Wednesday 18 February 2015

Cow Pie (Expert Level)

I actually did a steak pie recipe not that long ago – actually, a little shy of a year and a half ago.  This is a tweaked – and undoubtedly superior version.  It's also a bit more complex (but not frightfully so) so let's consider the other one my 'simple pie' recipe, and this one my gourmet version.  For the avoidance of doubt, I definitely recommend the additional work of the gourmet version.

I have also made a bone marrow pastry which was pretty epic, albeit probably unnecessary – if you want a quiet life (and who doesn't?) just get a roll of the pre-rolled puff stuff, yeah?

I have adapted this from a number of corners, but most notably the bone marrow pastry idea came from the irreplaceable Hawksmoor at Home.

Serves 4.


For the gravy - 

500g beef shin (off the bone)
250g ox cheek
2 carrots
150g button mushrooms (chestnut if possible – the smaller the better)
500ml ale (get something a bit sweeter than your average)
5 springs of thyme
2 stalks of rosemary
2 bay leaves
15g bone marrow (more on this below) / 1tbsp sunflower oil
240g lardons (get properly fatty ones, not lean cuts)
250g baby onions / shallots, peeled
25g plain flour
500ml beef stock
1tsbp Worcestershire sauce

For the pastry – 

200g plain flour (plus some for dusting)
1tsp mustard powder (optional)
1tsp baking powder
100g bone marrow / suet
2 egg yolks
100ml cold milk
Iced water

On the subject of the meat, I have gone for two incredible tough cuts of meat.  A great rule of thumb is that the tougher the cut, the more that the muscle has had to work, and the better the flavour.  If you think about regular steaks, this rings true: rump is tougher but full of flavour, whereas fillet (an almost utterly unused muscle) is beautifully tender but less flavoursome. The two cuts I have gone for are shin and cheek.  Get them from any good butcher and you'll find that they tend to be a lot cheaper than the standard cuts (although they are becoming more popular so that might not last).  The downside of these cuts, however, is that they need a lot of cooking time – about 3 to 4 hours, to be honest.  So plan ahead.

Right.  Elephant in the room: Bone marrow.

Not everyone's cup of tea, I grant you.  Although there's really no reason why it shouldn't be, because it's lovely stuff – full of flavour.  This bit's optional, though: I think it's worth the effort but you might not.  If not, you can make the pastry using suet, or just Google a decent puff / shortcrust pastry in its lieu.  Also, it is worth noting that all of this was FREE.  Totally free.  If you have a good butcher and you go in to see them regularly (by which I mean more than once every year to buy the Christmas turkey) they're bound to give you something like this for free.  It's a really, really good idea to get them to chop the bone in half for you, as they have here.  The problem is that no one sells it by the gram – you just get a bone.  The amount that came out of this bone, for reference, was about 235g.  I'll deal with how to get the marrow out and prepping it below.

Right, on to the recipe.

The day before pie day you need to marinate the beef.  First up, trim any extraneous fat and connective tissue from the beef and cut up into bite-size chunks.

Cut up the carrots into quarter roundel lumps.  If the mushrooms need chopping, do this as well – although if you can keep them whole, so much the better – this will turn on how big they were when they were bought. Throw the beef, vegetables, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves, into a large, non-reactive dish.  Pour over all of the beer, cover and put in the fridge overnight.

The other thing to do is to prep the bone marrow.  This is a bit gross, but worth it.

The easiest way to get the bone marrow out of the bones is to dunk them in warm water for a few minutes, then remove them and slide the marrow out.  The marrow is extremely fatty, almost (in parts) with the consistency of butter, so it will melt up a bit in the warm water and come out.  I could not be faffed so I took a dinner knife and scooped it out.

In hindsight, I regret this because it made it fractionally more difficult to deal with later.  It's not totally critical, but just a tip.  Once it's out, you'll find that there are harder parts and softer, buttery parts.  Scrape off about 25g of the buttery part and keep it separate in the fridge.  Wrap the rest it in cling film and stick it in the coldest part of fridge overnight.  It has to be properly cold when you come to use it tomorrow – if you're worried, stick it in the freezer for 15 minutes before you use it.

The next day you're ready to start cooking properly.  Remove the beef from the fridge so that it comes up to room temperature and put it through a colander, making sure to reserve the beer juice.  Seriously, do not throw this away.  Then separate the meat, vegetables and herbs so that you have three bowls of stuff.  You'll see why later.  Place the beef on some kitchen towel and let it dry off.

Also, pre-heat your oven to 160ºC / 150ºC (fan assisted).

First things to cook are the lardons.  Get a great big casserole pot (this is one pot cooking, sort of) and melt the buttery, reserved marrow.  Cook the lardons in this for a few minutes until the fat has started to render.

Then add the onions and brown both, removing them with a slotted spoon when done and setting them aside.

So now you should have three pots of pie stuff: The drained vegetables, the marinated beef and the browned lardons and onions.

Next up, do the beef.  Measure out the flour into a small bowl and season it with salt and pepper.  Then, dredging each piece of beef individually in flour, brown the meat in the pot in batches.  There should be plenty of rendered lardon fat and bone marrow grease remaining to do this.  By  the way, don't cram the pot full of meat – if you do so, you drop the temperature way too much and the meat won’t properly sear.

Once all of the meat is browned you'll need to deglaze.  In fact, you've probably been getting a bit nervous as the process of cooking the lardons / onions and browning the meat will have crusted the base of the pan with something evil looking.  Deglaze this by pouring a couple of ladles of stock into the bottom of the pan and scrapping like hell.  Quite a lot will fizzle up, so make sure there's enough in there to stay liquid (otherwise you'll just end up with a thicker, harder glaze – bad).

When this is done, re-add the beef, lardons and onions to the pot.  Then throw in the beer juice, the rest of the stock, the Worcestershire sauce and the bay leaves.  Strip the leaves of herbs and chop them finely, adding these to the mix as well.  Give the whole thing a stir and turn the heat up until simmering point, before transferring it to the oven.

In the first round of cooking, it will need about 2 ½ hours with the lid on.

Whilst it's cooking you should make the pastry.

Place the flour, baking powder and mustard powder in a bowl and mix together.

Next, grate the bone marrow.  Yes, actually.  I found having a bit extra was a real bonus here, as it melted very quickly and I ended up wasting a fair amount.  (If you're using suet instead, you don’t need to grate it.  You're also a wimp.)  Once grated, add it to the flour and mix together until well combined.

Beat one egg yolk together with the milk and add this to flour slowly, mixing all the time.  Then add as much iced water as is necessary to bring the mix together into a dough.

Now wrap it in cling film and stick it in the fridge for at least an hour to rest.

Back to the pot (when the time is up): remove it from the oven and give it a stir.  It should still be relatively liquid, and the meat still fairly tough.  Therefore, it needs to go back in the oven, but this time with the lid off, so that the gravy reduces and thickens.  Mmmmmmm.  Make sure the bay leaves are submerged, by the way, otherwise you'll get it out and find a charred leaf sitting there – not cool.

Stir it every 20 minutes or so, keeping an eye on the level of gravy.  You should find its done and the beef is falling apart in about an hour.  Make sure you retain enough wet – otherwise it's barely a proper pie.  Remove the stew from the oven when ready – but don’t turn the oven off; turn it up to 190ºC / 180ºC (fan assisted).

Get the pastry out the fridge and, on a properly floured surface, roll it out to about 4mm thickness.  Placing the pie dish upside down on the pastry, cut the pastry to size, leaving a 1.5cm margin all around the edge of the dish.  Reserve any excess pastry – don’t chuck it yet!

Ladle the beef stew into your pie dish, filling it almost, but not quite, to the top.  Beat the remaining egg in a cup and brush the edges of the pie dish before plonking the pastry on top.  Crimp down the edges with your thumb and finger or a fork.  Cut a cross or a whole in the middle (a whole is probably easier before the pastry goes on, come to think of it…) to let the steam out, and then decorate.  As I have explained previously, an undecorated savoury pie is an unlucky pie.  I decorated it in a traditional sense, explaining its contents.  Brush all of the pastry properly, so that every nook and cranny is covered in egg wash.

It needs about 20-30 mins in the oven now, until the crust is golden brown and yummy looking.  Take it out and serve it straightaway, with peas and maple coated parsnips, in this case, or with mash and spring greens, or whatever takes your fancy.  

 - GrubsterBoy - 

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