In the English Kitchen: Steak and Ale Pie

steak and ale collage

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!

Marks & Spencer Mince Pies
Marks & Spencer Mince Pies

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.

betty's teaTea:   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

WILLIAMS-SONOMA BEEF AND STOUT PIE
This hearty beef stew is slowly simmered on the stovetop, then topped with Stilton pastry and finished in a hot oven.
*My note: I usually skip the Stilton pastry and use a puff pastry.  The Stilton is good, but very rich, and this is already a rich pie.
Ingredients:
  • 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

Directions:

In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the mushrooms, onions, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
Season the beef with salt and pepper. Dredge the beef in the flour, shaking off the excess. In the Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm 2 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add one-third of the beef and brown on all sides, about 7 minutes total. Transfer to a separate bowl.
Add 1/2 cup water to the pot, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Pour the liquid into a separate bowl. Repeat the process 2 more times, using 2 Tbs. oil to brown each batch of beef and deglazing the pot with 1/2 cup water after each batch.
Return the pot to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add the beef, stout, broth and reserved liquid, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Add the mushrooms, onions, carrots, potatoes and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beef and vegetables are tender, about 3 hours.
Preheat an oven to 400°F. Brush the rim of the pot with water. Lay the pastry round on top, allowing it to droop onto the filling. Trim the dough, leaving a 1-inch overhang, and crimp to seal. Brush the pastry with the egg mixture, then cut 4 slits in the top of the dough. Bake for 30 minutes. Let the potpie rest for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 8 to 10.Stilton Pastry recipe can be accessed at http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/stilton-pastry.html?cm_src=SEARCH_FEATURELIST||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_-Feature_Recipe_Rule&cm_re=OnsiteSearch-_-SCHBillboard-_-SEARCH_FEATURELIST
Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

Not just any old pub food!
Not just any old pub food!
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6 thoughts on “In the English Kitchen: Steak and Ale Pie

    1. And if you don’t have a go to recipe for steak and ale yet, this one really is good! Nigella’s a funny thing–I’m not sure whether I like her writing or her recipes more–both are good. But I think the deal is sealed by her slightly strumpet attitude and reputation–makes you feel like it’s okay to swig from the wine bottle while you stir the stew–like, in fact, that’s the only way to get the recipe just right.

  1. Freezing in the Deep South today, and I want to make this right now! When I feed Harry his supper I imagine him saying “Please miss, may I have a bit more?” a la Oliver Swift. Sometimes I even say it for him and he wags his tail…

    1. Oh dear, you’ve been drinking gluhwein again, haven’t you!? JK I think you all are colder than us this week. America is really being slammed with an early winter! Gloomy and drizzly here this week. Would be perfect for steak and ale, if I had time to stay home and make it–but maybe this weekend. That was my plan, but I’ve just found out that Bernkastel-Kues begins its Weihnachtsmarkt this weekend, so we may have to spend a day there. Decisions, decisions.

  2. You totally nailed it! I agree, there are so many wonderful British foods, unique to Britain, and they’re delicious! We lived in London for many years and came away with a deep, abiding love of the food (except for the cooked-to-death broccoli 🙂 ) and a total addiction to Beef Wellington. Thanks for sharing this great recipe. Can’t wait to try it. All the best, Terri

    1. Thanks! I hope you enjoy the recipe–it’s really delicious! My cringe-worthy British food is usually mushy peas, but there were a couple of fabulous bistros in Yorkshire (Betty’s Tea Rooms and Cascade Bistro, just north of Harrogate) that made a fantastic version–wish I could replicate them at home.

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