into 3/8-inch cubes
¾-1 pound of diced deer meat cut in about 3/8-inch cubes (About three times the volume of meat from the kidneys. The exact amount is not critical.)
1 pound cut up mushrooms
1 can dark red kidney beans
1 cup of large sweet peas (frozen package)
¾ cup of diced baby carrot
1 large Spanish onion
2 3-inch long baking potatoes skinned and diced
½ teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of black pepper
¼ teaspoon of garlic salt
2/3 teaspoon of dill weed
3 tablespoons of bear grease (Any clean cooking oil may be used. The objective is just to lightly brown the deer meat.)
In plastic bag put flour, salt, pepper and dill weed and mix by shaking. Then add cut-up deer meat and shake until coated. Place the bear grease in a small fry pan to heat until starts to smoke, add floured deer meat and fry until light brown. Do not cook done as this will unnecessarily toughen the meat which will be boiled with the vegetables. Remove the browned deer meat and drain on brown paper bag.
In pot with about three quarts of water start boiling carrots until they will stick with a fork and progressively add browned meat, cut-up drained kidney meat, potatoes, onions, peas and kidney beans. As the mixture cooks it will thicken and turn dark brown. The kidney meat will rapidly soften. Allow to cook down and thicken adding mushrooms about 5 minutes before taking off the stove. When vegetables are soft, remove from stove and allow to cool while you make the biscuit dough.
The non-traditional can of kidney beans was put in the pie for the benefit of those who would not believe that this dish actually used the kidneys from a living creature.
Most of the associated YouTube video shows me making and working the biscuit dough, rather than cooking the filling. For taste, I much prefer my homemade biscuit product, rather than pre-made pie crust or packaged biscuit mixes. Even though I did not get my hog-fat biscuit recipe quite right in the video (it needed a little more milk to roll out well), the taste in the finished pie was much better than the store-bought products. Try making your own. It’s fun, does not have to be perfect to work and will taste much better. Add no baking soda to this recipe.
Hog fat biscuits
3 cups self rising biscuit powder
2 teaspoons added baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of rendered wild hog fat
1 cup of milk
Mix ingredients in large bowl and work dough into a ball to give it added strength. Flour and roll out on waxed paper, freezer paper or aluminum foil. Cut and use to line cooking dishes and put strips on top. If necessary, add additional water to filling to the point that the mix freely pours from the bowl. Fill containers and bake at 350 degrees until bread starts to brown. Remove and serve with a red wine. On re-heats dice up the entire pie and add a little more water to restore fluidity to the filling.
Because of the use of large sweet peas, baby carrots and onion, the pie has a slightly sweet taste, but you can taste the deer meat and kidneys. The kidney meat has a mellow, mild flavor that is much less strong than liver. Its chief utility in the dish is to give it a dark brown color and mellow it out – something like putting butter in a stew to cut the sharp edges of the flavors and make it into a coherent dish; instead of a bunch of vegetables that happened to be boiled together.