The transformation of ‘stew’ to ‘pie’ by the simple addition of a pastry case or lid is a great one.
Although little more than starchy filler, hiding slow cooked meat within the confines of a flour and fat housing does wondrous things to the contents. Wondrous, magical things.
A cheap staple food with a lengthy and sometimes less than illustrious history, the pie has undergone a renaissance of late. Artisanal and gourmet offerings now jostle for space alongside mass produced efforts with less than stellar provenance. The pie is becoming a shining beacon of all that is great about British food. Hearty, wholesome and delicious. Food we should rightly be proud of.
The most satisfying of pies, though, are the ones that you nurture yourself. A tender, slow cooked meaty filling and a suet exterior that manages to be both crunchy and yielding at once. A barely audible crack as the pastry gives to the pressure of cutlery and a waft of richly scented steam as the contents spill out onto the plate.
‘Double carbing’ is a point of contention. In most cases desire trumps sensibility and a mound of buttery mash will be on hand to capture the gravy. If not then a couple of slices of bread, generously spread with butter, will be needed to mop up the overflow. Once you’ve gone for pie, you may as well ignore the guilt.
The best meat for cramming into pastry is a cut that needs slow cooking. Chuck steak, brisket, oxtail or short ribs are all ideal but shin probably tops the list.
Beef shin, onion and mushroom pie
Half a kilo of boneless shin should be enough for four people and definitely won’t break the bank. Expect to pay no more than 3 or 4 quid.
500g boneless beef shin, cut into chunks
6-8 small onions, each about the size of a ping pong ball
Half a handful of dried mixed mushrooms – porcini and shiitake are ideal
A tablespoon of tomato puree
A couple of bay leaves and two sprigs of thyme
A can of stout – Guiness or Murphy’s are both good
500ml of stock, either dark chicken or beef
As many button mushrooms as you want, cut into quarters
Salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce for seasoning
You will also need a favoured pastry recipe.
Peel and quarter the onions trying to leave the root end vaguely in tact.
Toss the beef in seasoned flour and brown in oil over a high heat, in batches if necessary so you don’t overcrowd the pan. Drain the meat on a couple of sheets of kitchen roll and brown the onions in the pan for a couple of minutes. Return the meat to the pot, add the tomato puree and cook for a couple of minutes before pouring in the stout and stock.
Poke the herbs and dried mushrooms into the liquid, cover with a cartouche and cook in a very low oven for 4-5 hours. Add the button mushrooms and cook for a further hour then remove from the oven and leave to cool whilst you make the pastry.
Line a large pie dish or a series of individual ones with the pastry, spoon as much of the beef and mushroom filling in as you can then top with more pastry. Brush with egg, poke a little hole in the top and cook for 35-40 minutes at 160-180 degrees centigrade.
Serve with peas and either mashed potato, bread and butter or both and a sticky onion gravy if you’re craving extra richness.
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