Celebrating British Pie Week or just looking for delicious yet traditional pie? Help is on hand with Miss Foodwise who shares a fabulous recipe for beef, stout and oyster pie.
As Dickens’ Sam Weller remarks in The Pickwick Papers, ‘Poverty and oysters always seem to go together’.
Beef and oyster pie is a classic Victorian dish, it was the food of the poor and the poorer you were the more oysters you would put in your pie. Oysters were plentiful, the smaller ones sold as fast food on the streets of London or pickled to keep, while the bigger ones were put in stews and pies. It was a cheap source of protein.
In the middle of the 19th century the natural oyster beds became exhausted in England. Demand for oysters was high with as many as 80 million oysters a year to be transported from Whistable to London’s Billingsgate Market alone. As the oyster beds further declined, what had once been the food of the poor became a delicacy for the upper class.
Oyster are very sensitive to climate, environmental factors and diseases which makes them a business that isn’t without risk to the fishermen. The catch can vary from year to year and sometimes disappear into thin air completely. But fishermen solidarity and sense of community makes for a way of preserving the oyster beds. When oyster beds are devastated somewhere the beds are revived with oysters from other - competing - fisheries.
This pie is wonderfully succulent, once a poor man’s dinner it now graces our tables with elegance. The beef, oyster and stout or porter beer are a perfect pairing together with a rich suet crust - just like your Nan used to make but let’s kick it up a notch and put some effort into the decoration of the pie! It’s fun to let your children have a go with the leftover pastry (you will have leftover with this recipe). Keep in the freezer until needed, defrost the evening before in your fridge.
This recipe works just as good as a stew, feeding 4 hungry mouths.
What you need
For the filling
1 large carrot, quartered and cut into 2 cm long pieces
3 medium onions
500 g chuck of beef, diced
flour to dust the meat
1 pint of stout, Guinness or porter beer
1 teaspoon of mushroom ketchup (if you don’t have it, leave it out or use 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar)
2 bay leaf
pepper and salt to season
6 oysters, cleaned.
For the pastry
300g plain white flour
100g unsalted butter
100g Atora shredded suet
a generous pinch of salt
125 ml icecold water
1 egg, beaten
for the stew
Preheat your oven to 160C
Add the carrots and onion to a cast iron casserole and colour them over a medium fire.
Dust the meat with the flour and add it to the vegetables.
Immediately pour in the stout, mushroom vinegar and herbs.
If the meat isn’t completely covered in liquid, add some water or extra stout until it’s just covered.
Bring to the boil without putting on the lid.
When boiling, put on the lid and place in a lower part of the oven for 3-3,5 hours.
It depends on the animal used, the quality of the meat and how lean it is to know when the meat will be done. Check on it regularly so you don’t end up with dry meat. The meat is done when it is about to fall apart.
for the pastry lid
Combine the flour, butter, suet and salt in a large mixing bowl and use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour. Keep on doing this until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Pour in the water and start pressing the liquid into the breadcrumb-like mixture. Be gentle as you must be careful not to overwork the dough.
When you have created a rough dough, wrap it in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for an hour or more. You can prepare the pastry the day before if you’re feeling organized.
Preheat your oven to 180C
Ladle the stew into your shallow pie dish and place the oysters neatly so everyone will find some in his plate.
Use the beaten egg to eggwash the edges of the piedish.
Take your pastry out of the fridge and place it on a floured work surface. Now roll out the pastry about 1 cm thick and make sure it’s larger than your pie dish.
Now carefully pick up the pastry and place it over the pie dish. Trim off the edges of the pastry so you get a nice lid. Now crimp the edges by using your thumb or a fork so the pastry lid is closed tightly.
Decorate the pie lid if you like and eggwash generously before putting into the oven on one of the lower parts.
The pie should be nice and golden after 40-45 minutes. Serve with peas and carrots because you’ve got to have peas and carrots with pie.
Inspired? We have a whole collection of pie recipes on Great British Chefs for you to enjoy.
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