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The trials and tribulations of a keen cook, food lover and novice allotmenteer - Dan of Food Urchin

Just lately, I seem to be eating a lot of pie and mash and thinking a lot about it too. I blame Dan from Essex Eating after meeting him at Clarks of Exmouth Market a couple of months ago to make a wild garlic drop and he paid me back in kind with lunch. I hadn't had it in a while but after taking that first mouthful of mash and liquor, I suddenly remembered how much I love the stuff. Consequently I have been making repeated lunch time visits back to Clarks for plates and plates of double pie & mash.

Pie and Mash inspiration

This is not good, my work colleagues are starting to notice an expanding waistline, my wife left my running shoes on display on the table the other day and the twins have been using my belly as a bouncy castle. It really is becoming a case of "Who ate all the pies" but with the added ". . . and mash".

No not good. So I started wondering if I made it at home and jazzed it up a little, added a few extra (expensive) ingredients, I could then turn the dish into more of a treat, something that I could eat just once in a while and not have as part of my staple diet and then perhaps I could rein in my appetite for the stuff. Perhaps.

If so far you are reading this and asking yourself "Why is this guy so mad about pie and mash anyway? What's so special about a minced beef pie served with mashed potato and parsley gravy?", well just listen here it's part of my heritage, I was born in the East End of London, I am a Cockney Geeza and was brought up on the stuff . . . I was born within the sound of the Bow Bells and if I so wished I could lord it about town dressed as a Pearly King and prance about singing "Doing the Lambeth Walk, OI!" whilst eating jellied eels by the bucket load!

Growing up on Pie & Mash

What is it about this simple combination that appeals to so many?

Well personally, my love for this dish does indeed stem back to childhood as we used to live near Upton Park, home of the Hammers and every Saturday Mum would take my sister and I to Queens Market to do some shopping, rewarding us afterwards with a plate of pie & mash at the local cafe.

If it had been a wet and miserable day then all the better as the cafe was always warm and smelled great. We'd take up a table whilst Mum would go and queue, leaving us waiting for what seemed like an eternity, watching open mouthed as she slowly edged along the counter.

I vaguely remember dribbling on my jacket once which wasn't good form for an eight year old, my sister could get away with it though as she was only three. Eventually Mum would come back and plonk a plate down in front of us and I would plaster it with vinegar before tearing into the pie and mash with a fork and spoon (and you always eat pie & mash with a fork and spoon . . . it's the rules).

The pie would be scalding hot at first but if you flipped it over and cut open the base, it would cool quicker, so you could get to the mince meat gravy faster. The mash was always dense and stodgy but you could always loosen it up with the parsley liquor making it nice and sloppy. The best part would be at the end, spooning leftover liquor that was all mixed up with vinegar and gravy from the meat into your mouth, practically drinking it. I appreciate that this way of dining may not be appetising to all but to me it was, and still remains, a heavenly treat.

Pie & Mash . . . building the dish, creating the recipe

Pie Mash and Liquor courtesy of Food UrchinSo on to the recipe below which is going to stop me from over gorging and which was born out of several ideas. To start, I had read that from its origin in the late Eighteenth century, pies used to be made with oysters as they were cheap and in plentiful supply so I thought it would be good to re-introduce them to the dish.

Secondly, I wanted to steer away from the standard mince meat pie and make the filing a little more luxurious, so I decided to go with braising steak that had been slow-cooked to make it meltingly tender. I also wanted to play around with the appearance and my wife (yet again) came up with the idea of making an open-pie where we could stack the components of mash, meat and pastry on top of each other.

For this I needed to find a mousse ring big enough to plate up with. I did make one visit to Pages but they didn't have any big or deep enough. After a few Tweets on the ever resourceful Twitter, Charlie of eatmynels suggested cutting rings from empty 2 litre fizzy drinks bottles which was a brilliant Blue Peter suggestion! I cut mine out so that it was approximately 10 cms deep. I found some pointers on making the liquor, though after a bit more research I think I've found the missing ingredient . . . eel stock. Although I couldn't find any eels to boil up I was able to get hold of some jellied ones which seemed to do just the trick, honestly the liquor was just as good as the stuff in Clarks.

By the way, I have made this just once . . . this week. Last week I did it twice and next week . .


Serves 2 but there was plenty left over!

Ingredients for Pie and Mash

For the Pie and Mash:
450gms of braising steak, cut into chunks
250gms puff pastry
1 onion, finely chopped
125gms chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced
5 large potatoes (maris piper), peeled and cut into even pieces
200 mls Guinness
200 mls stock (I used Marigold vegetable bouillon)
2 small bay leaves
3 springs of thyme
1 tbs of tomato puree
plain flour
worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten

For the liquor:
8 oysters, shucked (save the 'juices' with the oyster flesh in a bowl)
tub of jellied eels
500 mls water
large bunch of parsley, chopped
plain flour
salt and pepper
1 tsp of malt vinegar

How to make Pie and Mash

  • Pie Mash and Liquor courtesy of Food Urchin
    Pie Mash and Liquor courtesy of Food Urchin
    First pre-heat oven to 160°C then melt some butter in a casserole dish, add the onion and mushroom and gently fry until soft, then remove from the dish. Coat the braising steak in seasoned flour, add to the pan and brown the meat until well coloured.
  • Return the mushrooms and onions to the dish and then add the stock, Guinness, bay, thyme, tomato puree, a good splash of worcestershire sauce and any remaining flour. Stir and bring to the boil and then cover with a lid and place in the oven for 1 and half to 2 hours.
  • Take the casserole dish out and if nice and tender, shred the braising steak with two forks. If there is still a lot of liquid, put back in the oven for half an hour. The aim is to get a thick meaty mix that will hold together when constructing the 'open' pie. Put to one side and keep warm
  • After about an hour in of cooking the steak, place potatoes in saucepan, cover with water, bring to boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. Drain and then add liberal amounts of butter and a splash of milk, mash with masher. Put to one side and keep warm. (That just felt like teaching my grandma to suck eggs)
  • Turn the oven up to 200°C and roll out puff pasty on a floured surface to the thickness of a pound coin, cut one circle out per person, making sure that it is slightly larger then the Blue Peter inspired ring. Put on a flat baking tray and brush with beaten egg and then place in the oven for 10 minutes or until the pastry has puffed up nice and fluffy.
  • Empty the tub of jellied eels into a saucepan, pour over cold water and bring the boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes until reduced by a third. Pour the stock into a jug using a sieve to catch the eel meat and bones. Then using same saucepan, melt some butter and add flour to make a roux, then gradually add the eel stock back into the pan, stirring all the time, bringing to the boil. When it starts to thicken add the parsley, a couple of twists of salt and pepper and the vinegar.
  • Bring the heat down to simmer and place the oysters along with the juices in the liquor to poach for 3 - 4 minutes.
  • Now it's time to plate up. Place the ring in the middle of the plate and spoon the mashed potato up about till half way, smoothing the surface over with the back of the spoon. Then add the thick steak mixture until it reaches the top, again smoothing over. Slowly and surely lift the ring up, leaving the meat and potato firmly in place. Gently place a puff pastry lid on top.
  • Remove the oysters from the pan and position around the outside and then pour the remaining liquor around the outside of the open pie and over the oyster, tidying the rim of the plate if necessary.
  • Serve with a liberal dashing of extra vinegar and white pepper.

Serves 2

Food Urchin

This Pie, Mash and Liquor article was written by Dan who writes the Food Urchin Blog - The trials and tribulations of a keen cook, food lover and novice allotmenteer.

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