On Steak Pie
Near the end of the school trip to Scotland a couple of years ago, David the bus driver dumped us all off one lunchtime at the Caithness Glass Factory & Visitor Centre in Perth, more to kill time, I think, than anything else. We had all been together for the best part of the week, and my young friend Danielle, her father Dan and I had fallen in together, breaking off from the main group whenever we could. This day was no different: Danielle and I always sat together, midway back, on the coach, while Dan rode as close to the front as possible, being subject to travel sickness; once the doors opened, though, we found each other, found out what time we were to be back, and sloughed off everyone else.
The three of us spent quite a bit of time watching the glass-blowing from the gallery. I had never seen it done, and was fascinated by one woman who appeared still to be in a sort of apprenticeship. She would work on a piece; then a guy, presumably the master, would point to things or wave his hands in a dignified sort of way, and she would go back to the piece with an enormous frown. We of course never knew what they spoke about. Despite the protective glass between us and the floor below, the noise from the furnaces was terrific. The heat was a blast from hell.
The showroom had beautiful pieces on display, but, knowing our shortcomings, we spent very little time in there. All that glass! On shelves! With crowds of people! When I looked into Dan and Danielle’s eyes, I saw the same anxiety I felt myself: I am going to knock this stuff down. Thousands upon thousands of pounds’ worth of art glass, and I am going to break it all. It was a relief to get in line at the lunchroom, where, though the food was served on real dishes, they were industrial, not art.
And that’s where I met my first steak pie.
The food was dished up cafeteria-style. I went down the line behind my pals, peering through the glass at the choices. The steak pie was being served by a guy in cafeteria whites, complete with cap and plastic gloves; it had been baked in a rectangular
metal dish larger than a dishpan. The server plonked a giant helping on the plate, garnished it with mashed potatoes and some vegetables, and sent me off to join Dan and Danielle at a rickety table near the window. All in all, it was a rather inauspicious introduction to a dish that I have tried, in the intervening years, to imitate at home. Now, some five years later, I think I have it down. Though I do not make it quite as large as the one from Perth: a standard pie plate is large enough for me and the heathens.
Voila! My recipe!
Makes two pies: freeze the extra to reheat for another time.
1 Tbsp butter
2 onions, sliced thin
1 Tbsp rosemary
4 lbs stew beef, or other steak of your choice, cubed
1 C flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bottle red wine (I like Merlot in this)
1 can beef broth
crust for two pies
Melt butter in a pot over low heat. Cook onions with rosemary until softened.
Dredge meat in flour with salt and pepper. Brown in pot with onions.
When beef is browned, add broth and wine. Cover pot. Simmer for a really long time, stirring every once in a while. (Rather inspecific, I know. I tend to simmer this all day–call it four hours or more–because I want the meat really tender. The upside to this is that it makes the house smell luscious. I’ve tried this part in a crockpot, and was dissatisfied with the results, so I’ve gone back to the stove top.)
Preheat oven to 350º.
Prepare crusts. When beef is done to your satisfaction, divide it between the two pie pans. Spoon 1/4 of the broth/wine over meat in each pie pan. Cover with top crust, seal, and cut vents.
Bake for 30 minutes until crust is golden brown.
At this point you might want to thin down the remaining gravy in the pot with a bit more beef stock–or not. You might also want to open another bottle of wine–or not.
Serve hot, with gravy, mashed potatoes and vegetables.
Danielle doesn’t remember mashed potatoes. She says hers were round and rolled on the plate. But Danielle is weird. Never mind. We love her anyway.