Monday, March 2, 2009

Cooking: Beef and Guinness Pie

I was browsing through The New York Times last week and came across a recipe for a pub-style beef pie made with Guinness. Here is the recipe, with modifications noted.

Beef and Guinness Pie
Serves 6

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large red onions, chopped
4 gloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
10 mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thick (I used crimini mushrooms)
3 pounds beef brisket or stew meat, cut into bite-size pieces (I used grass-raised top round)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons flour
1 sprig rosemary (I used a fairly large one cut from the plant in our garden)
About 4 Cups Guinness or other stout (I ended up using just one "1 pint 6 oz" bottle)
4 oz freshly grated cheddar cheese (I used a medium, raw-milk version)

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a large, ovenproof pan with a lid (I used an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven), heat 2 T of butter over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add carrots, celery, mushrooms, and remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter and cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are dark in color and the moisture released by them has evaporated, about 15 minutes.

Season the beef pieces with salt and pepper. Add beef, flour, and rosemary to the pan, raise heat, and cook over high heat, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.

Add enough Guinness to just cover the beef. Put the lid on the pan and place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven and give it a stir. Return to the oven for 1 hour longer. If, after a total of 2 1/2 hours, the stew remains thin, set pan over medium-low heat, remove lid, and reduce the liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The stew would be delicious to eat just as is, but if you're going to go for the full pie experience, now is the time to fold in the cheese. (This creates a "mouth feel" that would traditionally be provided by using pig's feet or other collagen-rich meats.)

While the stew is cooking, prepare the pastry.

1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour (or substitute whole wheat pastry flour)
2 1/4 teaspoons baking flour (I use aluminum-free)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup (1 stick) very cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes

I put the flour, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulsed it to combine, then added the butter and continued pulsing until the butter was cut into the size of small peas. I then added enough ice-cold water, pulsing after each addition, until the dough just started clumping. I ended up using a little over 1/4 Cup, but the quantity will depend on the aridity of your flour(s). The trick to making pie dough in a food processor is to not mix it until it forms a single mass. When it starts to just clump together, I always remove the lid and pinch some of the dough between my fingers. If it doesn't crumble, it's done, even though overall the dough might look quite crumbly. Put a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and dump out the dough, gathering it together into a loose pile. Fold the plastic wrap somewhat loosely over the dough, then press the dough out into the plastic wrap to form a disk. Don't handle it too much, or the heat of your hands will melt the butter. Flaky dough comes from chunks of butter layered in the dough—you should be able to see distinct lumps of butter in your finished pastry.

Chill the pastry for at least an hour. When the stew is done, remove the rosemary twig (all of the leaves will have come off), then remove the dough from the refrigerator. Put the stew into an 8 inch baking dish (I used a medium-sized oval ceramic baker), then roll the pastry dough out between waxed paper or plastic wrap to the size of the baking dish. Place the dough on top of the stew. Do something decorative with the edges, if you like; just make sure the stew is pretty much completely covered. Beat an egg yolk and brush it all over the surface of the pie. Try not to think of Sweeney Todd. Cut some decorative vents through the crust, then place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake it for 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden and slightly puffy.

The final verdict? Excellent. The stew was rich and well-flavored. The crust, which, due to the baking powder, is reminiscent of biscuits, offered a delicious counterpoint to the stew. I served it with roasted fingerling potatoes and a medley of green peas, snow peas, and suger-snap peas, instead of a more traditional "peas and mash." 

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