Beef, Stilton and ale pie
When is a pie, not a pie? Does it have to be encased in filling to be given the name? If that is the case then what about the famous Shepherd’s and Cottage pies? This fierce debate has divided many and has even dragged some well-known figures into the mix. Mary Berry became mired in controversy on an episode of Britain’s Best Home Cook when she shocked her fellow judges by saying she favoured a pie without a base.
“I love chicken pie with bacon in it, and I wouldn’t put pastry underneath it, absolutely not.”Mary Berry on Britain’s Best Home Cook
Even dictionary definitions can’t agree on the subject. The Cambridge dictionary defines a pie as: “a type of food made with meat, vegetables, or fruit covered in pastry and baked.”
Whereas the Oxford reference states: “Pie meaning a baked dish with a top and base of pastry and a filling of fruit or meat and vegetables…”
Pie purists might turn their nose up at this recipe, but the combination of beef, oxtail, blue cheese and ale are so rich and decadent that being fully encased in pastry could be a step too far. So whether it’s a pie to you or just a casserole with a lid, it’s delicious either way!
The secret is all in the making of the filling. Using a cheap cut of beef – braising steak – and giving it the low and slow treatment until the meat is tender and falling apart. It takes a bit of time and patience, but once the mixture is bubbling away, you only need to stir occasionally so it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. If you can’t find oxtail, or don’t like the taste, you can omit it from the recipe and add more steak, but it really amplifies the beefy taste.
The salty and creamy notes of Colston Bassett Stilton provide a satisfying savoury flavour that helps to temper the bitterness of the ale. You won’t get a massive hit of blue cheese, but it gives the pie a velvety texture.
Not a meat eater? Swap the beef and oxtail for root veg, such as potatoes, parsnip or butternut squash. Or why not add some lentils into the mix? I like puy or green lentils as they’ve got a really nice nutty taste that will complement the Stilton and mushrooms. Swap the beef/chicken stock for veg and you’ve got a classic veggie winter warmer.
Beef, Stilton and ale pie
- Pie or casserole dish
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 700 g braising steak
- 300 g oxtail
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 2 brown onions thinly sliced
- 3 carrots peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
- 2 leeks thinly sliced into rounds
- 200 g chestnut mushrooms thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- 3 bay leaves
- Large sprig of thyme leaves stripped from the stem
- 60 g dried mushrooms soaked in boiling water to soften
- 50 g tomato purée
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp Marmite
- 2 l beef or chicken stock
- 500 ml amber or dark ale
- 125 g Stilton I used Colston Bassett in this recipe
- 50 g butter
- Black pepper
- Puff pastry sheet
- 1 beaten egg to glaze the pie
- Add 3 tbsp olive oil to large heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium high heat. Add the braising steak and oxtail to the pan and turn occasionally until the meat is browned. Remove the meat and any juices from the pan and set aside while you cook the vegetables.
- Add 2 tbsp olive oil to the same pan and add the sliced onions, carrots, leeks and chestnut mushrooms. Sweat down for about 5 – 10 mins, or until the vegetables have softened, stirring regularly.
- Add the garlic cloves and 1 tsp of salt and cook for a further 2 minutes before adding the meat and juices back to the pan with the plain flour. Stir until the flour is combined and cook for a further two minutes to cook out the flour.
- Add the bay leaves, thyme leaves, dried mushrooms, tomato purée, mustard powder, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Marmite, stock, ale and a good grind of black pepper. Stir to make sure everything is combined.
- Cover with a lid and cook on a medium-low heat for at least four hours, or until the meat is falling off the bones and the sauce has reduced by half. Make sure you stir occasionally so that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Remove the bay leaves and the oxtail bones, shred any of the meat from the bones and add the meat back to the pan.
- Crumble the blue cheese and add to the pan with the butter. Turn off the heat.
- Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas mark 6.
- Add the filling into a pie or casserole dish. Or you can divide the mixture into individual ramekins if you’re making mini pies.
- Brush the beaten egg around the edges of the dish. Unwrap your puff pastry sheet and drape over the the top of the dish, trimming off any excess pastry from around the edges. You can use any leftover pastry for decoration. Brush the top of the pie with the rest of the beaten egg and make a small hole in the middle of the pie to allow any steam to escape.
- Bake the pie in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is evenly golden brown. If you’re cooking individual pies you might want to give them slightly less time in the oven. Leave the pie to stand for a few minutes before you serve it. This would go great with creamy mash and some buttered winter greens.