The Wonders of Pie: Meat and Potato

It's Halloween and the natural pattern in our house is to turn from summer foods to warming winter ones. This is the season of the pie.

There is nothing more Halloween and Bonfire night than Meat and Potato pie with red cabbage or black peas. Though I shudder at the latter, never a great fan of the taste (the lashings of vinegar that some people insist on drowning them in) or the aftermath. Several days of open windows, flung open doors and embarrassed coughs as the duvet cover rises is something I can do without. If you want to fart yourself silly than make some black peas, I have included the recipe at the end of this post, but I won't be joining you. In this Meat and Potato pie I have gone for solid pieces of beef but in the past I have made it with mince and still enjoyed it. Sometimes more!

2.75kg/6lb braising steak, cut into small cubes.
3 medium onions, chopped.
2.75kg/6lb potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks the same size as the braising steak.
1 tbsp beef extract (this is optional and adds another depth of flavour but an Oxo cube is just as good).
4 tbsp gravy granules (just use these rather than the extract if you can't get it. Please don't attack cows in a field thinking that somehow you can extract from them).

You have two options here you can make your own or just buy it in. Frankly, life is too short and most shop bought pastry nowadays is cheap, of a good quality and saves time when you have a toddler like Little D underfoot. However, if you are purist, toddler free or just saintly in that Nigella way, here is a pastry recipe.

500g/1lb 2oz plain flour
2 tsp salt
125g/4½oz margarine, cut into small cubes (Stork margarine will do. Frankly, I would substitute butter for a richer pastry but I am trying to be healthy for you here).
25g/4½oz lard, cut into small cubes.
125ml/4fl oz cold water.
1 egg, beaten.

Place the beef and onions in a large saucepan and add salt. Pour in water to cover the beef and bring to the boil, once boiling cover with the lid, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 2½–3 hours, or until the meat is tender. This is sometimes why I opt for mince, as this speeds up the process. As you now have time on your hands, you could take a bath, run riot with your kids but if you want to get ahead of the game and you have opted to make your own pastry I suppose I should tell you how to do that. Buy it. No, sorry. Being serious, tip the flour and salt into a bowl, and add the cubes of margarine (or use butter if you're like me) and lard. Using your fingertips, please do not pummel it with fists, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture has the texture of breadcrumbs, and all traces of fat have vanished (this is not a workout tip, I mean the lard. People have fat, it keeps us warm, wobbly and happy in winter). Now add the water and mix with a bog standard cutlery knife to allow you to scrape around the bowl. Do this until the pastry begins to come together. Add more water slowly if it is needed. Now you can take your aggression out on the dough, bad day at work? Your kid really annoying you? Your other half forgot your birthday? Then knead the dough (also for the inherently annoyed, take up bread making and watch your concerns wash away). Knead the dough, each time you stretch it, think of your boss, your annoying teenager, your forgetful partner. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes, or until the beef mixture is cooked. 

Once the meat has been cooking for two hours, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Cook the potatoes in salted water until tender. You can use the tip of a sharp knife to test potatoes, if you can skewer them and they slip off, they're tender, if they stick and are still sticking to the tip of the knife after you have put your foot against it to prise the potato off, then they are still raw. Drain and set the potatoes aside. When the meat is tender, again use a knife or two forks to test, if the meat just tears and almost melts, it is tender and it is time to remove the pan from the heat. Ladle some of the cooking liquid from the meat into a jug to cool. Mix together the gravy granules and meat extract (see, I told you they weren't that important, the granules will just do if you want to), and gradually add to the cooling meat and onions, mixing in thoroughly. Now heat gently until simmering. Once simmering, remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.

Take the pastry out from the fridge. Roll it to fit your pie dish. You can choose to do a pie bottom if you wish, we never bother but if you do prick it with a fork to stop it from going soggy. No one wants Mary Berry looking over their shoulder asking if that is a soggy bottom.

Add the potatoes to the meat and onions, mix gently so not to lose the consistency of the potatoes. You will see that the sauce will start to soak into the potatoes. Add the mixture to your pie dish or pie dishes and place the pastry on top, cut to shape and make a steam hole in the centre of the pie. You can also use bird whistlers, as pictured but a good old fashioned snip with a pair of scissors in the centre of the pie three times will do the same job.

Use the beaten egg to wash the pie. This doesn't mean throw it in the sink with the egg and washing liquid. Use a pastry brush to paint the top of the pastry to get that golden finish. If you don't have an egg at this point, due to your toddler, hungry teenager or clumsy other half who was too busy not listening to you when you asked them to pass you the egg, which they did, missing your open hand by about two feet because they were busy reading a book (God, wouldn't we all like to sit down and read book rather than bake a pie or catch a toddler with an egg) then you can wash with milk instead. In that event, the other half has no excuse not to make you a cup of tea as the milk is already out.

Cook in the preheated oven (200C/400F/Gas 6) for 50–60 minutes or until the pastry is golden-brown and the filling is bubbling inside.


250g/9oz black peas.
50g/2oz butter.

Soak the black peas the night before.

Boil the black peas until they are tender. Heat a frying pan and add the butter until it is melted and starting to froth, add the boiled black peas. Heat through for 3-4 minutes.

Add vinegar if you must. Open all doors, windows, send the dog to the end of the garden, consume and wear loose fitting pants. Warning, do not consume whilst wearing a kilt or a loose fitting skirt. It will not be like Marilyn Monroe on that grate, it will be loud and embarrassing and your neighbours will not want to photograph the result.