A stout pie for St Patrick’s Day
I have to say I find March to be the most frustrating month of the year in which to cook.
From early spring to late summer I tend to abandon traditional north European cuisine almost completely. Instead our kitchen will become home to the warm, robust flavours of the Mediterranean, with splashes of colour and spice provided by diversions into South East Asia, the Caribbean, North Africa and the Middle East.
Spring lies tantalisingly close, but still out of reach. The final leg of the interminable winter marathon must drag on for a few more weeks.
Some of my favourite dishes like Cassoulet and Lancashire Hot Pot have sustained us through the winter months. Long slow braises and hearty stews, comforting dishes which adhere to the seasonal ingredients available to us. They do however, outstay their welcome somewhat.
I am impatient for the new season to start. I want some excitement!
And so it is with some bemusement that I find myself here on St Patrick’s Day, staring at the all too familiar emerald green of Savoy cabbage and brown/beige of a pie . Yet another pie. I swore I wouldn’t make another until next autumn. It’s like some kind of Lynchian nightmare.
But pie it is, in this case a cottage pie which, in deference to St Patrick’s day I decided to flavour with Guinness.
I don’t mind using Guinness in cooking but I’ve never been blown away with the results either. I enjoy the odd pint of the stuff to drink, I just think there are more interesting beers to utilise as a braising medium. On this occasion I chose to use Guinness Foreign Extra Imported, which is quite a different beast from regular Guinness as I thought it might prove a little more inspiring. For one thing it is a whopping 7.5%, far stronger than regular Guinness and the flavour reflects this. Secondly it is brewed in Nigeria and imported back to us, there’s been a Guinness plant in Lagos making this stuff since the sixties – who knew? (For more on Guinness there’s a great analysis of the relative merits of the different Guinness brands on the market here.)
And what of the results? Well I preferred the Foreign Extra Import to regular Guinness, but I’m afraid to report that I’m still not convinced of it’s suitability in cooking. The end result was perfectly pleasant (and is considerably better after 24 hours), but would the recipe have been improved by swapping Guinness for red wine? To my mind, yes it would.
Still, if you want a perfectly decent Irish themed Cottage Pie for St Patrick’s Day the recipe below will deliver, if you just want my regular recipe simply replace the Guinness with red wine.
Now role on Easter and hope that Spring isn’t far behind!
Cooking time: 1 1/2 hours
Serves: 6 portions
Guinness Cottage Pie:
1kg Coarse minced beef
300ml Beef stock (preferably fresh)
325ml Guinness Foreign Extra Imported (or a large glass of red wine)
2 x Onions, peeled and finely diced
2 x Ribs of Celery, trimmed and finely diced
2 x Carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 x Garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
6 x Thyme sprigs, leaves removed
2 x Bay leaves
1 Tbsp Olive oil
3 Tsp Olive oil
1 Tbsp cornflour
1 x Star Anise
2 Tbsp Tomato puree
2 Tbsp Mushroom ketchup
3 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar or Red Current Jelly (Optional)
900g Maris Piper potatoes
1 Egg yolk
100g Grated Gruyere
Splash of Whole Milk (if desired)
Pinch of grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Savoy Cabbage and Peas:
1 Savoy cabbage, outer leaves discarded, shredded but not too fine
2 Shallots, peeled halved and chopped into 3 vertically
300g Frozen Peas
1 Tsp Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large casserole dish (I used a 30cm Le Creuset) over a medium low flame. Add the soffritto mix of finely diced onion, celery and carrots along with the star anise and gently sauté, I like to do this slowly for around 10-15 mins.
Whilst you are doing this heat a heavy bottomed frying pan over a high heat and brown the minced beef in two or 3 batches each with a Tsp or so of olive oil, add each batch to the main casserole dish when well browned.
After the Soffrito and beef has had 10-15 mins, add the garlic, bay and thyme leaves. Stir well and continue to sauté for a further 3-4 mins.
After this time add the cornflour and tomato puree to the mix and stir the dish well. Cook for a further 2 mins. Add the Mushroom Ketchup and Worcestershire Sauce and cook for a further 2 mins.
Turn the heat up to medium high, add the Guinness to the casserole and reduce by half, add the beef stock and reduce the heat to its lowest setting.
Partially cover and simmer gently, stirring regularly. If the mixture looks too dry at any time add a splash more stock or water. After 45 mins the beef should be tender and the sauce glossy and thick.
Taste. If the Guinness has left the sauce a little too bitter for your taste tweak it with a little balsamic vinegar or red current jelly.
Spoon the mixture into an oven proof dish which allows enough space for the mashed potato topping and leave to cool, this will ensure the mash doesn’t sink into the sauce later.
Preheat your oven to 200°C.
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. Peel and quarter the potatoes, and once the water has come to the boil add to the pan. Boil until tender enough to mash, 15-25 mins depending on your potatoes. Drain and mash, season generously with salt and pepper, a pinch of nutmeg and beat in the butter and egg yolk. If you want a slightly looser mash add a splash of milk, but I prefer not to.
When the pie filling has cooled spoon the mash on top, spread evenly then rough up the top using the tines of a fork and sprinkle over the cheese. If you are of a slightly childish disposition like me you can leave a smooth space in the middle to draw a shamrock, brush this with melted butter.
Place in the preheated oven for 20-30 mins until the filling is starting to bubble over and the top is nicely browned. Remove from the oven to rest for a few mins before serving.
For the Savoy cabbage and Peas:
Heat a scant Tsp of olive oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan over a high heat and add the sliced shallots. I like to cook these hard for a minute or so, allowing them to slightly char in some places, but not burn. Add the cabbage and stir once and repeat the process allowing the cabbage to char slightly here and there in the hot pan for a min or so, stir again and leave for a further minute. Add a splash of water and the peas and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the peas are warmed through which will only take a minute or two. Remove from the heat and season with a little salt and pepper.
We like to serve this with something with a little bite and sweetness like pickled red cabbage, Piccalilli or Branston Pickle.