Living in England for 6 years brought many new culinary delights my way. As a girl from New Jersey I was excited by the steamed puddings, bangers & mash, pheasant & quail, Stilton & port and don’t forget the meat pies…mmmmm – especially steak and ale pie. The English have historically been chided for their lack of culinary aplomb, yet some of the best meals I have ever had were made in London. Just last week, my friend Aerlia posted a delectable article written by Felicity Cloake for the Guardian called ‘How to Cook the Perfect Steak and Ale Pie’ dissecting the elements of steak and ale pie. The meat, vegetables, crust & liquid! What a great piece – if you like steak and ale pie take a gander. It’s mouthwatering.
Anyway in honour of a snowy day here in Toronto I am going to make my version of the steak and ale pie recipe printed in the Guardian, using beef cheek. If you like braised meat, don’t be put off, beef cheek is luxurious and has a flavour all of its own when cooked long and slow. Head to tail is where it’s at baby;)
Cheek & Ale Pie (Inspired by Steak and Ale Pie recipe printed in the Guardian)
1/8 cup rendered fat (I used bacon drippings)
1 ½ lbs beef cheek
¼ cup flour plain flour, seasoned
salt to taste
6 thick cut bacon slices chopped into 1 inch pieces
½ lb whole baby onions
2 cloves of garlic
5 oz mushrooms (optional I used cremini)
1 can sweet dark ale
1 2/3 cup beef stock (I used chicken because I ran out of beef!)
4 sprigs of thyme, leaves roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp dark muscovado sugar (I increased the sugar from the original recipe bc I like sweeter pies)
2 tsp red wine vinegar (increased to balance the sugar)
1 tsp cocoa
3 large carrots diced (optional – even know they get mushy I add them – they add loads of flavour)
½ cup peas (optional – this is not traditional – I just like ‘em)
Preheat oven to 280/300 degrees. Dredge beef cheeks in flour and salt mixture. Melt rendered fat in a cast iron pan on medium high heat. Brown each side of the beef cheeks and then transfer to a casserole dish. You can cut the meat into pieces if you prefer. I like leaving them whole and breaking them up later.
Bacon & Veg
Reduce the heat and add the onions, garlic, mushrooms, carrots, bacon to the cast iron skillet and caramelize to a warm brown. This process will take some time. About 30 minutes. Adding the mushrooms at this stage will take care of the additional water issues people run into when making this pie. After the vegetables are done deglaze the pan with some of the beer.
Pour the rest of the beer into the casserole with the stock, thyme, bay leaf, sugar, vinegar and cocoa. Cover and put into the oven for 5-6 hours or until the beef cheeks start to fall apart. Throughout this process I monitor the contents in the casserole. Check to see how tender the meat is becoming. Remove from liquid and pull apart the beef cheeks. Put meat and peas back into the juice and wait until cooled. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Transfer the meat mixture into a waiting pie shell. Season with salt to taste. If you feel the meat mixture is too liquid you can do one of two things 1. strain a bit of the liquid off when you scoop it into the shell or 2. Shock horror – use a flour roux to thicken slightly.
We are lucky and have a wonderful health food store that sells organic pie shells that are rich and flaky – so I took the easy way out tonight and used theirs;) Soon I will share my crust recipe.
Put in the oven for approximately 50 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Serves 4