Monday, July 15, 2013

Aromatic Beef Pie Recipe

Week 2's Freshly Blogged challenge had many of us in a twitter . Of a generation that has never cooked with suet and grew up to regard any saturated animal fat with deep suspicion, it was a mystery. Even though my classic English cookery books have whole sections on suet puddings, I’ve never been tempted to try them out and had no idea where even to buy suet in South Africa.

In England I know you can buy packets of ready shredded, more anonymous suet, that doesn’t look like what it is – great lumps of fat taken from around the kidneys of the cow. After a long phone conversation with the friendly butcher at our local PicknPay, I managed to establish that we were talking about the same thing (his English and my non-existent Afrikaans didn’t quite stretch to the right vocab for suet) and I went in to collect it, great curvy lumps of white fat encased in a membrane. It was incredibly cheap, so not hard to see why it was a staple of those frugal English cooks of yesteryear.

Grating suet
The rest of the ingredients for the challenge were: a Knorr beef stockpot, 500g beef shin, a PnP soup pack of vegetables, star anise and white wine vinegar. We could add two fresh and one grocery ingredient and omit one ingredient from the list. I don’t know what you would have made, but I went straight for the perhaps rather obvious but delicious traditional beef stew with a lovely thick and light suet crust. The twist being the star anise.

I had no idea how the star anise flavour would work with the stew but hoped for the best. I added onions and bay leaves as my fresh and red wine as my grocery ingredient and left out the vinegar. And it worked amazingly well giving a rich and aromatic stew that the whole family ate and would happily eat again. Star anise is my new essential spice!

If you feel inspired to vote in the challenge here is my recipe on the Freshly Blogged site. And the recipe as posted follows here:

Aromatic Beef Pie Recipe
I’ve never cooked with suet before, but the English culinary and literary heritage is full of old-fashioned recipes that use suet: dumplings, steak and kidney pudding, jam roly poly pudding and of course Christmas pudding. It took no time to decide on a rich and aromatic beef stew turned into a  pie with a golden suet pastry crust. It would work equally well as individual pot pies or as one big family pie. Star anise isn’t a traditional English stew spice but it adds a mysterious extra aromatic that lifts the beef out of the ordinary without overwhelming the rest of the flavours. I complemented it with bay leaves to give some subtler undertones, and a good slug of red wine for richness.

For beef stew
600g beef shin
4 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 onions
1 PnP soup pack: 2 carrots, 1 stick celery, 1 small leek, 1 large tomato, 1 potato
1 tablespoon celery leaves chopped
1 Knorr beef stock pot
½ cup red wine
1 star anise
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper

For suet crust
350g self-raising flour
175g shredded suet
Salt and pepper
Approx 1 ½ cups cold water to mix
1 egg, beaten

For beef stew
Slice the onions. Peel and chop all the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
Sift the flour onto a plate and season generously with salt and pepper. Turn the beef pieces in it until lightly coated.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and brown the beef in batches until browned on all sides. Remove into a casserole.
Put the chopped onions into the same frying pan and cook until starting to soften. Add the rest of the vegetables and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Add the vegetables to the casserole.
Pour the wine into the frying pan and scrape up any residue. Allow to bubble briefly and then add to the casserole. Add the beef stock pot, star anise, bay leaves and a good seasoning of salt and pepper to the casserole, then add warm water to just cover the meat. Bring to a simmer, cover with the lid and leave simmering very gently for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender and falling off the bones. Stir once or twice during that time to make sure it isn’t sticking or burning.

For crust
If using butchers suet, remove the thin membrane and grate the suet finely.
Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the grated suet and a seasoning of salt and pepper.
Mix well.
Add water a little at a time, until the dough comes together. It should have the consistency of a scone dough, quite soft but holding well together.
Roll out the suet dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1 cm thick and about 1 cm wider all round than the pie dish you will be using.
Note: Make the dough just before you are ready to bake the pie. It shouldn’t wait around long or the raising agent will not work so well.

Assemble the Pie
Remove the bones from the stew and break up the meat into bite-sized pieces. Put all the meat and vegetables into a 1.5 litre pie dish with a rim. The remaining liquid should already be quite thick and rich but if it is too thin you can reduce it now by boiling for a few minutes. Pour the gravy over the meat and vegetables to come just below the rim of the pie dish.
Cut the pie crust to fit the dish. Wet the rim of the dish with water and use the leftover 1 cm edges to make a raised edge around the rim. Carefully lift the rest of the crust onto the top and press down all around the edges to seal. Make a small hole in the top to allow the steam to escape.
Brush the top with beaten egg.
Bake at 190C for 25-30 minutes until the crust is golden and well risen.

Voters in the Freshly Blogged challenge get prizes too. Check out what the voters' prize is this week and then vote for my recipe if you would be so kind. Thanks!

Previous Week's challenge : My phyllo spring rolls recipe


  1. Kit - in the dough making instructions, you mention the raising agent, but I don't see where you've told us what the raising agent is or how much to add...

    This looks delicious!

    1. Hi Marcheline, I used self-raising flour for the crust, which already has the raising agent in. If you use plain flour instead, I'd add about 3 teaspoons baking powder to that amount of flour.

    2. Ohhh.... silly me, missed that bit. Was looking at the instructions part, and it mentioned raising agent and my sieve brain couldn't recall it. Thanks!

  2. Oh yum! I use a lot of star anise in my cooking, it's one of my favourite spices :)

  3. I'd hardly ever used star anise before, Tandy, so it was a very nice discovery. I'll use it more often for savoury meat dishes now.

  4. I'm glad we have the anonymous packets of suet. It doesn't look especially appetising 'in the flesh'. I have a load of star anise in the cupboard but can't recall if I've ever actually used it. I'll have to give it a try.

    1. Yes, it's a bit scary at first, Scriptor, but it actually grated very easily and ended up looking more like grated parmesan!

  5. I never considered using suet until I got to London and found these mysterious packages on the supermarket shelves!! I think I bought some once to make a pie crust, but since then I have replaced it with butter in recipes that call for it... Love the flavours in this pie!

    1. Thanks, Jeanne. This challenge has been a revelation to me as far as using ingredients for the first time goes. Suet, pilchards, white chocolate, Amarula, perfect for getting out of a cooking rut!

  6. That is an extremely fine looking pie! Well done!


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!