My concern for animals extends beyond owning and loving our over-sensitive collie/lab cross. Like many who enjoy food, my consumer conscience pushes me to find out about the origins of what I eat and how well animals are treated before I will make a purchase. The best way of doing this is to get to know your butcher, which may seem like an alien concept if you’ve spent the last decade putting sealed plastic trays of chopped meat into your trolley.
In truth, the household budget has more impact on our attitudes towards food than perhaps we’d like to admit. In my student days, the last thing on my mind was the welfare of livestock in our county when looking for the main ingredient in the curry I’d promised to cook for my flatmates. Was the meat I bought even from this county? From this country? Who knew? One person who does know is your local butcher, which brings us back to the issue of shopping close to home and supporting independent businesses. The supermarkets are winning.
However, well-sourced, good quality meat that you know has come from animals treated properly, is not the reserve of the affluent members of each community. By simply speaking to your butcher and telling them what you are going to cook, you’ll find which are the most suitable cuts and what offers value for money. Good cooking starts with good shopping.
Of course, many among you will shake your heads knowingly and state that vegetarianism offers a wonderful diet with fewer pitfalls in sourcing. However, I know deep down that I will always eat meat and that even the most insightful arguments against it cannot compete with steak and ale pie.
800g stewing steak (cut into chunks)
500g Robinson’s Unicorn ale
500g puff pastry
4 large carrots (sliced)
8 mushrooms (sliced thickly)
1 onion (sliced)
4 cloves garlic (sliced)
4 tspoons Dijon mustard
2 beef stock cubes
half tspoon cayenne pepper
I made this recipe using Robinson’s Unicorn, but any quality ale will do. You could even try it with good, old Guinness. I’m sure it would work a treat. I drank Unicorn beer on my stag do in the Lake District and it’s a cracking pint! I washed this pie down with a bottle of Hobgoblin and I can recommend that too.
First of all, heat a nob of butter in a heavy pan and brown the beef. I sprinkled in some plain flour to coat the beef as it was cooking and I ground lots of black pepper in too. No salt at this stage.
When the beef was brown, I added the onions and garlic and put the lid on to help soften them. This only took a couple of minutes and with some stirring, the onions were cooked through. I threw in the carrots and poured in 250ml of beer before stirring in the mustard. Make sure everything is well combined, add more black pepper (if you love it like I do) and the stock cubes and let it simmer for about fifteen minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small frying pan, fry the mushrooms in some butter and then add them to the beef. Sprinkle in the cayenne pepper. Pour in the rest of the beer. Stir.
Pop a tight lid on the beef and put it into the oven at 170C for about two hours. Stir it every now and again and season to taste with the sea salt.
To top the pie, roll out the pastry and tip your pie dish onto it. Cut around the pie dish carefully leaving a few centimetres more than needed around the edges. The pastry will shrink in the oven. When the beef is cooked and the gravy is nice and thick, tip it all into the pie dish and cover with the pastry. Beat the egg and use a brush to coat the pastry. This will give your pie a nice glaze.
Put the pie into the oven for as long as it takes for the pastry to puff up and turn golden. Serve it with vegetables and your favourite beer. Next time, I think I’ll serve it with the same ale that went into making it…and some mashed potato. Lots of buttery mashed potato. Winter fare doesn’t get any better than that.