I’ve never been one for souvenirs. Sure, I see the appeal of being able to bring something home with you when you go on a trip. My mom, for example, collects refrigerator magnets of her travels. Mrs. TVFF has recently begun picking up Christmas tree ornaments specific to the location. I suppose I’ve always thought that a couple of photos and some good memories — particularly food memories — were more than enough for me.
Now, I’m not the most well-travelled person in the world, but thanks to vacations and business trips, I’ve been able to expand my culinary horizons with lobster in Boston, crêpes and café au lait in Quebec, Primanti Bros. sandwiches in Pittsburgh, Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza in Chicago and even smoked eel over scrambled eggs in Hamburg. But nothing beats my trip to London in 2007 and the traditional pub meal that followed me back across the Atlantic.
Truth be told, when I was anticipating the food to be had on my trip to England, two things stood out: fish & chips and fantastic Indian food. Neither disappointed, but the steak and ale pie was something else. On the first night, we got to our hotel and needed an easy dinner, so a trip to the Prince of Whales pub in Kensington resulted in a steak and Bombardier pie. I was instantly hooked by the intense beefy filling and flaky crust. After a trip to the Royal Ballet a few nights later, we dropped into another pub near Covent Garden and I was determined to have my second pie of the trip. Shortly after I finished it, I knew I’d have to try to replicate it at home…
Back in the states, I cracked open the Google and managed to find a good, simple recipe on the BBC’s Web site. After a little trial and error, I made some minor modifications and came up with this adapted version.
Steak and Ale Pie
– 1.5 – 2 lbs of beef stewing meat
– 1 large white onion
– 1 cup beef broth
– 1 cup beer (*see below)
– 1 tbsp. spicy mustard
– 1/4 cup A.P. flour (or more, as needed)
– salt, black pepper, grated nutmeg (go easy)
– vegetable oil
– 1 egg
– 1 portion shortcrust (**see below)
Combine the beef, salt, pepper, nutmeg and beer in a dish and refrigerate for a couple of hours, but overnight would be lovely. When you’re ready to make the pie, finely chop the onion and saute until lightly golden. Remove from the pan and reserve. Take out the beef, reserve the marinade and do your best to remove as much of the beer as possible from each piece. Sear the meat lightly, working in batches if necessary. As the meat is finishing up, scatter the flour around the pan and allow it to cook lightly.
Once the meat is browned and the flour has some color, add the onions back in, toss in the mustard and pour in the marinade and beef broth. Now would be an excellent time to toss in a few sprigs of fresh thyme if you happen to have it (remove before putting it in the pie). Reduce until thick…you don’t want a paste, but you also don’t want a soup. Think about the filling of a chicken pot pie and you’ve got it.
*Obviously, the part I put the most thought into was the beer. You certainly can’t go wrong with something dark like a porter or even a stout. My preference is to not overwhelm the flavor of the beef, so I go with something lighter and I stay away from IPAs or any other overly-hoppy beers. If you can find a tasty Extra Pale Ale, go for it. I prefer to make mine with a New Jersey brew: Flying Fish’s Extra Special Bitter, an English-style session beer perfectly suited for a pie. I don’t think I have to tell you that it’s a great idea to serve the pie along with the same beer that you just cooked with. PS – if you’re smart, you’ll realize that 1 cup does not equal 12 ounces, so you get to drink the rest!
**Look, don’t be a punk — shortcrust is easy, so make your own instead of buying it pre-packaged.
– 1 cup A.P. flour
– 1/2 cup butter
– 3 tbsp. cold water
Cut the butter into the flour, then add the water, forming it into a ball but taking care not to overwork the dough. Roll it out to a shape vaguely resembling, but slightly larger than, the baking vessel you plan on using. Go with a shallow dish for maximum crust-to-filling ratio. The real trick is to get a dish that is the right height to allow a little bit of space between the filling and the crust but not so much that the crust will “cave in” on itself. Cut out a nice vent in the middle to let out the steam.
When the meat is sufficiently reduced, pour it into the baking dish and top with the dough. Brush the crust with the egg, put the dish on a cookie pan for easy removal (and to catch anything that may boil over) and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes or until the crust is golden. I like to let it sit for a few minutes before serving because the filling is about as hot as napalm when you take it out of the oven.
I don’t remember seeing the fancy little dough leaf that you can see above during my trip, but I thought it was a nice touch nonetheless. Despite some aesthetic differences, my version had all of the flavor of the London version and it instantly brought back all of the wonderful memories of the sights, sounds and fun.
There will be another foodie-heaven trip in my very near future (more on that soon). How about you? What memorable dish has made the trip home with you?