We lived in North Yorkshire for 4 years, and, despite what people like to say about British food, some of it is VERY good. Granted, top of that list is the Indian food you get there. But if you haven’t tried a really good sticky toffee pudding or a gourmet steak and ale pie, you’re missing out. And even “tired old” mincemeat pies and Sunday roast can be a revelation with the right ingredients and in the right person’s artful hands!
I’m about to bring you a recipe that is divine–but first, a rudimentary primer on food in England.
The Markets: Here I speak for my old home town of Ripon, N. Yorkshire, especially. I love the vibrant market squares and market days in British cities, towns, and villages. I love walking home with baskets of fresh produce, hearing the fishmonger call out his wares, seeing what the pottery merchant has found to carry in on any given week (and hoping he’s stocking my favorite Blue Willow), and scanning the candy stall for my children’s favorite bits and bobs.
Nigella: If you’ve never been a fan, open up one of her cookbooks and go for a leisurely read. I’d start with Nigella Christmas–because it’s almost the season, it’s a good read, and it’s where I started. If you’re not smitten with her prose, then whip up her Guinness Gingerbread. If you’re still not besotted. . .I just can’t help you.
Tea: If someone invites you over for tea, don’t imagine (as most Americans do) that you’ll be drinking Twinings at a table with Paddington Bear. The invitation is likely for dinner, not a tea party. “Cream Tea” often indicates tea and scones or sweet pastries in the afternoon, but “Tea” is dinner.
Pudding: When we first moved to England (in 2005), we were amused at how often we were offered “pudding” in restaurants. I mean, we like pudding, but couldn’t figure out what the national obsession with it was all about. Turns out, “pudding” means dessert. We quickly learned to say “Yes, please,” to any offer of pudding!
Meat Pies: Today, I’m focused on a fabulous, piping hot Steak and Ale pie (recipe below). But Brits also love cold meat pies. A cold steak pie from a deli counter is doable for a quick lunch, but not great. And pork pies? Don’t get me started. Okay, I don’t do pork, so this may be a little unfair, but cold, gelatinous meat in a cold, blah pastry case– I don’t get it. Except in a Dickensian way–I mean, I suppose it has a certain bit of atmosphere: a cold, tired chimney sweep might ‘ha a ‘litl bit o’ da pie fur lunch. (Yes, I overindulged in Mary Poppins as a kid.) But, truth is, I have plenty of friends, and one husband, who seem to like a bit o’ the cold pie, so to each his own.
Let’s launch into the reason you are here: the world’s greatest Steak and Ale Pie recipe. It comes from Williams-Sonoma. (I know it should come from a British source, but this really is the best I’ve found. . .even if it is from California.) And one more disclaimer–please listen, because this is important–this will take you most of the day. Only start this on a rainy weekend day when you want to hang out at home for hours. And, yes, you will begin cursing halfway through this and saying, “Never again!” But then the pie will smell soooo delicious as it cooks that you’ll start to drool as it comes out of the oven. You’ll dig into the flaky pastry and lift a fork to your mouth.
Angels will sing, devils will dance, and you’ll be in love.
Oh, you’ll make it again. And again. (Hint: if you cook a very large recipe, you can freeze half of the filling and turn it into a pie at a later date with minimum effort.)
Here’s the recipe, also available at http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/beef-and-stout-pie.html
- 7 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 lb. white button mushrooms, quartered
- 2 cups frozen pearl onions, thawed
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 3 1/2 lb. beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbs. tomato paste
- 2 1/2 cups Irish stout
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1 lb. carrots, cut into chunks
- 1 lb. red potatoes, cut into chunks
- 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh thyme
- One 16-inch round Stilton pastry (see recipe link below)
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water