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Proper Steak and Ale Pie

Introduction & method

There's nothing to beat a proper British steak and ale pie - tender meat, rich gravy, all covered in a delicious pastry. And this is truly a 'proper' pie - it has pastry top and bottom, unlike the feeble impostors often served in bars and restaurants - a ceramic dish full of stew with a brittle frozen puff pastry shell top does not a pie make.

Proper Steak and Ale Pie Recipe

About the steak and ale pie ingredients

You can use pretty much any cut of beef, but shin or skirt are the best. They're some of the cheaper cuts, marbled with fat and collagen. The collagen breaks down into gelatine during cooking, giving a luscious, unctuous mouth feel. If your beef comes on the bone, that's great. If you can't get shin or skirt, you might want to get some meaty marrow bones to add to the beef while cooking.

The beer can be any kind of stout, 'real ale', or IPA. But there's no point using a lager-type beer because it has virtually no flavour.

Make the steak and ale pie filling

Trim any excess fat off the meat and cut it into small cubes (a little over a centimetre, about half an inch). Toss the beef cubes in flour. Melt some lard or dripping in a large frying pan on medium heat and sear the beef until it's browned all over. You might need to do this in batches because you don't want to overcrowd the pan. Transfer the beef to a pressure-cooker or large saucepan, add the beef and the stock and any bones you might have, and bring to the boil.

While the beef is heating up, peel and chop the onion into pieces about a centimetre square. Sauté them in the frying pan for 5-10 minutes - it's OK if they go brown on the edges.

The liquid in the pot or pressure cooker should be boiling by now. If any scum has risen to the surface, skim it off. Add the onion, and herbs and bring to the boil. If you are using a pressure cooker, put the lid on, bring it up to pressure, and cook for about 30-40 minutes. If using a normal pan, bring to the boil, turn down to a gentle simmer, put a tight-fitting lid on and let it bubble away for at least four hours (less tough cuts than shin or skirt might only need 3-3½ hours). Stir it occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking, add extra water if the mixture seems to be going dry. At the end of the cooking time, taste a piece of beef - it should be tender, falling to bits. If it isn't, keep calm and carry on cooking.

When the filling is cooked, check for seasoning and add salt if needed. If the gravy is watery, make up a slurry of equal parts flour and water (about a teaspoone each) and stir that into the gravy - it should thicken it after a few minutes. Allow the filling to cool.

Make the hot water pastry

Cut the lard into small chunks. Place the boiling water and lard chunks into a small pan and heat them until the lard has melted. In a mixing bowl, stir the salt into the flour, pour in some of the molten fat and mix well. Add more water and fat until it is all used up. Mix well. If you have a stand mixer or food processor and don't mind creating extra washing up, those will do the job in seconds. Tip the dough out onto your worktop and give it a massage to make sure all the flour is combined. Wrap the dough in plastic film and let it rest in the fridge for half an hour.

Assemble the steak and ale pie

Preheat your oven to 180°C (356°F) for a fan/convection oven, 200°C (492°F) for a normal one, gas 6. I used a 20cm (8 inch) tin, but you have enough ingredients here to make a slighly larger one if you wish. In fact I made one large one and two individual ones. Roll out half of the pastry to a thickness of 3-4mm (just under a quarter of an inch), then place the inverted pie dish in the centre of the pastry and cut out a disc for the lid. Set the disc aside, and roll out the rest of the pastry to form the base. Carefully fold it into the pie dish, and press the pastry right into the corners. Trim off the excess.

Pour the steak and ale filling in, and moisten the pastry rim with cold water. Place the pastry top on and press the edges together with your fingers and thumbs. Crimp the top and bottom together with the tines of a fork. If you like, cut out some leaves and beeries from leftover pastry and stick them on, otherwise leave it plain. Place the pie in the fridge for 15-30 minutes to rest.

Bake it!

Brush the top and edge all over with the egg and milk mixture.  Place the pie in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. You might want to have a peep at it after 30 minutes, just in case your oven is more efficient than mine (unlike cakes, pies don't mind at all if you visit them while they are cooking). When your pie top is golden brown, it's done. 

The video above is from the Keef Cooks YouTube channel. Click here to see the video recipe of Proper Steak and Ale Pie on YouTube.

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Ingredients & Info

 1 kilo beef
 2 medium onions
 440 ml real ale or stout
 500 ml beef or chicken stock
 1 tsp parsley
 1 tsp thyme
  2 bay leaves
 0.5 tsp ground black pepper
 450 grams plain white flour
 225 ml hot water
 225 grams lard or beef dripping


1 beaten egg with a little milk for glazing. 

US Customary/Imperial

Makes 1 20cm (8 inch) pie
Prep time: 10 minutes.
Resting time: 30 minutes.
Cooking time: 1 hour 10 minutes.
Total time: 1 hour 50 minutes.