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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Beef and Guinness Pie

It seems I often talk about my German heritage and influences.  And sure, while there is no question that I am very German, there are times when I feel reminded of my other bloodlines.

St. Patrick's Day is one of those times.  

Call me shameful, call me a bandwagon jumper, call me whatever you wish, but the fact is that I am indeed, a wee bit Irish.  

Sure, it's only 1/... but that's enough for me to want to join in the fun that can be St. Paddy's Day.

So, for this year, I decided to make something a tad special.  And pretty authentically Irish.  

Enter Beef and Guinness Pie.

Now - in case you didn't know, I'm not and never really have been, much of a beer drinker.  More of a red wine fan really.

But, there are times... 

A hot summer day ending with some cold lager on a cool urban patio... that can be hard to beat.

I used to drink beer.  In my school days.  I mean, you can't really avoid drinking beer if you spend even a small amount of time on campus.  There was a strange progression which my beer-taste-buds seemed to follow though, enjoying really dark ales of the brown and red variety at first, but then slowly getting lighter and less maltier.  Now, in my old age, I seem to appreciate a good, crisp, golden lager more.

Anyway, I kinda went on a beer-tangent there.  Sorry.

Although I suppose that is slightly fitting, as the star of tonight's meal is (you may have guessed it!)


A true Irish meal-in-a-can.  I don't really drink this stuff very often, but it really does have a seriously rich and earthy thickness to it.  

A quality which makes it great for cooking with.

So, enduring the cliche, we purchased a 4-pack of Guinness on St. Patrick's Day.  

I know my Irish 12.5% is disdainful, but he'll soon be drunk, and thus placated.

Anyway... to the Pie!

This is essentially a beef-heavy British stew.  Which I enjoy.  In fact, one of my first ever blog posts of a year and a half ago, was entitled simply: British Stew, which (despite the poor photography) illustrates a very similar thing to this here concoction.

So, start with coating and searing your beef cubes.  Pretty much any cut of beef will do, but traditionally something a little poorer and fattier is used.  The more fat and connective tissue present, in fact, creates a juicier, moister stew... so you wouldn't want to use something lean.

I chose just some cheap chuck ("stewing beef") which I then cubed into approximately 1" pieces.

Put those in a medium mixing bowl, ready to be mixed with some flour, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Once lightly coated, sear the beef cubes in small batches.  Use a large, deep saucepan, on high heat, and with a generous splash of vegetable oil.

Make certain that your pieces are not crowded together, and have plenty of room to brown. 

This is arguably the single most important step in making a meat stew, as this browning is where most of the flavour comes from.

These pieces are still totally rare inside, but all that searing on the outside will make for some excellent stew, after a few hours of slow braising.

Now leave these aside for a minute, and deal with all those gorgeous gribblies left over in the pan.  That absolutely must not go to waste.  So, we're going to add another touch of vegetable oil, and start sauteing a whole lot of onion and garlic.

Copious amounts of root vegetables are a must in any stew.

This Irish variety, is going to be heavy on the onion, and relatively (for me, anyway) light on the garlic.

That's OK.  Onion can be delicious.  Especially like this, when it will be braised for a long time.

So, start cooking the onion first, over medium heat, and make sure to get all the brown beef bits and gribblies mixed in, 'scraping' the sides (with a 'non-scratch' implement, I should say; myself I'm a fan of a good silicon spatula for this sort of thing) frequently.

After about 4 or 5 minutes of that, and once the onion has begun to soften, toss in the garlic, (and in my case, a couple of diced scallions as well), and a small splash of liquid.

This liquid can be anything, really.  Well, within reason.  Common varieties include water,  wine, port, consomme, stock, soup, and beer.  Even though we've got big plans for that Guinness later, we are still going to add some beef stock.

And, wouldn't you know it, but I still have some in my cupboard from when I cautiously canned my own homemade stuff a few months ago. Remember my Beef Stock ?  :)

Well, here it is, looking no more worse-for-wear after sitting at room temperature for several months, almost as good as it did the day I canned it.  The chunks you see floating at the top, are just pieces of fat which have cooled and condensed.  I can choose to remove those and just use the stock, save those to make something disgusting like aspic, or something, or just add them with the stock (they'll melt just fine).  So, which do you think I chose?  :)

At this point in the preparation (sauteing), I just added a small amount, say about 50ml.

Next, add a spoonful of tomato paste (just a bit, mind you, say about 25-30ml).

Stir that all up nicely, and then start dumping stuff in.  :)

First the beef cubes, and all the juice they left behind, and then a good amount of beef stock.

For the finesse aspect here, the next additions are going to be several sprigs of fresh thyme, and, let's not forget, a good amount of Guinness.

I put in half a can of Guinness at this point.  

The other half I drank.  

But I will be adding another half a can in a little over an hour's time.  :)

So, that gets covered, brought up to a light simmer...

and then put in the middle of the oven, to cook at 350° for at least an hour.

When it comes out (in this case about 80 minutes later), it looks like this:

Greasy goodness, but a little too messy for my liking.

So, first, carefully remove and shake off the thyme sprigs.  Then, mix up a thickener.  You know me, I prefer to mix up a small amount of corn starch with a liquid like milk or water.  However, in this instance, and having a can of Guinness sitting right there on the counter, you can guess what I chose to mix with the corn starch.

Guinness and corn starch.  Mmmmmmmmm...

So, after slowly mixing this in, the stew looks a little more cohesive (literally) and uniform.  

Add more Guinness at this point.  You could add quite a bit more, within reason, but do it slowly and in batches - tasting in between to make sure you've still got enough "stew" (beef and onion) flavour to take dominance of the palate.  Make sure to balance the thickness accordingly.

Myself, I simply added another half a can.  And drank the other half.


Now, it needs to cool, believe it or not.  Because I'm using real-butter puff pastry for the pie part, the pasty needs to be ice cold (almost frozen) and the stew needs to be relatively cool.

So, dish out the stew into as many servings as you want.  Incidentally this batch was intended only for 2 servings, so if you want more, make sure to double or triple the ingredients (namely the beef... this is a beef-heavy stew, so instead of 500g go for 1kg for four people).

Ladle the stew proportionately into your serving bowls, using some good, high-quality and oven-safe bowls.  I chose my delightful new French Onion Soup bowls.

So that delicious stew is going to cool for a bit, and we can start preparing our puff pastry.

Now... you can make your own butter puff pastry, and it is delicious... but extremely tedious.  If you are lucky enough to find a grocer selling the real butter puff pastry (using real butter as opposed to shortening makes for an unparalleled flakiness) then don't feel guilty about just using that.  It still turns out quite nicely.  The butter stuff though, I can't stress that fact enough.

So I gently and carefully rolled out one sheet of pastry, cut it in half, and then in quarters. Essentially giving me 4 relatively equal sized squares.

When baking pastries (indeed, many bread products) and to ensure a good golden crispy crust, lightly brush on an 'egg wash' before baking.  This does two things, it helps develop that nice golden colour on the outside, but it can also help two layers of pastry stick together, which we will want to avail ourselves of here today.

Typically an egg wash is just an egg, lightly beaten with a small amount of water.  However, again seeing as my open can of Guinness was just sitting there on the counter... heh heh heh.

Guinness egg wash.  ;)

So brush all four squares.  Lay one square down on top of your bowls, making sure that there is generous amounts of pastry draping over the sides.  Press lightly around the bowl's rim, to make it stick.  Give the top of these another wash of the egg mixture, and then place the second pastry square overtop, at an opposing angle.  Give the whole thing a good slathering of the egg wash when complete.

Place the readied bowls on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven at 425° for about 20 minutes.

What comes out is Beef and Guinness Pie.  And delicious.

That gets served on a plate, because it's mother-effin hot for a while, and because it can get a bit messy, but it's ready to go.

Let's not forget the side dish for this meal though...


So, here was our humble yet delectable St. Patrick's Day feast, of which I was quite proud:

And, cracked open to spill out all the meaty goodness:

So, like I said, this is essentially just a beef stew that has some pastry baked onto it.  Personally I love being able to "control" the concentration and the timing of adding pastry to the bowl.  It all just sort of sits there, on the fringes, waiting for you to fork a piece or two into the gravy and mix it around.

It took my wife and I close to a half hour to finish these bowls, but we did, and they were amazing.

I have to say I've never made a stew with beer (let alone Guinness) before.  I've usually stuck with red wine or port, but still, I was unprepared for how much rich and earthy flavour the Guinness would impart.

The best word to describe it would just be 'dark'.  It was a very delicious, dark, stew.

And a merry St. Patrick's Day.