Savory pies were a staple of English pub grub for centuries. Before the invention of modern restaurants, English taverns and inns traditionally offered set price menus promising all the meat, soup, and bread you could eat. A good, hearty pie not only let them stretch out the expensive meat but also simplified serving so working men could fill up quickly during their brief lunches and cold, tired travelers could quickly get something warm in their belly after a long day on the road.
In areas where regular customers knew the innkeepers, more often than not you actually got what it said on the menu. A few miles down the road, though? Everything would be stretched out with the cheapest ingredients. If this pie looks too rich for your blood, I urge you to take a page from the old innkeeper’s playbooks and fill it up with the cheapest ingredients. Add in a couple shakes of Trader Joe’s Mushroom Umami seasoning instead of expensive mushrooms. Cut the beef in half. Double the carrots and potatoes. Use your grocery store’s cheapest generic pie crusts instead of making a scratch crust using expensive butter. It’s all part of the traditional charm!
A pub pie this size could easily feed a party with a dozen hungry dwarves or four teenage boys. Feel free to cut the recipe in half if you’re feeding less ravenous hordes.
- 2 1/4 lbs / 1 kg stewing beef, trimmed and cubed
- ½ lb / 250g button mushrooms, quartered
- ½ lb / 250 g carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch / 2.5 cm chunks
- 2 c / 475ml ale
- 2 ¼ c / 500ml beef stock
- 4 tbsp / 60 g butter
- ¼ lb / 100g bacon
- 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 large sprig / 1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
- ½ tbsp thyme leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp coarse salt
- 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp flour
- ¼ c / 60 ml cold water
- 2 c / 225 g all-purpose flour
- ½ c / 120 g softened butter
- ¼ tsp coarse salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tbsp cold water
To make the filling, start by frying the bacon in a large skillet until it’s crispy. Set the bacon aside on a plate. You now have a pan full of delicious bacon grease. Add the cubes of beef and brown them on all sides. You’ll probably need to do this in 3-4 batches to keep from overcrowding the pan. As each batch of beef is browned up, add it to a Dutch oven.
Once your beef is all browned, melt the butter in your skillet. Add the sliced onions and let them cook over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, or until they start to soften. Toss in the chopped garlic cloves and keep cooking for another 3-4 minutes or until the garlic just barely starts to brown. Add the sprig of rosemary leaves, thyme, and fresh ground pepper. Keep cooking for another 1-2 minutes to release the flavor of the herbs.
You know, that beef looks lonely sitting by itself. Scrape your onion mix into the Dutch oven to keep it company. While you’re at it, add in the carrots, ale, and beef stock. Bring the mix to a boil. Put a lid on it, reduce the heat down to medium-low, and let it simmer for about an hour and a half, or until the carrots are cooked through, and the steak is tender.
While the steak is cooking, mix up your pastry crust. This simple, dense crust adds amazing flavor – mostly because everything tastes better when drowned in butter. Mix the flour and salt. Now use your fingers to knead the flour into the butter until it resembles coarse gravel. Moisten that up by adding the beaten egg and 1 tbsp cold water. Keep mixing until you achieve a dense dough, then knead that a few times for good measure.
Divide your dough in half. Roll half of it until it’s just large enough to cover the bottom of a well-greased casserole dish or cake pan. Use a fork to poke a few holes in the bottom.
After a good 90 minute simmer, whisk together 2 tbsp flour and ¼ c cold water until you have no lumps. Gradually stir that into the stew to help thicken it.
After staring at that fried bacon for the last hour and a half, it’s finally time to crumble it all up into the stew. Give the stew a hearty stir, then start ladling it into the casserole dish. Fill it ¾ of the way up. Any more than that and you risk it boiling over and spilling out the side of your dish. If you have any left over, save it for individual pot pies.
Roll the remaining crust into a rectangle. Lay it on top of your casserole dish and pinch the edges closed. Trim off any excess. Since you already went to all this effort, go ahead and knead the excess trimmed dough back into a ball. Roll it flat and use a small cookie cutter to cut out some attractive shapes. Use the extra dough to decorate the surface of your pie.
Whisk together an egg and 1 tbsp of water. Use a pastry brush to paint the egg wash on the surface of your pie crust. This will give it a lovely golden brown sheen.
Bake the pie at 400F / 205C for 30-35 minutes, or until the top crust is a dark, golden brown.
If you prefer, you can make this a gluten free period stew by simply leaving out the flour thickener and serving it directly in bowls with no pastry crust.
Butter is such an integral flavor that this doesn’t transition well into vegan limitations, but you can easily make it vegetarian. Omit the bacon and replace the bacon grease with more butter. Replace the beef broth with vegetable broth and replace the beef itself with more root vegetables. In addition to the potatoes and carrots, try adding some peeled and diced turnips and rutabaga (also known as swede.) When meat was scarce, the only beef in the steak and ale pie might be in the form of broth, so this vegetarian variation isn’t far off from what people in Tolkien’s youth actually ate.
Need more Hobbity goodness in your life?
Preview even more recipes from An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery, available now!
Sample recipes from all seven chapters of An Unexpected Cookbook:
Breakfast – Poached Pears Stuffed with Frumenty
Second Breakfast – Beef and Mushroom Stuffed Hand Pies
Elevenses – Shire Seed Cake
Luncheon – Stewed Hare with Root Vegetables and Dumplings
Afternoon Tea – Shortbread
Supper – Stuffed Roasted Mushrooms
Dinner – Boxty on the Griddle with Bacon
Need more? Buy your own copy of An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery from Amazon.com.