We were invited to a couple of events celebrating the Queen’s 60th Jubilee and tucked into the Bruneian interpretation of roast beef and potatoes, cottage pie, fish and chips and chicken tandoori kebabs. Fish and chips are best – especially when crisply beer battered and eaten fighting off the seagulls on a blustery sea-front – but mulling over the best of British grub, I’m going to award first runner up to pie and mash. Not so much the institutional pie and mash with liquor served up in the gritty East-End of London. Nor the steak with designer ale crowned with a lofty puff of pastry. No, for me the pastry has to be shortcrust with a buttery flaky crumb.
Loving steak and loving ale even more, it isn’t surprising that steak and ale pie is my favourite pie. Tender chunks of melt-in-the-mouth steak swimming in a rich ale infused gravy. The braising steak should have slight marbling (fat = flavour) and it should be unhurriedly stewed for at least two or three hours (the longer the better) in a top-notch ale. For a twist on the classic, I add a tablespoon of brined peppercorns and use a darker ale or porter that can stand up to the bolder flavours. Wychwood’s Hobgoblin, Theakston’s Old Peculiar, Woodforde’s Nog or Exmoor Ale’s Beast are all favourable contenders. You could of course pour in a Guinness. It is good for you. Alas there are no real ales here, but there was a lone can of the black stuff lurking in the fridge.
I can go for weeks without eating meat, but whenever I make a meat-based dish it is meaty. There are no hidden veggies lurking in my lasagne and this pie has just a handful of shallots and earthy mushrooms for company. It’s best served with a pile of steaming hot buttery stilton mash and some greens or braised spiced red cabbage for a real winter warmer.
RECIPE: STEAK AND ALE PIE
For the filling
1 kilo braising or stewing steak
A couple of rashers of finely diced streaky smoked bacon or pancetta
A bay leaf
A sprig of rosemary
A bottle of dark ale, stout or porter of your choice
1 tablespoon of brined peppercorns
1 tablespoon of wholegrain mustard
A dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon of Marmite (optional)
10 thickly sliced dark-gilled field mushrooms
For the shortcrust pastry
4 oz. of plain flour
2 oz. of butter, lard or a mix
A pinch of salt
Cold water to bind
INSTRUCTIONS: Cut the fat off the meat and brown in small batches (the meat will not develop a charred crust if the pan is overcrowded) in a heavy based casserole with a knob of butter. Set aside the meat and fry the shallots and the streaky bacon or pancetta until golden brown. Return the meat to the pan and add a bay leaf and a small sprig of rosemary. Pour in the bottle of stout after having a swift swig and add the peppercorns, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and Marmite. Bring to a gently simmer and then cover and turn the heat down to its lowest setting. Stew away, with an occasional stir, for at least two or three hours. After an hour or two, add the mushrooms into the stew. It’s even better if you can cook it for even longer, as the meat should be meltingly tender. At this point, you can turn the heat up and reduce the liquid to your desired consistency. I don’t use a thickening agent, but if you prefer a thicker sauce, just add a tablespoon of cornflour mixed to a paste with water. Remove the bay leaf and rosemary and pile the filling into a dish.
I must have poor circulation as my cold hands (but a warm heart) find pastry making easy. Shortcrust pastry uses half as much fat as it does flour and is bound together with cold water or an egg. I think the pie filling is rich enough so use butter and cold water, but lard does add a meatier flavour and a crumbier shorter texture. Trex works pretty well crumbwise but is lacking in flavour. Treat the pastry the opposite that you would bread. It needs the scantest handling. Add the diced fat to the flour and work it in using the cold steel of a knife. Rub the mix together with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. This should take less than thirty seconds – the quicker the better, especially on at equatorial latitudes. Add a tablespoon of cold water to bind (or an egg if you prefer), working the pastry as little as possible so it comes together in a ball. No kneading needed. You can do this in a food processor, but I can’t advise on this as I don’t have one. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and leave in the fridge to chill, so it is easier to handle when you’re ready to roll. I wanted an ample crust on my pie so rolled mine out to half a centimetre thickness. Of course, you can use readymade shortcrust pastry or puff if you prefer.
Lay a thin strip of pastry just below the rim of the dish to help the lid stick. Brush the pastry seal with water and lay the lid on top. Crimp the edges together using your thumb and forefinger or the prongs of a fork. Brush with milk (or egg-wash if you prefer a shiny glaze) and bake in a medium hot over at 180°C for twenty minutes or until golden brown. Serve with buttery mash with a lump of stilton crumbled in and the veggies of your choice and enjoy with another bottle of ale.
Happy 60th Jubilee. Cheers!