Brag time: My husband and I had an epic honeymoon.
We went to Edinburgh, London, Paris, Venice, Rome, and Barcelona. It was awesome and exhausting, and most of all, Delicious. I occasionally dream of my favorite dishes I had there: truffle gorgonzola fettuccine, haggis (no seriously, it’s amazing), all the pastries, and of course, you knew it was coming cuz it’s in the title: Meat Pies.
The Hubs loves meat pies. He has gone so far as to suggest that we open a restaurant that serves exclusively meat pies and frequently reminds me to “practice” making them. So while in London, we stopped at a pies and ale shop called The Red Lion where they offer a meat pie and ale flight. That’s your choice of 3 meat pies and 3 ales, and a side of mashed potatoes just in case that wasn’t enough to make you explode.
So in an effort to recreate some of that honeymoon bliss, I decided to try my hand at traditional Steak and Ale Pies. I wanted a traditional hot water crust and the leftovers to keep well in the fridge. I also wanted them to be easily transported for work lunches, so individual pies were best. Most of the recipes I found used frozen puff pastry as the crust. Which aside from being a totally different flavor and texture, would probably not hold up well either to transportation or re-heating. Or they used store-bought pie dough, which is made for dessert pies and would likely be too sweet and, again, not hold up.
So I used this recipe from Delicious Magazine UK, because if you want a traditional English steak and ale pie then use an English recipe.
I know this has been a long introduction, but I have just a few notes before we jump in:
1.Don’t let the high skill rating of this recipe scare you off! This is still a very achievable dish for a novice baker if you read and follow the instructions carefully.
2. Making a British recipe in an American kitchen does mean a bit of translation. I did my best to do most of that work for you, however, if you’re making this without a food scale, or with a food scale that only offers limited weights (only oz and grams, etc.) it will be a pain in the ass. If you need a good food scale, I use this one that I got off Amazon for $10.
3. Fear not the lard! A lot of people can be really put off by lard. The idea of putting straight-up rendered animal fat in your food is not exactly appetizing for most, even the word is kinda gross. But trust me, this pie dough just won’t work without it. Get past the word and it’ll be worth it, I promise.
4. I did make some changes (I know, I know). I noted any changes I made and if I felt it affected the outcome of the recipe.
Let’s get started.
So yeah, as stated, it’s a high skill rating and requires some translation, but you can do it! I mostly gave it high marks because you must read carefully, take your time, and lean on your intuition a little. I will help you though, so let’s start with some terms and such that might need clearing up. First off, a braising steak can be any beef that is good for stewing, i.e. chuck, skirt, leg, or flank. I used flank steak. If you have the ability you should definitely measure out your ingredients in the units listed (milliliters, grams, etc), but just so you know how much to buy:
– 800 grams of meat is about 1.75 pounds
– 350 milliliters of beer is about 12 ounces
– 250 milliliters of stock is about 8.5 oz
– 450 grams of flour is about 3 cups
– 80 grams butter and lard is roughly 3 ounces or 1/3 cup
The real tough one is the oven temperature. The recipe calls for 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark 6. Yeah, I don’t know what that means either. But the internet tells me that 200°C and gas mark 6 translates to about 392°F. I couldn’t find any information that included the fan, and my oven doesn’t have a fan anyway, so I went with 392°F for my temperature setting and it worked out fine, just keep a close eye on it.
Now for that alien pie dough. Hot water crust can feel so strange the first time you make it because you’re probably used to pie dough being all about the cold – cold butter, cold water, some people even chill the flour. Hot water crust doesn’t require any of that crap. You are liberated, my friends, from the fear of too warm butter! The technique for this dough looks complicated, but really it’s not. Basically, the idea behind making the little well for the eggs in the flour then pouring the melted butter/lard/water mixture along the outside is to allow all of the ingredients to be mixed together without cooking the eggs. So just don’t pour the hot water in the eggs and you’ll be fine.
Do work quickly, though. Have the bowl of flour with the egg pocket ready when the pot starts to boil, that way you can start pouring right away (the high fat content of the butter and lard will start to separate and solidify pretty quickly if you allow the liquid to cool). Pour carefully and steadily around the edge, then immediately start mixing once all the water has been poured in.
The dough should start to come together pretty quickly, so just give it a couple of good kneads, and wrap it up and chill it. If you’d be interested in a video tutorial of this technique, let me know. I’m sure Josh wouldn’t complain about having to eat another meat pie.
Congratulations! You have achieved the dough, the hard part is over. For real, the rest is just letting the meat and veggies simmer and prepping the ramekins. Remember to oil the top edge and a little bit down the outside of the ramekins. That way when you’re ready to remove the ramekin, just run a knife gently under the edge, flip it over into your towel-covered hand, and gently twist and wiggle the ramekin until it releases. They actually came out quite easily for me, which is great cuz I was terrified.
These were exactly what I was looking for – a flavorful, hearty English dinner. I chose to serve them with a side of buttered peas and, of course, a thick malty ale. The crust was strong enough to stand up on its own and not get soggy when re-heating but remained flavorful. The meat in the filling was tender and the ale flavor came through beautifully. The filling was a bit drier than I expected, however. That could be due to me choosing to add diced button mushrooms to the mix. I like mushrooms in my meat pies, and while this is a recipe review blog, I still have to eat the stuff, so get over it.
The mushrooms probably soaked up more of the ale/stock mixture than I anticipated (which made them soooo gooood), but did dry out the filling a little and I had to add extra ale and stock to compensate. Whether you’re adding mushrooms or not, I would keep a little extra ale and stock nearby to add to the filling as it cooks if need be. I also found that there was slightly less filling than I’d like. I wanted a nice round top on my pies, but alas there wasn’t enough filling to accommodate that. This could be due to not having “pudding basins” as the recipe calls for and substituting ramekins. Perhaps pudding basins are smaller?
Yeah, I gave high marks. There’s nothing special about their appearance, no dough flowers or braided edges, but they look how they’re supposed to. Looking at them definitely made me hungry, what do you think?
I felt the recipe was pretty straightforward. To make things easier to follow and avoid mistakes, measure out all of the ingredients and chop the veggies and meat before beginning, and, as always, read the entire recipe all the way through before you start. The only thing I would change, for efficiency’s sake, would be to start with the filling, then make the crust while the filling cooks. The filling takes more than enough time to cook and cool to allow for preparing the crust. So I would start with step 2, then 3, and while the meat and onions are simmering, go back to step 1, then return to step 4 and proceed as normal.
So this is my most expensive bake to date at $29.57 for the recipe. $60.64 for all ingredients at grocery store volumes. Remember, this makes 6 pies though, and each pie is a good enough serving for a meal, with maybe a small side. So really, in the end, it’s only about $5 per pie, which is a pretty cheap meal. However, I’m not sure I would make these for a dinner party unless you had all day to prepare because…
These took forever. I started at around noon and they weren’t ready to eat until about 5. To speed things up on the day you can prep the dough and slice the filling ingredients the night before. Really it’s the braizing that takes the most time and there’s no avoiding it. However, these did hold up great as leftovers (hallelujah!) so you could reasonably make a large batch and freeze them. I’m going to experiment with making the filling in a crockpot, I’ll let you know if that works out.
One more time with feeling, you can find the recipe here.
For a fantastic side for this pie (if you’re not afraid of a carb-heavy meal) check out these Rosemary and Goat Cheese Biscuits!