Winter warmer: Beef-cheek pie and vegetable parcels. Photo: Steve Shanahan
With leftover slow-cooked beef cheeks languishing in the freezer, and below zero temperatures outside, came a powerful craving for the cosy comfort of a rich beef pie. The sticky and gelatinous nature of slow-cooked beef cheeks makes the perfect filling for a hearty, crispy-lidded pie to warm the winter cockles. Not only are the rich beef cheeks a feature of this pie, but the flaky, buttery pastry encasing it is an absolute corker, and if prepared correctly will have your family queuing to nibble away at the pastry. While a lot of people shy away from making pastry from scratch, this recipe is very simple to follow, only needing a little forethought, and the use of a food processor or Thermomix machine.
With a nod to Julia Childs, this pastry does come with its own warning; if you are afraid to use butter and cream, give it a wide berth. Even so, we can be left feeling somewhat virtuous, as this meal is a sugar-free zone. If melt in your mouth meat is what you are aiming for, then the beef cheeks should be cooked the day before and allowed to cool before filling the pie as hot pie fillings and cold pastry don’t provide the best result. The beef cheeks can be pre-cooked in a slow cooker for four to six hours or in a lidded casserole pot in a slow oven for three hours. The quantity below easily serves six people. If cooking for less, halve the ingredients to make a smaller pie. Alternatively, any leftovers will freeze perfectly well and can be reheated slowly in a warm oven. If the pastry starts to brown too much during reheating, cover the top loosely with aluminium foil.
Sour cream pastry
Sour cream: Ideal for making pastry.
200g cold unsalted butter, chopped into small pieces
½ cup sour cream
250g plain flour
1 egg, beaten and mixed with a tablespoon of water, for egg wash glaze
Place the butter and flour into the bowl of a food processor or Thermomix bowl and pulse until the mixture looks like lumpy breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream and pulse again until the dough just comes together and forms a ball.
The secret of this pastry is to not work it too much. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and form into a ball, then wrap in cling wrap and place in the fridge for about half an hour to rest. You should have small pieces of butter still semi-solid in the dough. This will create the flaky texture of the pastry. Preheat the oven to 200C.
When the pastry is rested remove from the fridge and cut into two pieces, one a little larger than the other. The dough will be hard, so using a rolling pin gradually roll the larger piece of dough out to about a five millimetre thickness on a floured benchtop. This does take a bit of work to do.
Line the greased pie dish with the dough to form the base of the pie. The pastry should come up and over the sides of the pie dish and overhang a little by about two centimetres. Roll the remaining piece of dough to make the top of the pie in the same way, measuring the top of the pie dish to fit. Place this piece of dough onto a flat oven tray and chill both the dough in the pie dish and the dough on the oven tray in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
Slow-cooked beef cheeks
3 or 4 beef cheeks, about 300g each. These can be bought from good butcher shops.
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 leek, the white part only, rinsed and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large beetroot, peeled and roughly chopped
4 tbsp plain flour
2 cups red wine
2 tbsp tomato paste
500ml beef stock
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
salt and pepper
Remove the prepared beef cheeks from the fridge about an hour before cooking to bring them to room temperature. Dry with paper towels to remove any moisture and season with salt and pepper. If using the oven, preheat to 140C.
Heat half of the oil in a large, lidded oven and stove-top proof casserole dish over high heat. Cook the beef cheeks, browning on each side for about five minutes. Remove the beef to a dish.
In the same pot, add the carrot, onion, leek and celery and cook for 10 minutes. Add the flour, mix well and cook for two minutes until the flour is slightly browned. Add the wine and bring to the boil and cook until the liquid has reduced by half the amount, this will take about five minutes.
Add the tomato paste, stock, garlic, herbs and beetroot and mix well. Return the beef cheeks to the pot. Check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if necessary.
If using a slow cooker, follow the above method, and add all the contents of the casserole dish to the slow cooker pot. Set to cook slowly for four to six hours, checking the meat for tenderness, when tested with a fork the meat should break away easily.
If using the oven method, place the beef-filled casserole pot, with the lid fitted, into the oven and cook for three hours. Check periodically for liquid evaporation, adding stock or water if necessary. Also check for tenderness by testing with a fork. When the meat is cooked, strain the liquid sauce from the solids by tipping the meat and vegetables into a strainer or colander over a saucepan to catch the juices. If the sauce requires thickening, heat it in the saucepan over a medium heat until bubbling and add two to three tablespoons of plain flour mixed with a little water to form a thin paste and mix into the hot sauce.
Add more flour and water if necessary until reached the desired thickness. Place the strained meat and vegetables into a large clean bowl and pour over the thickened juices and mix together. Leave the pie filling to cool overnight in the fridge ready to assemble the following day.
Remove both the pastry top and bottom from the fridge and the prepared beef cheeks. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs from the beef mixture. Spoon the beef mixture into the pie dish, until the mixture almost reaches the top of the pie dish, mounding the centre slightly.
With a pastry brush paint the beaten egg wash around the rim of the pastry. Place the top piece of rolled pastry over the pie mixture pressing down on the rim to stick both the pastry top and bottom together. Using a small sharp knife go around the sides of the pie and trim the pastry to the outside edges of the pie dish. Pastry has considerable shrinkage, so do not trim any closer than the outside edge of the pie plate. Cut two or three slits in the top of the pastry lid to allow steam to escape and brush with the eggwash.
Bake the pie for about 20 minutes in a hot oven or until golden.
Vegetable parcels (serves 4)
1 bunch asparagus, peeled
1 bunch Dutch carrots, peeled and trimmed
2 tsp buttersalt and pepper
Tear off four pieces of aluminium foil about 30cm square each. Place two pieces on top of each other to give a double layer protection from leakage. Put the asparagus on one foil square and the carrots on the other. Bring both sides and ends up of the foil packets to form a dish adding two teaspoons of water and a teaspoon of butter to each, seasoning to taste, and wrap both to seal.
Place the two foil vegetable parcels on an oven tray and bake for 20 minutes. These can be cooked at the same time as the pie.
Debbie Skelton is a food blogger. debsravingrecipes.blogspot.com