Well, it’s definitely Autumn. It’s sunny today, but there is a bite to the air. My flip flops aren’t quite finished with – tucked under the bed, resolutely hoping for an Indian summer. But the boots are back, cosy cardie on, and maybe a light scarf to keep the chill off my neck in the evening. And my final festival of the summer has just been cancelled as the site is water-logged… ya boo hiss, rain.
As with every change of the seasons, the end of summer means a change to how we eat – a cold salad just isn’t as appealing when the central heating is on. And though I already miss summer (or the summer that wasn’t!), there is something so comforting about cold weather food that I maybe don’t feel so blue after all!
So to celebrate the change in the seasons, here is the fourth Scottish Scran dish – a warm comforting Steak Pie.
Not so dissimilar from most typical British pies, the Scottish steak pie is traditionally topped with puff pastry, and has no base crust. It also contains beef sausages – I was distressed as a child to have a steak pie in England and to find out there were no sausages in!! As well as allowing the pie to stretch further, the addition of sausages undoubtedly adds flavour to the finished pie.
Steak pie is an emotive dish for me. In Scotland, Hogmanay/ New Year is traditionally as big a deal – if not bigger – than Christmas! So after bringing in the bells, singing Auld Lang Syne, and doing our first-footing on Hogmanay, we’d look forward to our New Year’s Day celebrations. Hair of the dog and a steak pie dinner – what better way to start the year?!
And more than this, steak pie was a regular Sunday dinner, everyone round the table together, and as often as not a grand-parent or two down for the afternoon. For a time, on Sundays, my dad played doms – the grand prize, a family sized steak pie. He hardly ever won…!
And I can tell you one thing that steak pie isn’t. It isn’t a bowl of meat stew, with a square of separately cooked puff pastry on top. That is a travesty, and should be removed from any (probably less than mediocre) pub menu instantly. My daddy never stood for it, and neither will I.
There are two camps of thought on steak pie pastry: Those who like the middle bit of the pastry, where it’s a bit stodgy and all the gravy has soaked into the crust (me and my dad); and those who like the dry flaky pastry at the edges (my mum and sister). An even family split like this works very well, with minimal fighting, and no leftovers. I dread to think what would happen to a family whose steak pie crust preference was unbalanced. I’m quite sure there would be blood loss, possible divorce, and at the very least wasted steak pie.
Steak pies are generally bought at the butcher – and can be bought in varying sizes – through individual portions to huge family sized ones. Every family will have their favourite steak pie butcher – who may or may not be the butcher used for buying meat. The popular butcher can have huge queues – when I was there when I got this photo, the queue was out the door and past the shop front outside. At New Year it’s best to order your pie in advance – they’ll be well sold out by hogmanay!
My mum often used to make her steak pies herself. This involves having to order the skirt of beef from the butcher. It’s much easier to get skirt in England – my guess is that it’s all used to make the butcher’s steak pies in Scotland! Not quite so easy to get beef sausages, but not too difficult… though I still dont’ think they’re the same… This is one recipe I would never mess with – in fact, despite it’s simplicity, I still called my mum twice when making it, just to check my memory. I’m glad I’ve committed it to writing now!
It’s an easy recipe, but it does need a long, slow cook. I would usually make the base up the day before it is needed, the meat should be falling-apart tender. Then the next day you’re only half an hour away from dinner!
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1lb skirt beef, chopped big bite size bits
- 0.5 lb beef sausages
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 1 beef stock cube
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Oil to fry
- Puff pastry for lid. I cheated and bought ready-made… but feel free to make your own!
Preheat oven to 150c.
Prepare the Skirt…
Heat a little oil in a casserole dish and fry off the onions for a couple of minutes. Season the flour and dredge the skirt beef in it. Add to the onions and brown off. Dissolve the stock cube in a bit of hot water and add to the pan, then top up with boiling water until the meat is covered. Add a decent amount of freshly ground black pepper – about a tablespoon.
Put the lid on the pan and put into a low oven for a couple of hours. Check every so often and top up water as required. The water becomes the gravy, so don’t let it dry out!
Add the Sausage…
Chop each sausage into three, and add to the meat. Check water levels again and return to the oven for an hour – checking and giving a stir half way through.
Making the Pie…
Righty ho, so we have a lush base which should be full of the tenderest beef steak. If you squeeze a bit between finger and thumb, it should flake without pressure. And that’s how you know it’s ready!
Increase oven temperature to 170c.
Pour the meat mixture into a pie tray. Roll out your pastry to be slightly bigger than the pie dish. Cut off a couple of edges of the pastry and stick round the edge of the pie tray.
I put the egg holder thingie in to stop the pastry sinking in the middle. But it was too high. So I took it out, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best!
Brush a bit of milk over the edges, and place the pastry on top. Trim the edges and brush the top with milk. Stab in a couple of steam holes and we’re set to go.
Bake the Pie!
Put the pie into the middle shelf of the oven for 30 minutes or so, while you make up some creamy, buttery mashed potato and steam some veg.
Stodgy – I can’t think of an alternative to this word, it’s kind of thick, heavy, starchy.
Often mistakenly* used as a negative, in my opinion stodge is often a very good thing. It’s the basis of all comfort food. Think mashed potato, rice pudding, pies, chili con carne with rice, fruit crumble… oh yes!
Hmmm… on consideration, I’m not even sure if stodgy is actually a Scottish word! Though it does describe a lot of Scottish food.
So I’ll give you some bonus vernacular just in case!
Vino Collapso – cheap, strong wine
Ah wis steamin’ last nite – shouldnae hae open’d that last boattle of vino collapso. A boattle o’ ginger’ll soart me right oot tho!