They say “home is where the heart is.” If that’s the case, my heart has probably been trod upon by every person in London. I first went as a senior in high school and have returned three times. Every time I learn new things about my favorite city, find new places to revisit, and eat incredibly wonderful foods.
However, the first time I had a beef and ale pie was not in London but a bit north, in Edinburgh. I went last summer with a dear friend and we had a grand old time, walking on Arthur’s Seat, strolling the King’s Mile. But one of the most memorable trips was to a little restaurant called MUMS.
It was right down the street from Greyfriar’s Bobby and the Elephant Café, where J. K. Rowling wrote some of the Harry Potter books, as anyone in the city will tell you. Although the bathroom did have fantastic directions to Tom Riddle’s grave.
We were actually trying to find a place called Monster Mash, a highly rated restaurant from a Lonely Planet guide. Instead, we discovered it had been changed to a new restaurant: MUMS. MUMS had a slightly off-putting picture in front of it, which meant we just had to eat there. And it was then that I had the most beautiful pie imaginable. It was piping hot, the crust flaky, the inside gravy dark from the ale. The ratio of meat to mushrooms to carrots was sheer perfection. I still kick myself for failing to take a picture of it.
Since that time, I visited London twice and searched for equally wonderous pies. Though I had a passable one at the Coal Hole before seeing “Love Never Dies” and several I have luckily forgotten, never have I tasted such perfection. That pie proved that my ancestors certainly were from the UK.
I have made several pies on my own, using one of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution recipes as a guide. This is the first time I have made a crust from scratch, from the Sono Baking Company; usually I just use puff pastry. You most certainly can do so. Or you can just eat it as a stew, sans crust. I also made twice baked potatoes to accompany the pie.
Beef and Guinness Pie
For the stew
1 large onion, chopped roughly
Mushrooms, sliced or quartered
1 can of carrots (you could use two carrots, sliced. I simply did not feel like buying whole carrots)
3 bay leaves
1 heaping tablespoon of flour
Beef, cubed (I used probably a pound and a half)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 bottle Guinness or any other ale (the alcohol cooks out of it, I pinky swear)
Salt and pepper
For the crust
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick of butter, cold and cut into pieces
¼ cup ice cold water
A bit of milk
Begin by cooking your veg. In a large pot over medium heat, pour about two tablespoons of olive oil and add the onion, mushrooms, carrots, and bay leaves. Allow the veggies to cook for ten minutes, making certain that they do not stick to the bottom of the pan.
After ten minutes, add the flour, beef, tomatoes, and Guinness. You will have a bubbling reaction when you add the Guinness, do not be frightened! Stir the stew well, and add salt and pepper.
Bring the stew to a boil and put the lid on it. Pop the heat down a smidge. You will simmer the stew for between two and three hours. My burners are much hotter than my last ones; rather than simmering nicely, it stayed at a boil for a long time. I had to switch pans and burners, to keep the stew from sticking too badly. Add a little water if it needs it, but it should be fine for the first hour or so.
On to the crust. Like I said, feel free to use a puff pastry in lieu of making one but this was so simple, I don’t see why you wouldn’t at least try it. In a food processor, add the flour, sugar and salt. Pulse it once. Then add the butter pieces and pulse until you have nice sandy crumbs.
Turn on the food processor. Slowly, pour the water in a stream into the flour mixture. Only add enough to make the mixture just form a dough. I had to add a little more ice water to get mine that perfect dough consistency.
Put the dough onto a cutting board. Divide in half and form each into a flat disc. I didn’t take pictures of the step by step, I’m sorry! Now wrap each disc and chill for at least an hour. You will need to take the dough out around the same time as the next step.
By now, your stew should be nearing its completion. During the last half hour or so of cooking, take the lid off. Add water if it needs it. Once your stew is finished, pour it into a waiting dish that can be put in the oven. Allow it to cool quite well, if not completely. A half hour to forty-five minutes is sufficient, in my book, but you can wait longer if you like.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll out the dough until it will cover the pie dish.
Crack the egg into a small bowl and, with a fork, break the yolk. Add a little splash of milk and mix well. You will brush a little bit of egg onto the pie dish, to give the dough something to stick to. Cover the top of the dish and crimp the sides with a fork. Now brush the egg wash over the top, covering all of the crust. Cut a small hole in the middle of the pie, to let the steam escape. Pop it in the oven and cook until the crust is nice and browned. This could take about forty-five minutes or so. I put the pie in the bottom of the oven while cooking the potatoes at the top, then put the pie at the top once the potatoes were done.
And that’s it!
Twice-Baked Potatoes Recipe
5 potatoes, one for each of us. Cook at least one per person
Grated cheddar cheese, or whatever cheese you prefer
3 green onions or scallions, sliced
Bacon, as much or little you want
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. For this recipe, I looked at several others on the internet and just popped some stuff together. Wash the potatoes and put them on a baking sheet and into the oven. Allow them to cook for an hour to an hour and twenty minutes.
Cut bacon into pieces and fry. Allow it to cool well before adding to a large bowl. To that bowl add ¾ of your cheese and green onions.
Remove the potatoes from the oven and turn the heat down to 350 degrees (this will allow both the pie and the potatoes to cook at the same time if you want). With heatproof gloves on, cut the potatoes down the center and scoop the innards into the large bowl with the cheese, bacon, and onions. Do so with all the potatoes and put the skins back on the same baking sheet. Smash the potatoes with a fork, making it as chucky or smooth as you like. Add sour cream, salt and pepper. Using a tablespoon, scoop the mashed potato mixture back into the skins. Add extra cheese on top.
Now just put the potatoes back in the oven until the cheese is fully melted. Delicious!