I’m definitely going through a pie phase. Official since lying in bed last night, sleepless for over an hour, fantasising about the next pie. Now, being Australian, I was practically born with a pie between my gums and I reckon I know a thing or two about pies (and yes, I too, can hear my accent getting broader as I type), but, until very recently I was more taster than maker.
To be clear, I’m not talking about the Australian kind. I’m talking about what the British would call a pie. First, let’s explain the difference. The classic Aussie meat pie is a “self-contained pastry unit chock-full of mince swimming in gravy that oozes down your chin at the first bite. Pronounced poi”.* Served with sauce and often accompanied by a Choc Milk or a can of Coke. Can be eaten one-handed whilst driving, at a push.
As for what the British call a pie (and let’s put aside pork pies and the like for now) I’m talking specifically about the meaty braise in a casserole dish with a pastry top. For many a year, I actually harboured a sort of snobbery toward these because it all just seemed a bit half-arsed. You can’t simply put a lid of pastry on a casserole dish and call it a pie can you? Isn’t that cheating?? Where’s its bum?! Isn’t that just a bit, erm, lazy? Don’t you people know how to make a PIE? Sometimes the “pie” even arrived with the contents spooned out onto the plate with a slab of pastry teetering artistically on the tallest piece of carrot in the mound. WTF?! Don’t get me started..
Anyway, I’m over all that now. I’ve moved on. I’ve realised that they really are two very different beasts. One is fast food and the other is slow food where it’s what’s on the inside that counts. With the British kind, you labour over the filling. Cook it long and slow and enjoy forking the pastry >childish titter< into the juices at the end of it all.
And that’s the point really. Not to be underestimated or misunderstood, a good pie done well is something to bow to. It really is worth spending a bit of time on the filling because that’s the bit that really matters.
My first pie was steak and kidney. Lovely. Kidney is SO underrated. Washed down with ale and pictured first in enamel dish with blue trim. I’ve included a picture so I can reference the pastry but I’ll come back to that.
I’m here to talk about the steak and mushroom pies I did on a weekend for friends instead of spend-all-sodding-morning-in-the-kitchen Sunday roast. You can do the filling in advance so that all you have to do is the pastry lid on the day. Doing it in advance means no rush. Cook the meat low and slow, add the mushrooms a bit later so they hold their form and don’t fight with the meat, and cut them generous so they feel as equally meaty as the steak. But do add mushroom stock to the mix early to get full mushroomy flavour. If you have it, throw in the ends of last week’s gravy from the Sunday roast, whatever it is. Ours was pork. It didn’t give the pie any particular flavour but just added to its unctuous-ness. In terms of mushrooms, I simply used what came in the organic box that week (Portobello), what looked interesting at the shops for texture (Oyster) and what would add bulk (Button). I also used a handful of mixed dried wild mushrooms, if only to soak and get some mushroom stock to add to the meaty braise. I then added the soaked mushrooms.
Oh, and, well I know I’m supposed to be venturing into unchartered territory and confronting my demons blahblahblahdeblah but I used instant shop-bought puff pastry instead of making it from scratch :-P. I’m just not ready for puff pastry from scratch.
And yes, Australian reader, it is a pie.
This made 4 good-sized individual portions (as pictured) with a bit left over. Served with potato and celeriac mash (with cream for extra thigh inches) and one of those funny spikey cauliflowers.
- About 400g stewing steak in pieces.
- Seasoned flour for coating the meat prior to cooking.
- About a pint of stock. Ideally amazing beef stock from beef bones but actually I used a Knorr Chicken stock pot and left over pork gravy
- Whatever mushrooms you like. I used 4 or 5 medium Portobello mushrooms (the ones that have dark gills underneath like field mushrooms), a small/medium punnet of Oyster mushrooms, a handful of dried wild mushrooms (Waitrose do them) and their stock from soaking.
- Couple of medium onions, roughly chopped.
- Oil and butter as you like it.
- Pre-heat oven to 140 Degrees Celsius.
- Put a handful of dried wild mushrooms in a mug and cover with boiling water
- Coat the steak pieces in well-seasoned flour and pan fry in a hot pan to seal and brown. I used butter and a little oil to stop the butter burning but use just all oil for a slightly healthier option. Careful not to overcrowd the pan otherwise the meat will end up stewing rather than sealing. Add the browned meat to a separate casserole dish as you go.
- In the same pan you browned the meat, soften the onions (Add more oil/butter if need be)
- Once softened, add to the casserole dish with the meat and deglaze the pan with a good glug of stock and add to the casserole.
- Add a handful of chopped button mushrooms to the casserole.
- Add the liquid from the soaked wild mushrooms and top up with the rest of the meat stock so that the liquid is level with the top of the meat or just covering.
- Bring to boiling point on the hob then transfer to the oven.
- Cook for 2 hours at 140 degrees celsius.
- Remove and add other chopped mushrooms to hand (I used Portobello etc as above) and cook for another hour.
- How much liquid you end up with prior to making the pies is a matter of taste. Some like lots of wet gravy, some like a thicker gravy just coating all the meat. You can always slightly reduce the liquid on the hob which is what we did for the first pies. Simply use a slotted spoon to remove the meat etc, pop on the hob and reduce until you get the right consistency. Add meat etc back to the liquid and off you go.
Adding the pastry top and final cooking stage
- Spoon the filling til about 2/3 to the top of the dish
- Using (in this instance) instant puff pastry strips, cut strips to line the rim of whatever dish you are using. Press the pastry down on the rim. Brush with water. Cut a slap to fit the top of the dish. Grab a fork and press down to press the lid to the side pieces.
- Bake at 190 til the lid is all puffed up and gorgeous. if you have refrigerated over night would suggest bringing the filling to warm before adding to the dishes so you’re not cooking from cold.
- Having said that, important to cook when the pastry is cold as you can end up with rather flat lids as in the picture I have of the four pies. They are absolutely delicious but the pastry didn’t rise up as much because the ready-made pies were left a bit before they went in the oven. Also, thicker pastry will yield a much taller, puffier lid than thinner pastry. This of course all makes complete sense but something I learned along the way after making a couple of sets of different pies.