Not long ago, and paradoxically too long ago already, we were exploring the emerald green hills of the Irish countryside. We'd follow winding roads from little town to little town on an adventure for a uniquely Irish experience. We found our way to Newgrange, older than the Egyptian pyramids, and Burr Castle home of the first telescope to suss out the structure of spiral galaxies. We toured the abbey at the Rock of Cashel on a traditionally rainy fall day and arranged a private tour from the owner of Leap Castle, supposedly Ireland's most haunted, on another.
We found ourselves on the Cliffs of Moher where the rain absolutely punished us for our efforts. And we caught a fleeting rainbow out on western Irish open limestone rock fields of The Burren where we beheld the ancient Poulnabrone portal tomb surrounded by free grazing Irish cattle. In between all of these adventures eventually, spent and hungry, we'd stop for a bite.
I'd inevitably order vegetable soup, but my husband was on a mission to find the perfect dish of traditional Beef Pie, with a rich and salty full Irish stew tempered by a firm yet thoroughly flaky crust. He was also alternately on missions to find the perfect Fish and Chips and the perfect pint pull but those adventures are for other posts.
We came away from our Irish trip with other gems too - a Whiskey and Honey Marmalade and a Soda Bread I'm working on. If you've never been to Ireland, we recommend. It is endlessly inspiring.
But it was Beef Pie, and, more specifically, Beef and Stout Pie in which cuts of lean beef are stewed with hearty root vegetables and dark, bitter beer for a rich and substantial meal.
While spring blossoms are peeking out from their wintry sleep, the Pacific Northwest is still clouded, rainy and cold - reminding me of the western Ireland fall and the comfort provided by mugs of hot tea, evenings by the warm fireplace and hearthy, satisfying dinners.
Beef and Stout Pie
Beef and Stout Pie begins first with a rich, slowly simmered beef stew in beer and stock, and dotted by hardy, cold-weather garden vegetables like celeriac, parsnip and carrot.
Purchase your beef from local farms, where you can, and always from those farms and ranches who keep their cattle grazing on pasture. Ethical food choices invariably seem to come with a higher price tag, the real cost of producing the food. It's valuable to learn to make these cuts last through kitchen economics, a very Irish tradition, and those root vegetables provide the bulk of the stew while the meat and stout beer provide the flavor in this dish.
Cream and Oat Crust
We settled on a buttery, flaky crust of einkorn flour (learn more about it here), butter and cream. The heavy amount of butter makes the crust difficult to handle and roll out, to be sure, so work quickly and keep the dough cold. But beyond the fuss of working the crust, it yields an extraordinarily rich, crisp yet crumbly crust that is completely worth the effort.
Beef and Stout Pie
For the Stew
- ¼ cup all-purpose einkorn flour
- 1 tablespoon finely ground real salt
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 2 pounds beef stew meat
- 2 tablespoons bacon fat
- 1 pint stout beer
- 2 cups bone broth
- 1 medium celeriac peeled and cubed
- 2 large parsnips peeled and cubed
- 3 large carrots peeled and cubed
- 2 medium yellow onions peeled and chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
For the Pastry
- 2 cups all-purpose einkorn flour
- ¼ cup rolled oats divided
- ¾ cup butter diced
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
For the Stew
- Heat the oven to 275 F.
- Whisk the flour, salt and pepper together in a large mixing bowl, and then toss in the stew meat, stirring with a wooden spoon until each piece is well-coated by the seasoned flour.
- Spoon the bacon fat into a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. When the fat melts, toss in the stew meat and brown it on all sides, about three minutes per side. Pour in the beer and the bone broth, cover the pot and set it on the middle rack of your oven where it should cook, undisturbed, for two and a half hours.
- After two and a half hours, open the oven and lift the lid off the pot, stir in the vegetables and thyme, let them simmer, uncovered, a further hour and a half, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and the liquid thickened. Pour the stew into a 2-quart round baking dish or souffle dish.
For the Pastry
- While the meat and vegetables stew, prepare the pastry by dumping flour, two tablespoons oats and cold butter together in a food processor equipped with the dough attachment. Pulse the flour and butter together until they resemble cornmeal, and then slowly pour the cream in through the feeder tube until they form a smooth, uniform dough. Dump the dough out onto a floured surface, shape it, wrap it in parchment paper and set in the fridge to chill at least an hour.
Assembling the Pie
- Turn up the heat of the oven to 375 F.
- Remove the pastry from the fridge, and, working on a floured surface, roll it into a circle about one-third of an inch thick and large enough to cover your pie with an overlap of at least an inch. Arrange the crust over the stew, and then crimp the edges. Brush the top of the pastry crust with a bit of cream, and then sprinkle the remaining two tablespoons of oats over it. Take a paring knife, and then cut four small two-inch slits into the top of the pastry to allow for venting as the pie bakes.
- Bake the pie for thirty to forty-five minutes or until the crust is cooked through and golden brown. Serve warm.