Saturday, 26 September 2009

Beef and Guinness pie

I find cooking for large numbers of people terrifying. Partly because I've haven't done if much, although when I lived in France I once managed to make dinner for twelve people in my tiny studio flat with two hot plates and a microwave: chicken from the rotisserie down the road, ratatouille in a borrowed saucepan, about 4,000 baguettes, and a lot of wine.

Generally I find feeding crowds intimidating, I can’t judge quantities in large amounts and live in fear there not being enough to go around. But having lots of people for dinner is fun so I’ve decided I must face my fear.

Last weekend a friend from Bristol came to stay, and a few other people were going to come round in the evening. A few somehow turned into many and I began to panic about how to feed them all. Seeing as most of them were hungry boys - one once made the New Year's resolution of 'only one meal at a time' - something substantial was in order.

The stew part of a beef pie can simmer all afternoon, making the kitchen smell like all kitchens should, or be cooked a couple of days in advance meaning that when you want to eat all you need to do is make the pastry, put in a pie dish, drape the pastry over and bake it.

Pie for ten:

For the filling

1kg stewing beef, preferably shin, in bite sized pieces

3 large onions

5 large carrots

Oil or beef dripping

1 tbs flour

A few sprigs of dried thyme and bay leaves

2 cans of Guinness

1tbs brown sugar

You can brown the meat for this but I didn’t brown the meat for this, mostly because I was feeling lazy, and decided that the Guinness and sugar would make up for any loss of caramelised meat favours.

Slice the onions and cook over a low heat for about 20-30 minutes until they’re a soft, pale brown mass. I used olive oil but beef dripping, if I’d had any, would have been even better. Add the carrots, cuts into slices, and cook for a further ten minutes.

Turn up the heat, add the beef and stir until it loses it loses its raw appearance. Add the flour and cook for a minute or two before adding the herbs, Guinness and sugar. Cover, turn the heat as low as it will go, and leave it to bubble very gently for at least two hours. Add some water if it starts to look too dry, but it shouldn’t be soupy either. This is the sort of thing that actually improves if you leave it for a day.

You could use any dark ale instead of Guinness, or any beer at all. One day I’m going to try making a Belgian inspired stew using a dark beer such as Chimay or Leffe Brun, a bit of sugar and the sweet gingerbread spices called pain d’epice.

For the pastry

100g butter cut into cubes

200g plan flour

Pinch of salt

As per normal shortcrust, rub the butter into the flour and salt until it looks a bit like porridge oats. Stir in very cold water with a knife (I’m not sure why I always make pastry with a knife but it just feels right) until begins to come together into a lump, but isn’t too sticky. Beware that sometimes the flour mixture looks really dry but if you carry on stirring it then suddenly it starts to cohere into a ball.

Quickly knead the pastry into a ball and chill it in the fridge for half and hour or so. Decant the stew mixture into a large dish then roll out the pastry to the thickness of a pound coin and place over the dish. Press the pastry into the rim with your fingers to make a scalloped pattern then trim away the excess.

If the filling was hot when you put it in the dish then you just need to cook the pastry – about 20 minutes at 200°C – but if it starts off cold then cook it at 150°C for 45 minutes, covering the top with foil if the pastry begins to look too dark. Best eaten with lots of buttery mashed potato, and some cabbage if you feel the need for something green.

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