Fray Bentos “Classic” Steak & Kidney Pie, United Kingdom, Approx £1.00 from almost any grocery/convenience store (425g in a can/tin)
After being reminded recently of my beloved Fray Bentos Steak And Kidney by my friend food-and-wellness writer Olivia Pennelle, I decided that I would revisit/reappraise my old standby once again after a 23 year parting of ways. A recent trip to Scotland over Xmas and Hogmanay (read: New Year) gave me the perfect opportunity to reintroduce myself.
At the supermarket in Giffnock, Glasgow I spotted a stack of them and was immediately shocked at the price, as I am pretty sure that 23 years ago they used to be at least twice that. Perhaps this should have been a clue, Brexit and all that.
When I brought a couple of the canned pies home to my sister’s house where we were staying, her face said it all. Absolute revulsion.
“Why on earth did you buy those?”
“I just wanted to see what they were like! I haven’t had one in 23 years!”
She walked off, out of the kitchen with a look of utter disgust on her face.
“Good Food Revolution you say?… ugh, Jamie… I hope you are taking those home with you, I don’t want that muck in my kitchen” she mumbled as she fled the still sealed pies’ presence, as if just looking at the cans was going to give her the boak (read: make her dry heave).
The plan WAS to take them home, and try them out with some friends, but on New Year’s Eve, around 10.30pm, whilst my sister and family were out at a Hogmanay party, I got a little peckish.
The spicy, tasty bouillabaisse I had made earlier that evening with sea bass, scampi tails, and scallops (replete with roe) apparently hadn’t been quite enough to take me through “the bells” (read: Scottish NYE midnight celebrations) and tide me over until 2018… so I decided to break out the pie covertly.
As it cooked in the hot oven I perused the details on the second tin:
“Succulent pieces of steak and kidney covered in a delicious beef gravy, topped by our signature puff pastry.”
So goes the try-hard marketing, but what really lies within this sinister-looking tin that used to be a perennial dinner guest at the table of my youth, university, and beyond and was most usually served alongside a can of baked beans.
The ingredients list: Water, Puff Pastry (27%) (Wheatflour (with Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Margarine (Palm Oil, Rapeseed Oil, Water, Salt, Emulsifier (Mono-and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids)), Water, Salt), Beef (12%), Pork Kidney (9%), Stabiliser (Xanthan Gum), Modified Maize Starch, Wheatflour (with Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Salt, Spices, Yeast Extract, Flavouring, Tomato Paste, Barley Malt Extract, Beef Extract, Chicory Extract, Sugar, Colour (Plain Caramel), Tomato Powder, Garlic Powder
“Hmmmm… I wonder what this is going to be like” I thought to myself.
I left the kitchen, closing the door, to watch the Scottish Television’s Hogmanay line-up cuddled up with my wife whilst the pie’s contents bubbled and the soggy, anemic pastry puffed up and crisped.
30 minutes later I returned to the kitchen and opened the oven door only to be met with a steam-driven stench that can only be described as akin to that of a very poorly old dog who had involuntarily evacuated his intestinal tract upon the floor, and was now looking up at you with a heartbreakingly sad look of embarrassment.
I wretched, a couple of times actually, but “in for the penny, in for the pound” as they say, and then proceeded to plate my pie of meaty horrors upon some china and then transport it through to the television lounge to show my partner.
Needless to say she was less than impressed.
“That’s simply horrible” she slowly mouthed as my knife broke the pastry and pungent steamy fumes began to fill the room.
“It smells like really cheap dog food… ugh… it looks like really cheap dog food… take it out of here now… NOW! Now it smells like shit. Oh no. It’s beginning to smell up your sister’s room! Jim (my brother-in-law) is NOT going to be happy! GET. IT. OUT.”
Dejected, I took it back to the kitchen and ate it in the dark, savouring each glistening, greasy sliver of mechanically-recovered “beef” and clumsy chunk of urine-marinated pig liver.
I’m obviously a masochist, but I do hate to waste food, if you could actually call this muck “food”.
Never have I wished for an aftertaste to leave my mouth, my innards, MY VERY BEING as much as I did that evening/morning. It hung about within me for hours, seemingly exuding from my skin upon me awakening, haunting me like some twisted decomposing-meat-ghost.
And this, dear readers of Good Food Revolution, is why you should never, ever eat a Fray Bentos Steak And Kidney Pie… even if it is only £1.00
Saying that, I did bring the other one home, so if you’d really like to try this obscenely grotesque imitation of real food, just drop me a line at GFR.
(Zero apples out of possible five)
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he won’t be revisiting that again. Ever.