British Pie Week – Braised Beef and Red Wine Pie

It is nearly the end of National Pie Week*, and some of you may already know what I think of some of these marketing inspired theme days, but in the spirit of things it is not too late for you to roll up your sleeves, don an apron and please whilst not exactly releasing your inner Sweeny Todd, get making some pies.

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Pies date back to pre-Egyptian history, early pies were flat, round crusty cakes called ‘galettes’ containing honey, evidence of which can be found on the tomb walls of the Pharaoh Ramesses I, located in the Valley of the Kings. The Roman cookbook Apicius has several recipes which involve a pie case, with a sweet filling, more like a modern-day cheesecake on a pastry base, which more often than not were used as an offering to the gods.

Medieval pies could be easily cooked over an open fire, the earliest pie-like recipes refer to coffyns ( meaning basket or box), with straight sealed sides and a top. The pastry was an effective airtight seal and used to prolong the life of expensive meat and was a handy carrying case when traveling on horseback.

Pies remained as a staple of traveling and working peoples in the colder northern European countries, with regional variations the locally available meats. The Cornish pasty is an excellent adaptation of the pie to a working man’s daily food needs.

*March 6th– March 12th

Shin is an inexpensive cut of meat, which is big on flavour, and is full of gelatinous sinew which cooks down to make the most excellent gravy. It is easy to stew, you can also cook in the oven at around 350 F / 180 C / Gas mark 4 and it really lends itself to batch cooking in the pressure cooker and freezing down until required. You can substitute the red wine for a strong tasting beer for beef and ale pie and adapt the recipe further adding chestnut mushrooms, sautéd kidneys or if you are feeling indulgent a dozen oysters just before you finish cooking.

Shin of Beef and Red Wine Pie

1.5kg Shin of Beef, bone removed, meat cut into chunks

( Ask you butcher to do this as you need a really good knife to cut shin

and ask the butcher to give you the bone )

2 large White Onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 large Carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 sticks of Celery, washed and finely chopped

1 ltr quality Beef Stock

250 ml good Red Wine

100 ml quality Olive Oil

100 gr Plain Flour or 3 tablespoons Beef Dripping

2 tablespoons Tomato Puree

Bouquet garni; Celery stick, Bay leaf, Parsley and Thyme

A generous pinch of freshly grated Nutmeg

salt & pepper to taste
Ready-made puff pastry (use an all-butter one if you can) or shortcrust
1 egg, beaten

Place the beef, flour, and seasoning into a plastic bag and shake. Meanwhile, heat the oil or dripping in a large heavy-bottomed pan. Fry the beef shin in batches until browned all over and set aside. In the same pan, adding a little more oil necessary, sauté the onions, carrots, and celery until soft for about ten minutes. Add the tomato puree and leftover flour and cook out for another minute, stirring continuously, before adding the red wine and beef stock. Add the beef shin back to the pan, stir everything together and place the marrow bones and bouquet garni, tied with string, on top.

Reduce the heat and place a tight-fitting lid on the pan. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat to achieve a gentle simmer. Allow to cook for about two hours then remove the lid and allow the sauce to reduce for another hour. When the beef is cooked, remove from the heat and thoroughly cool. When cool remove the bones and the bouquet garni.

To serve, pre-heat your oven to 350 F / 180 C / Gas mark 4 and on a floured surface, roll out the half of the pastry to fit an oven-proof pie dish.

Carefully place the pastry into the greased dish and add the beef shin filling. Brush the edges with egg wash and top with remaining rolled out pastry, crimp the edges and brush the top with the rest of the beaten egg. You can decorate with any pastry offcuts if you want. Place the pie in the oven for thirty to forty-five minutes until the pastry is golden and cooked.

Allow to stand for 5 minutes after baking and serve with horseradish mash and buttered peas.

Weekend Top Tip

Burger

As we are about to hit peak season for barbecues in the UK and everyone loves a char-grilled burger this is just a simple tip to help your delicious homemade burger keep its shape when cooking. All meat contracts slightly as it cooks and as the proteins in your burger heat up it will pull together. To keep a nice round shape simply press your thumb gently into the center of the burger as you put it on the grill leaving a slight imprint. As the meat contracts, the burger will not end up the shape of an orange but retain its perfect burger patty pattern.

 

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo literally ‘Five of May’ is a celebration commemorating the Mexican Army’s surprise victory over a French force in 1862. This was an important military encounter; Napoleon III was looking to secure a base to support the Confederates in the American Civil War. President Lincoln did not want to get involved and end up fighting the French and the Confederates at the same time. The much larger and better equipped French Army, unbeaten for almost fifty years was defeated by the outnumbered Mexicans. The French did return a year later, overran ran the country and Napoleon installed a puppet monarchy. But enough history you want some authentic Mexican cooking and I am going to give you Nachos.

Nachos is a Mexican dish of fried corn tortillas covered with cheese or cheese-based sauce and pickled Jalapeño peppers, often served as a snack. They were first made by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, around 1943 in the city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, just over the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. The story goes that the wives of America soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Duncan were in Piedras Negras on a shopping trip, and arrived at the restaurant after it had already closed for the day. Ignacio, the maître d’hôtel, invented a new snack for them with what little he had available in the kitchen. There always seems to be just enough available in the cupboard in these stories such as Caesar Cardini and his celebrated salad, maybe they are just more inventive than the rest of us.

 

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Nachos have since developed and many versions exist now, including large ‘loaded’ platters of Nachos ‘Grande’ or ‘Supreme’ consisting of tortilla chips smothered with layers of refried beans, Chilli con Carne, grated cheese and topped with Pico de gallo or Mexican Tomato Salsa, sour cream, Guacamole and garnished with Jalapeños, coriander (cilantro) and chopped chives or spring onions.

So we are going to need a fantastic Chilli con Carne, with lots of flavour and heat and then a pile of crisp tortilla chips, some delicious ewe’s milk Queso Manchego cheese, fresh tomato salsa and some sour cream, Guacamole and we are ready. The classic Mexican tomato salsa is called Pico de Gallo and here is my simple, authentic recipe.

 

Pico de Gallo / Mexican Tomato Salsa

6 Tomatoes, cored, de-seeded and chopped

1 small Red Onion, peeled and very finely chopped

1 tablespoon of Jalapeño Peppers from a jar, drained and finely chopped

1 clove of Garlic, peeled and crushed

1 small handful of Coriander, roughly chopped

Juice of 1 freshly squeezed Lime

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

 

Stir all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Chill.

 

For some more detail on Chilli con Carne and a very tasty recipe please click on the link and visit Beignets and Barbecues .

 

My perfect Valentine’s Supper

My perfect Valentine’s Supper is as I am sure you could guess would be with my partner Susan. This year, unfortunately, we cannot be together, but when we do get the chance to sit down to eat together what would I cook? Well we both like pasta so a nice Italian style menu perhaps, a plate of anti-pasta to share, a rich Ragu or Bolognese sauce on the pasta and a light Zabaglione for dessert. Pasta it is then and when I first started to cook it the dish would be Spaghetti Bolognese as favoured by so many high street chains and local trattorias.

Slow-cooked Beef Ragu.jpg

But as I have developed and learnt about different cuisines, I can tell you this popular dish would be heresy in Bologna where the sauce originates from. Spaghetti Bolognese was probably created by Italian emigrants in the USA just like the creation of the Chinese dish General Tso’s Chicken. You see in Italy there are centuries of tradition and some very complex rules about pasta. Each shape is clearly defined and registered and suits a type of sauce or dish, your Bolognese coats and lubricates Rigatoni or Penne pasta, creating little pockets of meat and sauce, Spaghetti is best suited to lighter coatings maybe a recipe like Con Vongole with clams, a little garlic, oil and parsley. So for my authentic pasta, I am going to use Fettuccini and make a delicious slow-cooked ( ideal in fact for a slow cooker ) shin of beef ragout.

Fettuccini with slow-cooked Shin of Beef Ragu                                serves 4 to 6

1.2 kg Beef Shin brisket, cut into six to eight pieces,

( ask you butcher to cut up the Shin, it will be easier for him and to give you the bone )

2 large White Onions, peeled and very finely chopped

2 large Carrots, peeled and very finely diced

4 sticks of Celery, washed and very finely diced

4 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and crushed

1 bottle of good Italian Red Wine

500 ml good quality Beef Stock

100 ml quality Olive Oil

2 tablespoons of Tomato Puree

1 tablespoon of dried Oregano

3 Bay Leaves

½ teaspoon dried Thyme

½ teaspoon ground Nutmeg

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black pepper

 

500 gr Tagliatelli or other pasta of choice ( pappardelle is ideal)

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Fresh parsley, washed and finely chopped

In a large heavy-bottomed pan heat half of the olive oil over medium to high heat, season the beef and sear each piece on all sides until well browned, then set aside on a plate. Turn the heat down and add the remaining olive oil, add the onion, celery and carrots and sauté until soft. Add the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes*, then repeat with the tomato puree, stirring continuously to prevent burning. Return to beef to the pan and any juices and add all the remaining ingredients then bring up to a simmer, then turn it down to the lowest possible setting.

Cover the pan and let it cook for three to four hours until the beef is tender enough to pull apart with a fork. Remove the lid and let it cook for a further thirty minutes until the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce.

Remove the sauce from the heat and transfer the   beef from the sauce into a large bowl. Shred the beef with two forks and return it to the sauce. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and keep warm.

*Celery and carrots sautéed with the onions and garlic is called “soffritto” in Italian cooking. It is a very traditional base for many Italian dishes.

 To Serve

Cook the pasta as per the instructions on the packet. You can reserve a little cooking liquid and toss the strained pasta, ragu and pasta water together or simply spoon the ragu on top of the cooked pasta. Serve with lots of freshly grated Parmesan and garnish with chopped parsley.