Saturday, 31 December 2011

Beef & Stilton Pie

Having well and truly stuffed myself with turkey (no pun intended) and ham over the Christmas Holidays, it was finally time to move on to everyone’s favourite food group: Beef. So at this most festive and joyous time of year, let’s celebrate these ungulates and give thanks for the delicious meaty goodness which they stubbornly bestow onto us. If you ask me there’s absolutely no better way to pay homage to our recently deceased cud-chewing friends than by slow-cooking them, enshrining them in pastry, and serving them with a healthy pile of mash. Moo.

I found a variation of this recipe online several months ago and now, having tried and tweaked it several times, I think I’ve truly cracked it. This pie is sensational - make it.
To start, you’ll need a 10-12 shallots - I’m making two pies so the quantities are doubled. Back in the day during my brief stint as a chef I can remember doing a lot of rubbish jobs, and peeling two dozen shallots ranks up there with the worst of them. Needless to say it was an emotional experience. Grab yourself a chair, stick some good music on and try to hold back the tears.
Fry off the shallots in a bit of butter over medium heat for about 10 minutes until they start to brown. I added a bit of sugar to give them a nice caramelised finish - the sweetness really cuts through the rich sauce when you bite into the pie. Take these off the heat and set aside.
For a large pie, you’re going to need about 500g of stewing beef - shin is an excellent (and cheap) cut, but any type of frying steak will do perfectly, as you’re going to slow-cook it for several hours until it’s lovely and tender. The key to this recipe is time (and thyme, actually).
Cut the beef into man-size chunks and brown off in some butter. If I were writing this at the peak of my university tenure the recipe might’ve ended here with a baguette, a splash of ketchup and couple of Carling...thankfully my tastes have moved on slightly. Add a couple of tablespoons of flour - which will thicken the sauce - and cook for a few minutes, stirring to make sure the meat is coated.
Add about 300ml of beef stock, and the same of a good quality dark beer. It’s a bit of an overused cliche in cooking, that you should never cook with anything you wouldn’t normally drink, but it really does hold truth. The alcohol is going to cook off, and you’re left with just the flavour of the beer sitting there in your food - might as well be something you enjoy drinking! In pies, for me, the darker and richer the better and so I went with a Hook Norton’s Double Stout (4.8%), described on as:
A blend of malts gives Double Stout a character all of its own. Black malt enriches the colour and teases the palate with an unmistakable ‘toast’ flavour. Brown malt gives it the dryness.
I couldn’t taste the toast myself...but I did taste a damn good beer. Luckily for me, two pies meant I needed just a splash from a second bottle and got to enjoy the rest myself - it is Xmas after all. (How long before I can’t use that anymore?)
To the pot add; a few sprigs of thyme, a couple of tablespoons of Worcestershire Sauce, a few teaspoons of parsley (fresh preferably but if your parents have dropped the ball on their herb garden as of late then dried works just as well), and a good grating of nutmeg. Season with salt and black pepper, bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for at least 2 hours. With about 15 minutes of cooking time remaining add back the shallots and a good handful of chopped mushrooms - remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Aside from mashed potato (a pie’s best friend), my favourite thing to serve with this pie is braised red cabbage. A thoroughly underrated vegetable in my opinion and rarely seen outside of the Christmas Season, (when my Grandma does her best to spill it all over her shirt/lap/the floor) the sharpness of the cabbage works a treat with the pie. 
My recipe couldn’t be simpler; 1 red cabbage cored & sliced, 2 bramley apples, grated, a few sliced shallots (more peeling...), one red chili pepper, a handful of sultanas, a sprinkling of cinnamon, a few generous spoons of brown sugar and 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Throw everything in a baking tray and stick in the oven at about 180C for an hour to an hour and a half, mixing all of the ingredients together regularly. 
Shortcrust pastry, as I’ve recently discovered, is incredibly simple to make and whilst shop-bought is admittedly slightly simpler, there really is no substitute for homemade. 
I personally do not think a pie counts as a pie unless it has both a top and a bottom crust. It needs to be completely self-supportive if removed from the baking dish, otherwise it’s just a casserole with a pastry top. Maybe that’s just me. Anyway - for one whole pie, you’ll need 250g flour, 110g butter, a pinch of salt and a jug of about 100ml of water. Cube the butter and mix in with the flour and salt until you have a breadcrumb-like consistency. Slowly add the water until the pastry binds. Done. Wrap in cling-film and stick in the fridge for about 15 minutes.
Divide the pastry into two, roll flat onto a floured surface and line a buttered baking dish with the bottom and side crust. Flatten around the edges, trim off any excess and prick the bottom with a fork several times. I’m told this helps the bottom layer get crispy - for all I know it does absolutely nothing, but I still do it. Place a layer of baking parchment inside and fill with baking beans or anything else that is solid, heavy and will withstand high temperatures. I use coins when I’m back home, but be inventive...go nuts. Stick back in the fridge for just a few more minutes (this stops the pastry from shrinking back, and then blind bake in the oven at 180C for about 10 minutes.
And now you’re basically there. Remove the pie base from the oven and fill with the filling mixture. Crumble up some stilton and add this to the dish, sprinkling on top and pushing into the sauce as well to make sure it’s evenly spread throughout. 
Make an egg wash by mixing an egg with a little bit of water and brush the edges of the pastry before rolling out your top crust, carefully placing on top. Crimp the edges with a fork, poke a few holes to let the steam escape and, if you’re like me and have nothing better to do on a Thursday afternoon, use the excess pastry to decorate the pie as and how you see fit. Finish off by brushing the pie with the egg wash and sprinkling some thyme and rock salt on top. 
Bake for about 50 minutes at 180C. Eat delicious pie. Receive praise and adoration.


  1. So good. I can almost taste it again. Just so good.

    The photo of the beer is my fave. Nice light.

  2. Thank you! Your camera made all the difference in the world, and I need to start cooking more in the day to make the most of the natural light!

  3. I found it! I've been looking for this recipe for ages, after making it about 6 months ago and being treated like a queen because of how delicious it is. Thank you thank you for this beautiful pie!

    1. Ahh so glad you like it. I do remember having quite a few fans around the dinner table last time I made this...

  4. This looks so tasty, can't wait to give this a go, thanks for sharing this.


  5. Tip: Put some egg wash on the pastry base and bling bake for 15 mins. - The egg forms a protective layer and helps prevent a soggy bottom.