Food and drink

Steak and ale pie


When I think of the food I enjoy the most it always seems dishes that involve chunks of meat cooked for a long time in boozy liquid are the ones that come to mind. A lamb shank cooked in red wine for a couple of hours or those French classics beef bourguignon and coq au vin. Any dish that involves moist meat which just falls apart without needing a knife and a thick, rich sauce which you can only get from a couple of hours of slow cooking is a winner. The only way you can make that better is by sticking some pastry on top of it.

This should have been the second in a two-part post where I made my own beef stock then used it to make a steak pie. But I couldn’t get a hold of any bones for the stock. But nevermind as I did buy a bottle of Orkney Dark Island which would more than make up for it.

If you’re putting ale in a sauce like this it needs to be dark. You’re looking for that strong, yeasty flavour that will add depth to the sauce and make a truly great gravy. I’m sure you can cook with an IPA or even a decent lager but this isn’t the dish to try it with.

Only use good quality beef and you want something from the shoulder or shin. Don’t use fillet or rib eye on this as it’s a waste of good steak. They need fast cooking at a high temperature and this is slow cooking we’re doing today. I got a couple of good looking shoulder steaks and cut them into big chunks. The tough gristle and veins of fat within would gradually melt over the 2 hours to thicken the sauce and make it lovely and rich.

For the veg you can bulk it out with mushrooms if you like. They’ll add extra umami flavour into the sauce anyway. I decided to leave them out on this occasion and just kept it simple with an onion and a couple of carrots.

I planned to use a fifty-fifty mix of beer and beef stock (using a knorr stock pot after my bones fail the day before) however after I de-glazed the pan with the beer and poured it into the casserole dish there was only enough room for a quarter of the stock. Oops. After 2 hours of cooking it didn’t matter. The gravy was thick, very rich and utterly delicious. The beef was soft and… well… beefy. But it was an amplified beefiness. Lifted to new heights by its long soak in the hot beer gravy. The golden puff pastry was just the perfect companion as always.

If there’s one good thing that comes out of our wretched summer so far it’s that it doesn’t feel wrong eating hearty meals like this – so often only found on long winter evenings. If you put a gun to my head and said I had to choose one dish to cook for a last meal… I’d probably choose lamb… but this would definitely be up there!

Serves 4

2 beef shoulder steaks or similar (about 700g of beef) cut into chunks
2 carrots, sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 bottle of dark beer
Puff pastry
Worcestershire sauce
Paprika
Plain flour
Thyme
Bay leaf
Milk or egg wash.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Season the flour with salt, pepper and a couple of teaspoons of paprika.
Heat some oil in a pan then coat the beef chunks in the flour and fry them in batches until they’re brown on all sides.
Remove the beef from the pan and transfer them to a casserole dish.
Fry the onions until they’re just starting to golden then add them to the casserole with the beef.
Quickly give the carrots a couple of minutes in the pan as well to start them off then add them to the beef and onions.
De-glaze the pan with the beer and let it boil for a few minutes.
Pour the beer into the casserole along with some salt, pepper, some thyme leaves and a bay leaf.
Add a generous splash of Worcestershire sauce and give it a good stir.
Put the lid on the casserole dish and place it in the oven for about an hour and 45 minutes.
Check the dish every half hour or so. Give it a stir and skim off any excess fatty oil that’s floated to the surface.
Once the beef is soft roll out the puff pastry.
You can place the pastry over the sauce in the casserole dish or transfer to individual pie cases (as I did) and cut out single pie tops from the pastry.
Brush some milk or egg wash onto the top of the pastry and place the pies in the oven for 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.
Serve with chips, mash or whatever makes you happy. This is true comfort food so make sure you enjoy it!

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