After a fantastic Summer the temperature has dropped and it’s looking a little gloomy outside… (although now I am writing this it seems Summer is making a comeback!) but that’s ok, it means it’s time to start cooking those lovely comforting foods!
And what could be more comforting than a big old fashioned Meat & Potato pie, or two!
It was handy that our friendly butcher had just had delivery of a nice highland cross cow then (cross as in hybrid breed, not a bit ticked off!)
When I’m slow cooking beef for stews or pies I love to use the shin. After hours of cooking it is lovely and tender, sticky and sweet and it gives your gravy soooooo much depth of flavour and because of the gelatinous nature of the cut it naturally thickens your gravy too.
As a bonus, because we had the whole shin we got to take the bones away too to make a lovely ‘Ome-made beef stock.
And of course I couldn’t resist popping along to the local off licence (Cheers Mr Mitchell!) to get a couple bottles of ale to make the gravy with. I used Badger Breweries Poachers Choice. A lovely dark beer flavoured with Damsons. It always reminds me of Autumn and Winter. It’s one of those beers that gives you that lovely warm fuzzy feeling, ideal for drinking on a cold winters night around an open fire. Of course some of the beer didn’t make it into the finished product!
So we have lovely rare breed, high welfare beef. ‘Ome-made beef stock to make the gravy, enriched with some rich fruity beer. A crumbly, butter laden, golden pastry crust… It all sounds fantastic but I’m sure there is something missing?
Of course! A good friend to share it with!. Cue Pete, now lets get stuck in!
First job is the stock.
If you don’t have the bones, the time or you just rather wouldn’t make your own then that’s fine. Just replace with bouillon or stock cubes.
I made this the day before I made the pie as I wanted to use the stock to cook the meat in.
So, I used the whole shin bone. Mick at the farm shop kindly cut it into three pieces so that it could fit in our stock pot.
First of all I roasted the bones a few carrots and a couple of onions in a moderate oven for roughly 45 minutes. this just starts to caramelise the flesh, fat and sinew that’s left on the bones which will help give your stock a deeper flavour and a lovely dark colour (in fact to help with this I sprinkle a bit of sugar over!).
I then put the bones, onion and carrots in a stock pot, covered with water and put on to boil. whilst the water comes up to the boil I added 1 star anise, roughly 5 bay leaves, a teaspoon of black pepper-corns and a generous pinch of thyme. The stock can now be left for a couple of hours (ours was on for about four!) simmering away.
After a few hours, or more if you have the time, you need to take the bones out of the stock and strain the stock into another pan. You can now add your ale, wine or anything else you want to flavour the stock with. This then needs to be reduced by about two thirds by boiling vigorously.
If there is any marrow left in the bones, scoop it out and whisk it into the stock to enrich it. In our case if MissT is knocking about then it won’t make it that far, she absolutely loves bone marrow!
The stock needs to cool and ideally be refrigerated so that the fat can solidify and be skimmed off. It is then ready to use.
Cooking The Pie filling
I cooked the meat in big pieces. This allowed me to cook the meat for a long time to allow the fat and connective tissue to break down, make the meat melt in the mouth, add flavour and texture to the finished gravy.
I used 3 Kilo of Shin. This made 2 pies to feed 10 – 12 hungry people. Of course you could easily half the amount or if you can’t manage two pies you can freeze one portion of the cooked mixture to make another pie or a stew at a later date.
Generously coat your meat with seasoned flour (the easiest way to do this is to put the flour in a plastic bag, add your meat a bit at a time and give it a good shake!).
Heat some oil in a heavy bottomed pan and then gently fry your meat until it has a nice golden colour. then add your stock to just cover the meat. bring to a simmer, cover and then put in the oven at 130°C/260°F for four hours.
In our case we now took the kids to their swimming lessons (which takes about three hours!). If however you don’t have swimming lessons to do then I could recommend; mowing the lawn, cleaning the chickens out, fixing the leak under the sink or best of all going for a nice pint at your local!
Once the meat is cooked it can be taken out of the gravy put on a plate and covered with cling film to keep it moist.
The rest of the filling can now be added to the gravy to cook. I used around 1/2 Kilo of potatoes in big chunks, a couple of carrots cut up in big chunks a couple of medium sized onions roughly sliced and about 250g of baby button mushrooms left whole. Just chuck the whole lot into the gravy and then put back into the oven at 175°C/350°C for about an hour or until your potatoes are just cooked through.
I used short crust this time around. You could use puff (bought from the shop is fine) or rough puff. if you have a favourite recipe for pastry then you could use that. For two pie lids I used roughly 1 kilo of flour, so adjust your recipe to suit. I rubbed in 375g of butter to 1 kilo of flour with a couple of level teaspoons of salt added. I would normally use some lard (300g butter and 75g lard) however I had run out so to the mixture I added a couple tablespoons of beef suet. In the end it worked rather well!
Once the fat is rubbed into you flour add enough cold water (I throw a couple ice cubes in the water to really chill it) to just bring the pastry together. briefly knead and then wrap in cling film and leave to rest for at least twenty minutes.
Creating The Pie
While your veg is finishing cooking make a thick roux by melting roughly 55g of butter in a heavy based pan. Once sizzling add approximately 2 tablespoons of flour and stir for a minute until you have something that resembles golden brown putty. Put to one side. This will be whisked into your gravy to get a perfect consistency.
select your pie dishes and break the meat up into them. I like to leave it fairly chunky.
Using a slotted spoon remove your cooked veg from the gravy and place among the meat.
Put the gravy back on a gentle heat. You can now add any extra flavourings you want. I added a generous splash of Worcestershire sauce. You want a nice thick gravy for your pie so whisk in the roux you prepared earlier, a little at a time until you have the desired consistency.
Ladle the gravy over your pie mixture. You want some of the filling to be peaking out so the pastry has something to sit on top of. You should have a little gravy left over to serve along side your pie.
Roll out your pastry to cover your filling. It wants to be just under a centimetre thick. Place the pastry over the pie dish. don’t stretch it over. You want a bit of give to allow for the pastry shrinking. Trim the edges and put a couple holes in the middle to allow steam to escape. Decorate with the excess pastry if you want and then generously egg wash the pie topping.
The pie now needs to be cooked for 50 minutes to an hour on 195°C/380°F (if using a fan oven reduce the temperature by about 20°C/70°F). Once your pie is golden brown and your filling red hot the pie is ready, however it will benefit from being left for fifteen minutes or so before serving.
We had ours with Mushy Peas (or as Pete called them ‘Steeped Peas’) and gravy.
Oh… and Mick, that beef… simply the best!