Pies have always been a favourite of mine ever since childhood. My mother used to make pies so full of flavour with crusts that melted in the mouth, both savoury and sweet. I now know what she meant when she always said she had ‘pastry hands’. Light as a whisper, soft as a baby’s cheek with no hint of tough or rubbery textures, her pastry was a delight.
My favourite pastry crust pie of all time is Chicken and Ham in a creamy white wine sauce, topped with puff pastry which must have the ‘gloopy bit’ as my son calls it, the layer of soft white pastry under the crust. On equal terms with my affection is a good fish pie with creamy potato top, which must include salmon, a smoked white fish and boiled eggs to make me happy.
My father, being a Yorkshireman through and through, still regales us of stories of his mother’s meat and potato pie which is one apparently I can’t beat. My wonderful Aunty Rita, still carries on this tradition and by all accounts still makes the best meat and potato pie in Sheffield, if not Yorkshire.
This steak and mushroom pie is simple to make, I don’t usually bother to make individual pies but I had the time to fiddle about with the pastry and thought the boys (husband and son) would appreciate the extra effort. There is something very special about having a pie all of your own.
I used a bought puff pastry for the lid, ready rolled for even more convenience, which covered the three pies perfectly and will cover a large pie easily.
When making a meat pie, I cook the filling a few hours previous, giving it plenty of time to cool. This is not only better for the pastry (if you put raw pastry on top of a hot pie filling it will go soggy) but makes the actual process of making supper really stress free, only leaving the pastry lid to be put on top. I am not prissy about what goes in with the meat, as long as plenty of onions are included. We all like steak and kidney but on this occasion I had a big bag of mushrooms that needed using up so this is what I used. Any meat pie can be livened up with a splash of soy sauce, not only does it add flavour but the rich brown colour also darkens the gravy.
The key to producing a delicious filling with melt in your mouth meat is to cook it for a long time. No matter how inviting a pie looks if the first mouthful contains a lump of chewy, gristly meat it puts me off eating the rest so slow and long cooking is the order of the day.
Do make sure you use a pie funnel, or blackbird as I always call them, to help keep the pastry from falling into the centre of the dish. Don’t do what my mother did when she was trying to impress her new mother-in-law the first time she visited for lunch. After hours of stressful cooking, my young mother proudly put the steaming pie on the table, waiting for her mother-in-law’s approval (this was the queen of the meat and potato pie makers). The knife went in to cut the perfect pastry crust only to be met with a melted plastic egg cup.
She must have done something right that day as my mother and father have just reached their sixtieth year of marriage.
The recipe below is for one large pie which will feed 4-6 people. Use a pie dish an inch or so smaller than the pastry sheet.
- 500 gm braising or stewing steak cut into cubes
- 2 medium onions chopped
- 200gm mushrooms sliced
- 2 carrots chopped
- 1 stick celery chopped
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 pint beef stock
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon Worcester sauce
- 2 sprigs of thyme (just the leaves) or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 tablespoons flour
- salt and pepper
- 1 pack ready rolled puff pastry
- oil for frying
- Heat oven to 160c.
- Keep the mushrooms to one side as these are added separately.
- Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole and fry the meat to brown in all sides. Do this on quite a high heat otherwise the meat will just turn grey.
- When brown turn down the heat to medium, add all the vegetables apart from the mushrooms, mix well and cook for a further five minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the flour and mix well to coat the meat and vegetables, this will make the gravy nice and thick. It will not be lumpy.
- Add plenty of seasoning.
- Stir well, scrapping up any bits on the bottom of the pan.
- Add stock, thyme, soy and Worcester sauce.
- The stock should just come up to the top of the ingredients so bits of meat and veg are visible, don't cover them right up. If you can't see the stock add more.
- Stir well, the gravy will turn thicker.
- Tip. A dampened piece of baking paper placed on top of the mixture will stop it drying out in the oven. This is a good tip for any stew cooked for a long time especially if you are not around to check it every hour or so.
- Place in the oven and cook for 2hrs - 2hrs 30mins until meat is really tender.
- Add the mushrooms and cook for another 30mins. If the mixture looks too dry add some water but remember the mushrooms will release some liquid.
- Take out the oven and leave to cool. Tipping it into the pie dish now will help it to cool quicker.
- Preheat oven to 180c.
- When cool, if making one large pie, put a pie funnel into the centre.
- Cut some ½ inch thin strips of pastry from the ready rolled sheet and stick to the rim of the pie dish with a little water. This will help the lid stick to the dish.
- Dampen the pastry strips and lay on lid on top, press down edges with the flat prongs of a fork. If you feel arty, make some leaves with any excess pasty and stick to the top with a little water.
- Make two or three small slits in the pastry.
- Brush pastry with a little milk or beaten egg. This is not necessary but will give the cooked pastry an added depth of colour.
- Place on a baking try (again not necessary but will make the pie much easier to take out the oven).
- Cook for 35-40mins until pastry is cooked and golden.