Saturday, October 23, 2010

Beef Stew Pie

Seth and I returned from England Tuesday night, along with a mean craving for meat pie. Well, I had a craving for meat pie, which seems to me quintessentially British, right up there with fish and chips. I wanted to make something of the steak & kidney or cheese onion variety, only tasty. I briefly searched the internet but was put off by recipes that called for boiling everything in some stock - with no pre-browning! - then covering it with a pastry made of flour and suet and boiling some more. Eck, no wonder British cuisine gets a bad rap. But it only took a couple of these "boil everything" recipes for me to realize that meat pie is just beef stew cooked in a pie crust - almost head-slapping obvious.

I didn't want a pot pie, a top crust baked over a casserole, but an actual two-crust pie to envelope the beefy deliciousness. I dredged stewing beef in flour seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne and paprika, then quickly browned it in a mixture of butter and olive oil. I even splurged on some leeks and fresh mushrooms, just to make it authentic. When my kitchen began to smell like my mother's beef stew, I knew I was on the right track.

The cat is for quality control.
 What can I say? The recipe is fairly simple, though I don't know if it's actually British or not. Does that matter? It's a meat pie, it's awesome and for those of you living in cool climates, it's perfect to warm you up in the evening.

Beef Stew Pie

I used an all-butter crust because 1) I prefer it and 2) I think the flavor blends well with the stew. However, if you have a favorite double crust recipe of your own, feel free to use. I had enough stew for a standard 9-inch pie plate. 

1lb stewing beef, cut into 1inch chunks
3tbsp olive oil
3tbsp butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 small or 2 large potatoes (mine were small), cut into bite-size pieces
2 carrots, cut into bite-size pieces
2 leeks, chopped (I used one because mine was huge)
10 button mushrooms, quartered (or about half a container)
1 quart stock (I used vegetable, but beef or chicken will also work)
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Melt the butter with the oil in a large pan on medium-high heat. Put some flour in a shallow dish (exact amount doesn't matter, just enough to lightly cover the beef) and season lightly with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and paprika. Dredge the beef in the flour, knock off excess, then brown quickly, top and bottom. You may have to do this in two batches. Once browned, remove from the pan and set aside.

2. Add the leeks and garlic. Cook for several minutes until leeks are soft and garlic lightly browned. Add carrots and potatoes and cook for several minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the beef and stir to combine. Add some more cayenne and paprika if you're feelin' it. Pour in stock, bring to a boil, then lower heat to allow stew to simmer until meat and vegetables are tender, about one hour.

4. While stew is cooking make pastry and set aside until ready to assemble pie. I keep mine in the fridge.

5. Once meat and vegetables are tender, add the mushrooms and simmer for just a couple minutes more (they will cook easily while the pie is baking) then remove the pan from heat and allow to cool slightly while the oven preheats to 400 degrees.

6. Roll out half the pastry and line the bottom of the pan with it. Spoon the stew into the dish, straining out most of the liquid. Once all the stew is in the pan you can add more liquid if it looks dry, but you don't want to overflow it. 1/2 to 3/4 cup should be adequate. Roll the second half of pastry and top the pie, being sure to seal the sides well. Cut a few vents in the top and brush with egg white if you're feeling fancy. Bake for 30 minutes on the middle rack, with a cookie sheet on the rack below to catch potential seepage.

7. Allow pie to set for about fifteen minutes before serving. Use the leftover liquid as gravy, adding a cornstarch slurry if you need to thicken it up a bit. Slice and enjoy.

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