A friend of mine got me a wholly undeserved invitation to the launch of a new wine encyclopaedia, with accompanying booze and food. She said “if anyone asks just pretend you’re an influential food and wine writer or something”.
Bollocks to that. If it’s influential food and wine writing she wants, then influential food and wine writing she will get, starting from today. So starting as I mean to go on here is a recipe for an unequivocally excellent Beef Cheek and Mushroom Pie that is guaranteed to impress your guests and/or get you laid (depending on your objective).
For the filling
1.2kg beef cheeks (or any other stewing cut e.g. shin. But do please try to get cheek if you can – it’s underrated, dirt-cheap, delicious, meltingly tender, and with plenty of gelatin to give a rich texture to the sauce)
200g mushrooms of a variety of your choice (I used a mixture of flat field mushrooms and some closed cup)
200mL of red wine of such quality that it is good enough for you to drink, but no better. I used Campo Viejo Rioja Crianza because it comes in little bottles at my local supermarket and I draw the line at Banrock Station
750mL of beef stock
A faggot of herbs comprising about 3-4 bay leaves and a few sprigs each of thyme and parsley. If you have middle-class squeamishness about the word “faggot” then you can call this a “bouquet garni”.
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp English mustard
5 shakes of Worcestershire sauce
Plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper
For the pastry
200g self raising flour
Salt and pepper
- Take the beef and trim off any excess fat. Cut into 2cm ish cubes or such other size as you like to see in a pie. Pat the beef dry with kitchen towel. This is important – if it’s not dry it won’t brown (thank you Julia Child). Coat each piece in seasoned flour and then shake to remove the excess.
- Heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Brown the meat in batches employing the usual rules. The usual rules are (a) wait for the oil to heat up before adding the meat as you don’t want it to stew in the oil, you want it to sizzle in an appetizing way; (b) do not over crowd the pan, otherwise the meat will not brown; (c) really do “brown” the meat – don’t just sear it, get a decent amount of colour on each side. What you are looking for here is to caramelize the meat on the outside to give you depth of flavour, NOT to “seal in the juices” or any rubbish like that that you might hear; (c) continue to add oil between batches as necessary. Place the browned meat in a casserole or large stock pot.
- Peel and chop the onion into even sized dice (learn how to do so here). Heat a frying pan over a medium heat. Add about a tablespoon of oil and fry the onions until they are tender – 5-10 minutes or so. Try to cook the onions without colouring them although it’s not the end of the world if they take on a bit of colour, provided they aren’t burnt. Add them to the meat.
- Add the ketchup, mustard, Worcester sauce, wine, and stock to the meat. Bring this all to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Add the faggot of herbs, season with salt and pepper and simmer for 2 hours. At that stage the meat should be fairly tender but not entirely collapsing.
- Remove the meat from the sauce with a slotted spoon. Observe the consistency of the sauce. If you want it thicker, just boil the sauce on its own until it’s thick enough for you, or even add a bit of flour if you want. At the same time, add salt and pepper to taste if necessary.
- Slice the mushrooms. Heat some olive oil (or butter) in a pan and fry the mushrooms in small batches. What you are looking for here is to take the liquid out of the mushrooms. If you fry them in a large batch they will just sweat and end up soupy.
- Assemble the pie filling in an appropriate dish by mixing the meat and mushrooms together, putting it in your pie dish and then pouring the sauce over. If you have left-over filling and sauce, just eat this on its own (it’s just beef stew, really). You could even add a few oysters at this point if that’s your thing.
- Make the pastry. Suet pastry is more traditionally used for puddings but I quite like it atop a pie, and it’s easier and less time consuming to make than puff pastry, which is the alternative. Mix the suet and flour together with some salt and pepper (about ½ tsp salt and a few twists of the pepper grinder). Gradually add water, stirring with a knife, until a sticky ball forms. You can add water but you can’t take it out – so do this process slowly. When the sticky ball forms knead it a bit with your hands to form an even pastry. Suet pastry can take more handling than other types of pastry so don’t be afraid. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, to a thickness of about 5mm. Place this over the top of the pie. Trim the edges with a knife. Press down the edge of the pastry onto the rim of the dish with a fork. If you are not serious you can use shop-bought puff pastry that comes in a roll or sheets. Hell, why not just go and buy the whole pie from the supermarket?
- If you so desire, make decorations for the top of the pie with the trimmings. Leaves, suggestive figures etc.
- Break the egg into a bowl. Discard the shell. (Have you noticed how many recipes omit this step? They say “whisk an egg” when they mean nothing of the sort. If you took an egg and whisked it there would be chaos, with bits of shell all over the place. It is very important only to whisk the contents of the egg, unless you are making consommé). Whisk the contents of the egg. Brush said contents generously over the top of the pie. Cut a few holes in the top of the pie to allow steam to escape.
- Bake the pie for 45-50 minutes at 190C or until the top is golden brown and the filling piping hot.
- Serve with a salad and mashed potatoes.
Serves at least 6.
Wine suggestion: as you will come to learn if you do not know already, there are only about 5 rules about food and wine matching, the rest seems all made up and nobody has the balls to say so. One of the important rules about food and wine matching is that you match the body of the wine with the body of the dish (i.e. light foods go with light wines, heavy foods go with heavy wines). Accordingly I suggest a low alcohol German Riesling with this pie. Only kidding. This pie will go with any full bodied red wine. Anything from the Rhone Valley, South Australia or Spain, amongst others, will be fine. Perhaps I would choose something deep, rustic and herby like a Gigondas from Chateau de St Cosme (cuvees and vintages to suit your budget, but the Cotes du Rhone or village Gigondas would make a good start). Or, if you want to keep up with the fashionable crowd, something like a Priorat would also be an excellent choice.