Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Film And Food: Steak and Kidney Pie And Joy Division

Despite what familial social conventions and Norman Rockwell would have you believe, eating while watching television is good for you. In a world praised for efficiency, you're killing two birds with one stone, or, to put it in more practical terms: you're feeding two areas of your anatomy simultaneously. But while your brain and stomach are being fed, your spirit is being unified by two art forms working in unison: great film and great gastronomy.  I'm writing a new segment that combines my love of film with my need to cook. I will critique a movie, and then pair the film with food in the hopes that I can inspire some of you to eat in front of the television. And while I'm aware that such an act might not demand inspiration, cooking for one's self does; that being said, there's isn't anything wrong with ordering pizza as long as it pairs well with the movie. If I can't get you to cook, I hope at least that my movie reviews will inspire curiosity,  as well as propel the art forms to a place where the next time someone sanctimoniously tells you that you shouldn't be eating in front of the television, you'll be inspired to tell them to fuck off.

Film: Control
Food: Steak And Kidney Pie.

Control is a movie based on the story of Ian Curtis. Curtis was the singer for the post-punk-rock-English band, Joy Division; an energetic performer best remembered for his spastic stage presence and his death.  The question of why Curtis took his own life at 23 years of age is a main component of the film. Mental illness, guilt and a creative drive rooted in an endless pit of human insecurity made Curtis prone to severe depression; a tone skilfully depicted within the film’s gloomy realism. Control is a black and white film. Director Anton Corbijn first shot the film in color but later printed it in black and white. In an interview Corbijn conducted with Rotten Tomatoes, he stated, “the real reason I chose it is that all my memories of that period and Joy Division in particular are black and white memories. If you go back to try to find official references, old photographs, of Joy Division, I would say without exception you're going to find them to be in black and white. So combine that with their album sleeves being in black and white, the clothing being not very bright in the sense of colors, it just felt appropriate.”
Anton Corbijn knew the members of Joy Division well, he spent time with the band as their photographer.  At 24 years of age, Corbijn, (a professional photographer at the time) moved from his native Holland to England to take pictures of Joy Division. He toured with the band taking pictures of Singer Ian Curtis, Bassist Peter Hook, Guitarist Stephen Morris, and Drummer Bernard Sumner in his unique, melancholy style, a style apparent in the film.  It’s no wonder Corbijn manages to capture the image of the band with such completeness having been a part of their entourage at its inception. Each frame of the film is a composition of content and style reminiscent of stylized persona's that once graced the surfaces of gelatin-coated photographic paper, the monochromatic backdrops of misty, foggy Manchester air in compatible contrast to the subjects within each frame.  The audience is exposed to a visual melody of greyscale somber sounds that parallels the deep baritone sound of Curtis’ voice.  If it’s at all possible to take a picture of sound, Corbijn did it in Control.
The music in the film spans from 1976 to 1980, the life of the band.  Within that time, Joy Division released two studio albums: Unknown Pleasures and Closer.  Apart from the visuals, this musical biopic auditorily establishes Joy Division as an important part of music history.  The band pioneered hums and tones that can be heard in bands like Sonic Youth, RadioHead, to present day band, The National.
Yes there are many stage performances in this film that brilliantly capture Joy Division’s resonant, dark romantic image and sound, but make no mistake: Control is a movie about Curtis.  The singer’s personal life either interfered or added to his creativity and there’s plenty about his private life in this film. From his impetuous teen wedding to Deborah Woodruff, to his affair with Annik Honore; from his epileptic seizures to his nihilistic bouts with depression; Curtis’ life is more than he can handle. He has no control over himself or his emotions, until that very loss of control drives Curtis to hang himself in his kitchen on the very eve of the band’s first American tour.
Actor Sam Riley captures Ian Curtis’ angst and mannerisms well.  No doubt any actor having to depict Curtis on stage would face a bodily challenge, but Riley choreographs himself into gesticulations of spastic jilts, stationary running dances, and swaying meditative motions that capture the stage presence of Curtis perfectly.  Samantha Morton, plays Curtis’ high school sweetheart and wife with poise, intelligence, and finally, with tragedy as she finds the body of her husband in their Macclesfield home. (Curtis’ relationship with his wife is a large part of the film since it’s based on her memories, Touching From a Distance; she also co-produced the film.)
What’s truly remarkable about Control is it provides the perfect balance between the music biopic of a band and a biography of a life. She’s lost Control is one of Joy Division’s most popular songs. After watching Curtis progress into a darkness of his own design, I can’t help but wonder if the song is about him, not because he was his own inspiration, but because nothing sings as sweet as creative sadness.

What to Eat While Watching Control.
It’s a no brainer for me: Steak and kidney pie. I’ve been to Macclesfield, the birthplace of Ian Curtis. It’s located about 50 kilometers from Manchester. While there, I experienced what a proper steak and kidney pie tastes like. This recipe replicates that taste.

Fig.1. Ingredients at the ready. I sometimes buy my pie dough. The one above comes from Metro, it's a lard based pie dough made locally.

Steak and Kidney Pie
Serves 6

5 tbsp sunflower oil or grape seed oil
2 onions, chopped
700 g cubed steak (use the shoulder or blade)
500 g of veal kidneys
½ cup flour
2 packages of mushrooms, halved
3 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp English Mustard
1 1/2cups of beef stock
440 g English beer (I used a can of Boddington’s)
2 bay leaves
2 springs of thyme
Salt and Pepper

Suet Pie Dough
500 g of self-raising flour. (If you don’t have self-raising flour just add 1 ½ tsp of baking powder and 1 tsp of salt per 1 cup of all-purpose flour.)
250g Shredded suet (Suet is beef fat and tallow found around the kidney and heart region of a cow. To shred it, pass it along a cheese grater or run your knife along the side of the suet at a 45 degree angle. Sometimes you can find shredded or minced suet at the grocery store)

Pour the oil in a large Dutch oven set over medium heat.  Add the onions and sweat for 5 minutes. (You don’t want any color to the onions, just cook until soft and translucent.)  Add the steak and cook for about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the veal kidney and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Lower the heat and sprinkle the flour over the meat. Stir in the flour until it’s well incorporated, cook for 2 minutes. (At this point if some flour sticks to the bottom of the pot don’t worry. The flour will begin to turn brown, which is good; the brown flour is what gives the gravy its color.) Add the Worcestershire sauce and the mustard and turn the heat back to medium, cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the beef stock, beer, bay leaves and thyme. Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. (By doing this, the flour that stuck to the bottom of the pot will eventually dissolve into the liquid. If you don’t have any flour stuck to the bottom of your pot that’s ok, it just means that the flour has coated the meat. Stir until the liquid comes to a simmer.)
Once simmering, turn the heat to low and cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes, stirring often. Add salt and pepper if needed and let it cool.

Fig.2. All the ingredients in the pot.

Fig.3. What it looks like after 1 hour and a half of simmering.

Pie Crust:
Pass the self-raising flour through a sieve. Add the shredded suet to the flour. Gradually add the water and mix gently with your fingers until combined; don’t overwork the dough. The dough is ready when all of the mixture comes away from the sides of the bowl. Roll the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Fig.4. Pie filling has cooled and dough rolled out.

Fig.5. Ready for oven

Assembling the Pie:
Pour the meat mixture into a 9” pie dish.
Add some flour to a work surface and roll out the dough to a thickness of 1 cm. Place the dough over the pie plate, making sure it hangs over the plate by at least 3 cm. Cut off any excess dough and press the dough onto the side of the dish.
When you’re ready to cook the pie, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the top of the pie with an egg wash and bake for 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Serve with boiled or mashed buttered potatoes and pees. 

Note: Regarding the pie crust. Feel free to use any crust you want, as long as it’s not sweet. I like the locally made, lard based pie crusts available at Metro, you can find them in the meat section. See the pie crust in Fig.1.

Fig.6. 45 minutes at 375 degrees.

Fig.7. Serve the pie with Boiled buttered potatoes and a pint.


Tosh said...

Aside from being English-Italian or is that Italian-English, do Italians have anything that resembles this type of pie(s) in their cuisine?

The Hungry Italian said...

Hi Tosh.
There are two Italian pies that come to mind. There's pizza rustica, which is a cheese and salumi filled pie, usually served at Easter. And there's Erbazzone, which is a pie filled with leafy greens, such as Swiss Chard, rapini, or spinach, as well as chopped prosciutto. I don't know of anything that resembles a meat pie or tourtiere. I can tell you that Italians (from Italy) aren't big on brown gravy, so finding a British-like pie would be difficult.

Tosh said...

Thanks Sandro. So I guess the closest "pie" is a Calzone or what you said Pizza Rustica or Erbazzone. For sure tomatoes are a main which are absent from British cuisine. Makes sense. Keeps things authentica I suppose. But I'm sure there must be other Italian dishes that use kidney? Interesting