In the words of Homer Simpson, “Lousy Smarch weather…”
March a confused month. We’ll have days of sunshine and warmth, and then everything will crumble and regress back into frigid rainstorms. Not that I’m not enjoying the extra daylight and all, but some consistency would be nice. March is when I show up to work in knee-high gumboots and end up walking home in the sunshine, carrying all my extra layers, looking like a complete tool. In fact, if I want it to be sunny, I will purposefully wear rain boots. 9 times out of 10, thanks to Murphy’s Law, it guarantees me a sunny afternoon commute.
Last weekend was a perfect example. Friday deteriorated into a massive wind and rainstorm, so I planned for a weekend of snuggly comfort foods and wooly socks. Alas, Saturday morning was bright and sunshiney… wonderful, of course, but not really comfort food weather. It was mow-the-lawn weather. The cherry blossoms littered pink snow across all of Vancouver’s streets. Buttery daffodils swayed gently against the cornflower blue sky. Look at me getting all poetic, it really was lovely out.
Sure, there was a nip in the air, but if you stood directly in the sunshine, it was warm and beautiful. Asparagus and fresh pasta weather, fish taco weather, not steak and stout pie weather.
Of course, in typical March fashion, I only had to wait a couple hours to fulfill my wooly-socks pub food fantasties. By Sunday, the rains had come back in full force and my plans to indulge in this spectacular pot of comfort were back on.
I have made a lot of pot pies in my time, and a lot of steak pies at that, so I can safely say this recipe is the result of literal years of testing.
First of all, slow cook the filling as much as you can. Yes, the recipe will still be delicious if you whip the steak stew together quickly, but if you have the time… nothing beats slooooow food for real depth of flavour. As a bonus, the longer you plan to simmer the stew filling, the cheaper the cut of meat you can use. This is a great way to add some meat to your diet without breaking the bank since a cheap piece of stewing beef or brisket will tenderize right up, given enough time to simmer.
Next, use woody herbs and lots of pepper. Unlike softer herbs like basil and chives, woody herbs like thyme and rosemary stand up well to long cooking times, literally infusing your meat with herby aroma as the gravy gently bubbles and the essential oils are released.
A small bit of bacon, which adds a touch of both smokiness and sweetness, plus a handful of umami-rich dried porcini mushrooms. In a pinch, you can use plain brown cremini mushrooms, but I love the punchy flavour of porcinis paired with beef. It really is a one-two punch of umami happiness.
Finally, the beer. The beer is the hidden star of this show. Not only does it give your meat and veg a perfect simmering liquid, but it also adds a rich, malty flavour to your base gravy. Guinness is traditional (and for good reason), but I love to explore my local porter and stout options. If you are a BC local, I highly recommend using Dark Matter from Hoyne Brewery in Victoria, BC. The beer is lightly hopped, which is what you want for a dish like this. Too much hops will add a really undesirable pong to the palette (trust me, I’ve learned that the hard way). Dark Matter’s roasted malt will perfectly complement the flavour of the beef, without overwhelming it. Like I said, the beer is the hidden star, it’s very important but it shouldn’t hit you in the face.
And there you have it! Whether you’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day or just need something to warm you up until the sunshine gets a little more reliable, this easy (but not necessarily quick) dish is here to cure what ails ya.
|Steak & Stout Pie|| |
- Olive oil
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 sticks celery, diced
- 2 rashers Applewood smoked bacon, coarsely chopped
- 1 kg stewing beef or beef brisket, cut into bite sized cubes
- 15 g (roughly 3 Tbsp) dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated
- 2 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1 Tbsp Dijon or grainy mustard
- 1½ cups stout or porter beer*
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 square frozen puff pastry, thawed
- 1 egg + 1 tsp water, lightly beaten (egg wash)
- Heat a glug of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft. Add garlic, carrots, celery and bacon, and cook until tender, stirring occasionally- roughly 10 minutes. Add beef, stir and cook until the outside of the cubes has browned. Add porcini mushrooms, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add mustard and stir to incorporate.
- Add beer, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 2-3 hours uncovered, stirring occasionally. By the end of this cooking time, the beer will have reduced so that you are left with a very thick beef stew. We want a bit of 'gravy' liquid, but not too much. Pour beef mixture into an oven safe dish, if it is not already in one. Stir in ½ cup of cheddar cheese and sprinkle the rest on top. Set beef mixture aside.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Roll puff pastry out on a lightly floured surface. Place over the beef mixture, gently tucking the edges in (imagine you're tucking the beef stew into bed. Delicious oveny bed.), and curl up the sides- this is supposed to look rustic so don't worry too much about making things look even or fancy. Brush with egg wash.
- Bake for 45 minutes, until the pastry is puffed up and golden.