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This recipe is from the intensely talented fantasy author Stacia Kane, and is reprinted here with her permission. Stacia is originally from the USA but now lives in England.
I like puff pastry crusts for meat pies—I like a high crust-to-meat ratio—so I buy it ready-made; making puff pastry is so time-consuming (all that buttering and folding and rolling and resting in the fridge and buttering and folding and rolling and resting in the fridge), and I’ve actually never gotten great results. Pepperidge Farm makes a really nice ready-made puff pastry; you can find it in the fridge or freezer section in any grocery store (I also did smaller pies using their little round hors’d’ouvres pastry crusts: one with ground beef and one with shredded chicken, which are much quicker than the steak pie). (Here in the UK I use Jus-Rol, but Pepperidge Farm is the way to go in the US.)
I have made a nice hot-water pastry for meat pies, too, but I like puff. All those flaky layers.
So, here’s what I do, for a regular 9-inch pie. You’ll want to do this either quite early in the day, or the day before, because ideally the filling will be cool when it goes into the crust:
3 lbs stewing beef (if you want, you can buy a chuck roast and cut it into chunks)
1 16-oz can/bottle dark (stout) beer; I prefer Murphy’s Irish Stout to Guinness (really, I’ve used both and for me there’s no comparison)
1 onion, chopped fine (if you want; I use onion powder, usually)
In a large frying pan/saucepan/braiser with a good lid, brown the beef in a Tbsp or so of butter, with a tsp of olive or vegetable oil to keep it from scorching. Brown it in batches (I put the browned meat in the upturned lid to save washing dishes).
If you’re using chopped onion (I’ve minced a shallot in there, too, on occasion), add it after the meat is browned and stir it until it’s soft. Then add the beef back in, and add a handful or two of
Stir well to make a sort-of roux; this will help thicken the filling later.
Once the flour is cooked (just a minute or two), add salt and pepper; not too much at first, maybe a tsp of salt and half a tsp of pepper?
Then add your herbs etc. I usually use (all of these are dried, as this is a long-simmered dish):
½ tsp or so of:
¼ tsp or so of:
a dash of nutmeg/rub the nutmeg over the microplane grater once or twice
Now add at least a tsp or two of Worcestershire (VERY important!). Sometimes I add a splash of soy, too. If you have some Kitchen Bouquet that’s great to add. I also often add a bit of beef stock concentrate, just as a flavor boost.
This next bit depends on how hot your burners run. Mine run very hot—it’s hard to get a good low simmer—so I add the entire can of beer (slowly so it doesn’t foam over). When I had a burner that ran lower I’d add about ⅔ of it and wait to see if it needed more. So that would be my recommendation unless you have a hard time simmering something low.
Scrape up all the fond (most of it probably came up already with the flour/Worcestershire, and especially if you used diced onion).
Add two or three bay leaves (I use three).
Cover and let simmer 2½ - 3 hours. I like the meat VERY tender; you may want to stop simmering sooner, but as with any stew beef recipe you’ll want to give it at least a couple of hours. Check it every once in a while to see how the liquid level is doing. When it’s done, taste it and adjust the seasonings. Remember that the pastry crust is rather bland, so it’s okay for the meat to be a little more highly flavored.
At some point during the cooking, preheat your oven to 400° F and thaw one of the pastry sheets. You want it to still be cold, but not frozen hard. Personally, I just sort of push and manipulate it with my hands to fit it into the pie dish; you may want to roll it out, but I’ve made this at least a hundred times over the years so no longer bother with all of that. I just plop it into the dish, push it into the edges, and trim the excess (which I then squeeze into the parts where it isn’t covering the rim of the dish). A good way to keep it from shrinking too much is to fold the tiniest bit over the rim of the pie dish. It will still shrink some but that won’t matter too much.
Some people only use a top crust. IMO that’s not a pie, that’s beef stew with a pastry lid. (Like I said, I am a pastry girl and like a high crust-meat ratio.)
Anyway. Shove that bottom crust into the oven and bake it about fifteen minutes (or according to package directions, but don’t give it the full time, just most of it). This will help keep the bottom crust from getting too soggy. Again, you’ll want to do this fairly early on, because ideally this bottom crust will be cool when you add the filling. (I have often added hot filling to hot crust, and it’s fine if you just don’t have time to let it all cool etc.—it won’t ruin the pie or anything—but it really is nicer if you can let it all cool, both for a less-soggy crust and a thicker filling.)
Once the meat is done, let it sit uncovered for a while, stirring occasionally. It will thicken as it stands. It’ll still be a bit liquidy, FYI, but it won’t be AS liquidy. Take out the top crust when the package tells you to, in terms of how far in advance.
I have a little Le Creuset pie bird. They’re very inexpensive, and good/kind of fun to have, but they’re not necessary. If you have one, plunk it into the center of the bottom crust and add the filling around it. If not, just add the filling. I recommend spooning the filling into the crust, because you can control the liquid level better. Honestly, you probably only want like ¼ cup of the liquid in there.
The top crust is easier than the bottom crust, and again, I just trim the ends off and plunk it on there. Also again, make sure it’s still quite cold! Otherwise it won’t rise and flake as nicely. If you have a pie bird, fit the center around the bird’s beak and cut a few more vent slices in the top crust. If you don’t, make an X in the very center and reflect back the points so you have a little hole, and cut some vents—I usually do four vents, which makes it look pretty. The vents also really help the top crust puff and flake up.
Pop the pie into a 400° F oven. Set your timer for ten minutes. Take a look at the ten minute mark; is it browning? It’s not uncommon for the edges to puff and brown before the center (which will look sunken and bumpy as it “melts” over the meat before puffing up), so there’s nothing wrong if it’s doing that but at some point you may want to cover the edges with foil to keep them from burning. Also at that ten-minute point, give it a turn to help even cooking.
Check it again at twenty minutes. If the top crust isn’t fully puffed and golden, give it another turn and another five-ten minutes. This really depends on your oven and even stuff like humidity etc. Usually my pies take about twenty-five - thirty minutes for the top crust to be all nice and flaky/puffy.
Let the pie sit five minutes or so before cutting (longer if you can, up to about fifteen).
You can use the leftover cooking liquid to make gravy, but keep in mind how highly flavored that liquid probably is; you’ll want to add water and simmer it down. Sometimes I use gravy mix and add a few Tbsp of that liquid to that, because I’m lazy and because at that point I’ve got my big burner going with potatoes to mash and at least one smaller burner with vegetables, and there’s not room for the big braiser I did the meat in, too. But that’s up to you.
This is just as good as leftovers, and really, you can easily make the meat the day before and just assemble the pie as usual. I’ve actually put the filled bottom crust into the fridge before when dinner plans suddenly changed, and just popped the top crust on and cooked it the next day, and that worked great, too.
You can add whatever seasonings you want, of course. Sometimes I add a bit of mustard powder. Whatever you like. I stick to the savory herbs, because that’s what I like. And I really don’t recommend garlic in this; I’m not sure why but it just always tastes weird to me to have garlic in here. But hey, give it a try if you like.
Sorry if these are a tad disjointed; again, I’ve made this so many times I don’t really even have to think anymore about what I’m doing. But that’s the basic recipe/method, and again, one of my absolute favorite dinners and something we all like and have a lot. So I’d love to hear what you think!