Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cold Night In--English Pub Fare

     I've been on a 'traditional English food' kick lately, so for my thirtieth birthday dinner I decided I'd try something I hadn't taken a shot at before: Steak and Ale Pie.  This dish is yet another example of how simple ingredients and a simple preparation, when done correctly, can yield something far more delicious than the sum of its parts.  I owe the inspiration for this recipe to the author of Eating for England, and all-around awesome food blog with recipes for some good, traditional English fare as well.  My recipe is based largely upon hers, albeit scaled down to work with the ingredients I had on hand and altered a bit to suit my tastes. 
     Well, it turns out that while Steak and Ale Pie is fairly easy to make, it does take awhile, and it was getting late, so I decided to throw something together to tide us over until dinner was ready.  Having already made up a batch of our favorite crust for Cornish Pasties and Meat Pies (Angharad suggested using store-bought puff pastry for the Steak and Ale Pie, but we love this crust too much to not use it), I decided I'd see what I could do with ingredients we already had on hand.  One of our favorite English cheeses is Wensleydale (a slightly tart, crumbly sheep's milk, and sometimes cow's milk, cheese from the north of England) and a version with sweetened cranberries is often available stateside.  Having some of this in the fridge, it seemed that adding a few Craisins (sweetened, dried cranberries) and some chopped pecans might not make for a bad combination.  These mini tartlets (I couldn't really come up with a better name) actually turned out quite nicely; the only thing I might do next time is to use a bit more cheese in the stuffing, as the buttery nature of the crust almost overwhelmed the mild cheese.

     For two tartlets:
       -Pasty crust, rolled to 1/8" thick and approximately 5-6" in diameter
       -2 TBSP sweetened, dried cranberries
       -2 TBSP finely chopped pecans
       -1 3/4 oz. Wensleydale with Cranberries

Gently mold the crust into two large muffin cups and layer the other ingredients, with the cranberries on the bottom, followed by the pecans and the Wensleydale.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes at 350, or until the pastry is just starting to brown.  Serve immediately. 

Overall, these were quite good though, as I said, next time I'd use a bit more cheese, or try to get Wensleydale that was made from the slightly tangier sheep's milk, rather than the cow's-milk variety we had on hand.  

     On to the main attraction.  As I said, I owe the author of Eating for England a great deal for this recipe.  I'd come across other versions of Steak and Ale pie in several British cookbooks and online, but her description made it sound particularly delicious.  However, I did cut the recipe down, as well as up the amount of garlic the original called for.  I also added smoked bacon (which other recipes had used) and I'm quite glad that I did.  
     Steak and Ale Pie is basically a rich, flavorful beef stew baked under a buttery crust.  The ingredients, for a pie that feeds two comfortably, are as follows: 

    -5-6 oz. of thick-cut smoked bacon, fried, and roughly chopped
    -13 oz. stew meat, cut into 1"-2" pieces, dredged lightly in flour, salt, and pepper
    -1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
    -6 oz. button mushrooms, with stems removed, sliced
    -4 oz. carrots, chopped small
    -4 TBSP butter (2 for browning beef, 2 to finish the stew)
    -1 tsp. crushed garlic
    -1 bay leaf
    -3 good dashes of Worcestershire sauce
    -1 scant tsp. dried thyme
    -12 oz. English brown ale (4 oz. to deglaze pan, 8 for stew)
    -8 oz. beef broth
    -1/2 TBSP cornstarch dissolved in 4 oz. water (added to stew if you can't get it to thicken like me)
    -Crust from Pasties/Meat Pies, rolled to 1/4" thick and sized slightly larger than baking dish

This all takes awhile to make, but trust me, as far as rustic comfort food goes, it's about tops.  Begin by frying the bacon.  Remove strips to drain on paper towels, and reserve the grease.  Saute the sliced mushrooms in the bacon grease (hey, I never said this was healthy, it's comfort food after all) and deglaze the pan with 4 oz. of the ale when the bottom starts to brown.  Scrape up all the brown bits, as they hold a lot of flavor.  Simmer until the liquid has largely been absorbed or has evaporated.  Drain, and set aside.  
     Add 2 TBSP butter to a thick-bottomed skillet or Dutch Oven and melt over medium heat.  When melted, add the chunks of beef, dredged lightly in flour and salt/pepper, and fry until lightly brown on all sides.  Add the onion, carrots, mushrooms, bacon (roughly chopped into small pieces), garlic, bay leaf, thyme, the remaining 8 oz. of ale, and the beef broth.  Bring to a simmer, and simmer slowly, covered, for an hour to an hour and a half.  If the sauce has not thickened sufficiently at the end of this time (it hadn't for me), dissolve 1/2 TBSP cornstarch in 4 oz. of water, crank the heat to medium-high, and simmer until reduced and the gravy thickens.  When almost finished, throw in an additional pat (1-2 TBSP) of butter for added richness, and 3 good dashes of Worcestershire sauce.  Remove and discard bay leaf. 
     When the stew is ready, load it into an oven-proof dish, cover with some of the Pasty Crust (rolled to 1/4" thick), being careful to seal around the edges with water and crimp below the lip.  Bake at 425 for approximately 25 minutes, or until the pastry is a golden brown.  For additional flash (though I didn't) you can brush the pastry with egg wash before baking.  

     I wasn't sure how this was going to turn out, but it was phenomenal.  Excellent on its own with a pint of English Bitter, Nut Brown Ale, or Strong Ale, with or without a bit of horseradish cream on the side.  Perfect as a winter warmer, and something I'll definitely look forward to again. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...