It was British Pie Week last week. I’ve mentioned before in this column that a good British pie is a thing of true culinary beauty and one of our classic dishes. Every week should have a pie in it.
With St Patrick’s Day falling this week, it’s the perfect opportunity to celebrate the two events together with a delicious pie of beef, Guinness and oysters.
Beef and Guinness – other stouts are available, but don’t use a draught stout – is a great combination and the oysters, which might sound like a strange addition, are very traditional.
Oysters were used in Victorian times to bulk out the meat. They were dirt cheap and were one of the few sources of high quality protein and minerals available to the very poor. As Dickens’ Sam Weller observed in The Pickwick Papers, “poverty and oysters always seem to go together”.
How times have changed. Oysters are now a treat and the mass oyster banks that surrounded our estuaries have all but gone.
Opening, or ‘shucking’, an oyster has a knack to it and it’s all too easy to do some nasty damage to your hands with an oyster shucker or a screwdriver whilst getting them open.
If you’re not confident, ask your fishmonger to do it for you and take them home in a sealed plastic box. Either way, you should eat them the day they are bought.
A couple of oysters per person is enough to make this pie a special treat and to remind yourself what it was like to be poor in the 19th century, or very satisfied in the 21st.
Ingredients (serves 4)
700g stewing beef
1 chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
440ml Guinness Extra
Tablespoon English mustard
Splash of Worcestershire Sauce
Thyme and parsley
Lard shortcrust pastry
Hard fry the cubed stewing beef until well coloured and transfer to a casserole dish. Soften the onions and garlic and add to the casserole.
Stir in a heaped tablespoon of flour and mix well with the beef and onions.
Add the Guinness, herbs, Worcestershire Sauce, mustard and season well with salt and pepper. Cook in the oven until the meat is tender – about 90 minutes on 180C. Leave to cool.
Assemble the pie with the meat on the bottom and the shucked oysters arranged around the top. Cover with homemade shortcrust pastry, brush with beaten egg and bake at 180C for 35 minutes, until the pastry is golden.
This recipe is brought to you by James Waller-Davies.