Why hello there, and welcome to our rousing finale for Shakespeare September, the theme month that’s gone off the rails as Jon can’t stop talking. Today’s final dish is also the month’s most complicated, a decision that was in no way intentional. It’s also a Patreon-Sponsored Recipe: one of our higher-tier Patrons requested we cover the recipe, and thus we can kill two birds with one stone, a phrase Shakespeare invented! (That was a lie. No one actually knows where that phrase comes from, though there’s a lot of possible origins, but it definitely wasn’t Shakespeare. It actually was first used like, 16 years after he died.) Anyhow, if you wish to skip the saucy details, here’s a link to the recipe. The rest of us can soldier on!
Drink It Down, Lads
Before we begin, a quick confession/acknowledgment: This post was written a little ahead of time, as Jon knew he wouldn’t have time to work on it Sunday, since it was his birthday, or Monday, since he scheduled a dentist’s appointment. (Editor’s Note: and then he scheduled everything badly and ended up having to do the pictures today anyway, so really nothing’s changed.)We bring this up as a partial segue into the fact that Jon is likely a little hung-over (ED: he actually had to drive home, so no drinking enough to be hung-over. But he did overcompensate for that by getting his dinner from a convenience store and ended up sick today, which is why we’re late.) , which ties in well with the discussion of Guinness! So, Steak and Guinness Pie is an Irish classic of a recipe…with no clear origin. Or rather, too clear of an origin. Let me explain.
Sure, grab a drink for this.
See, the thing is, that Beef and Guinness Pie (which is the typical name for the dish in Ireland, not “steak and Guinness”) is…too common to pin down, because it’s a whole mess of a situation. Guinness was first made in 1759, and by 1886, the company was worth…roughly 878 MILLION dollars in today’s money, or roughly one “Dre”. (Which, holy fuck, I did NOT think Dr Dre had that much money.) Anyway, what I was saying: England’s had Steak and Ale stew/pies for centuries, and Ireland had a shit ton of Guinness, so at SOME POINT, SOMEONE mixed the two, said “hey, this is pretty good”, and Ireland just started doing it en masse. So literally the ONLY thing we know is that it logically happened “after Guinness started making beer”, though we can likely also guess it was sometime around the late 1880’s or 90’s, as that’s when international trade really started picking up, and American exports like grain and beef started changing diets in Europe. (though that’s really more for when it got wide-spread appeal. It could have been MADE long before.)
If all that sounds rather complicated, imagine trying to figure out “who was the first person to make a Turkey (or Ham) Sandwich”: It’s impossible because once the two ingredients are in the same area, it’s basically inevitable. No one wrote down the first person to think “what if I put THIS sliced meat between the bread”, because the basic idea was there. Similarly, no one thought to write when they used a specific type of beer over another in a stew or pie.
Thus, Steak and Guinness Pie isn’t one with a great history. But can it be tied to Shakespeare?
Let this Titus Over for A Time
Pies, in Shakespeare’s time, were going through a weird phase. Hell, they were changing NAMES: Pies (or sometimes, Pyes) were one name for the dish, but they were also called (or, rather, their CRUSTS were called) “Coffins” or “Coffyns”, because they’re what you buried food in. A fact we know because Shakespeare actually bases some lines about it, in the show Titus Andronicus.
A piece as restrained and subtle as you’d think, when the film goes “What if we painted Anthony Hopkins blue for the poster?”
Titus is, famously, one of Shakespeare’s more brutal tragedies, and not considered one of his best works. A basic summary of the show is: A famous General returns to Rome from war, having conquered the Gauls. Having triumphed, he is named “Andronicus”, because that was a thing Rome did, just give people new names. In honor of the 2 sons he lost in the war, he sacrifices one of the sons of his captive, the Queen of the Gauls.
This does not go well for him, because she ends up marrying the new Emperor, and…look, this play is SUPER dark, and really brutal, so if you just skip the next two paragraphs, you’ll probably have a slightly nicer day, alright? Great. So the new Empress has her sons murder the Emperor’s brother, drag off his fiancé (who, surprise, is Titus’s daughter) to be raped, and frames Titus’s sons for the murder. Then, her sons, to make sure the daughter doesn’t tell anyone the truth…cut out the girl’s tongue and chop off her hands. They then literally mock her because she can’t even HANG HERSELF without her hands to escape the evils they have done to her. This is Act fucking TWO. The queen’s black lover (I wouldn’t note his race, except it’s literally in his NAME(“Aaron the Moor”) and is referenced CONSTANTLY in the play) then lies and tells Titus “Hey, if you cut off your hand, the Emperor will spare your sons.” Titus takes the deal, and gets a package back with his hand and his sons’ heads in it.
Titus…doesn’t take this well, especially after his daughter learns to draw by holding sticks with her arm-stumps, and writes down who did this to her. Titus, in revenge, kills the Empress’s sons, and BAKES THEM IN A PIE that he then feeds to her and the Emperor. That dinner party is a fucking bloodbath, with Titus murdering his own daughter (to free her from her shame, you see), then the Empress, the Emperor killing Titus, and Titus’s son killing the Emperor, making him the new emperor. The Black guy gets buried alive, and we walk away mentally scarred, and understanding where George RR Martin got the idea for the end of the Freys.
If you thought a picture of the scene from the show was going to be here, you have severely misjudged how sad I am that they didn’t do the Wyman Manderly plot.
The North Remembers, motherfuckers.
Titus is also, as luck would have it, the first Shakespearean show that WSU put on when I started attending, with several of my friends in various roles. Because like I hinted at on Thursday, I might only know 1/3rd of Shakespeare, but it’s the POPULAR third. So yes, we CAN connect steak and Guinness pies to Shakespeare, because of these famous meat pies, and the overwhelming need for drink they inspire in viewers and readers.
That parade of nightmares aside, let us for once give Shakespeare short-shrift for an involved recipe, shall we?
A Second Slipped-In Secret
Actually, as the final recipe for the month, this recipe also dips its toes in referencing ANOTHER work of Shakespeare’s. See, the initial recipe I found for this used 2 whole pounds of chuck roast, and recently, I’ve been trying to be a little more aware with my diet for when I can take a step to something a little less meat-focused. This helped because I’d also found a reference in Shakespeare’s Tempest, where Prospero calls forth Elven spirits to aid him, he refers to them as creators of “midnight mushrooms”. So I figured “hey…isn’t a big thing in high-end restaurants right now charring vegetables? And didn’t I make a point recently that mushrooms are almost impossible to overcook?” So I said “Well, let’s see if I can char them!
Turns out, that is ALSO pretty damn hard to do. For the sake of being bougie as fuck, I subbed out one pound of the chuck roast for 1 pound of assorted mushrooms. Shitake, Portobello, Crimini, and Oyster were all picked up from an organic grocer, delicately transported home…and promptly left to rot because I got too busy and missed the only day I could make the pie, so I had to delay for a week. So I REBOUGHT all those mushrooms from the local Safeway, and assembled them for cleaning and prep.
The Cleaning mostly consisted of trimming the stems off every variety except the crimini (Mushroom stems are somewhat notorious for being harder and grainier than the heads.) and scraping the gills out of the portobellos with a spoon. Then I chopped or sliced the mushrooms based…essentially on whim. I sliced the portobellos, and chopped the rest. Then I attempted to char the portobellos, by throwing them in a dry pan on high heat. You saw how that turned out. In the end, it basically just charred the skins, and dried the meat a little.There was SOME char flavor (ie, “this tastes a little burnt”) but it was mostly just normal mushrooms. Not a huge return for my efforts. In disgust, I added the rest of the mushrooms to the pan with some salt and beef fat and let them render and brown for a while.
That done, I got into the main components. To make a savory pie, you basically just make a stew, and then pour it in pastry to bake. So I prepped the chuck roast by cubing it and tossing it in a seasoned flour mixture. Coating the roast this way will cause it to brown/sear easier AND harder (or, better phrased, “it will form a harder browned crust more easily”), and will also give us a lot of fond (brown bits) on the pan, and some built in flour for later thickening. The trick is to just barely coat the meat. You don’t want any red showing, but you don’t want it truly white either.
Cher’s “Half-Breed” starts playing in the background
At this point I also realized I had made a mistake. In subbing 1 pound of mushrooms for 1 pound of beef, I forgot that mushrooms SHRINK a lot more in cooking than beef does. So this was going to end up a lot more liquidy than intended. Luckily, I had a spare 4 ounces of mushrooms , so I just roughly chopped them and decided I’d cook them less to return some physical bits to the batch. That done, I got some oil barely smoking, and seared my beef chunks. Due to my oven being as old if not older than me, and being VERY temperamental, it turned out our High was TOO high, and some of that browning became low-grade charring, but let’s claim that was a creative choice: clearly we charred the mushrooms, so we had to char some of the beef as well.
Once the beef is seared off, it’s time to really build your filling. Toss in a rough chopped onion and some garlic with a bit of water to scrape up all those browned bits from the beef and mushrooms. Add the mushrooms back in just to incorporate the garlic into them a little more, since Mushrooms and garlic go great together, like a foul-mouthed fun guy at a office party that needs lightening up.
A little tomato paste, and then it’s time for the stew to be formed: in goes beef broth, the beef itself and its juices, the Guinness, and a weird little ingredient I had to pick up especially for this: Green peppercorns, specifically the brined variety. If you don’t know, before it fully ripens, black pepper is green. You can pick these green peppercorns and either brine them or dry them for later use. They’re a little less fiery than Black pepper, though with the brining they come off almost…mentholated. Like, it almost feels like it’s going to burn like wasabi, but then it just slides away into coolness, like the searing mint-like burn of menthol. It’s quite strange, and it’s meant to lighten an otherwise fairly heavy pie.
Green peppercorns look at lot like tiny green olives. Which feels like a dumb thing to say, but really, it’s not like you’d intuitively think that.
Once it’s all in the pot, just slip it into the over and braise for an hour and a half. Or, like me, you can have just skimmed the recipe, and not realize you needed this to go in the oven, so you cooked everything in a pan you’re only MOSTLY sure is oven safe, and the oven isn’t heated anyway. If you do this like other perfectly normal in-no-way-mockable persons, don’t worry. While the indirect heat of an oven is BETTER for braising, you can just simmer the mixture on the stove top. Remember that, with all simmering/braising/slow-cooking situations that every time you open the lid, you’re cutting heat, and therefore adding time. Mine ended up taking over 2 hours instead of 90 minutes, because I just couldn’t leave well enough alone (and also because, again, old stove, rather temperamental.) Once it was cooked, I seasoned it again with salt, pepper, some beef bouillon, and umami powder. None of this was technically called for, but I felt it could have been a little stronger flavored, so I leaned into it.
Yes, “weak” is the word I would use to describe this.
On the other hand, my mother tried it, and remarked it tasted quite nice, so I didn’t do MUCH to it.
Once the stew’s done, the rest is pretty simple: you let it cool for half an hour uncovered, so that the stew’s residual heat doesn’t mess with the crust, and then you, well, make the crust. If you want to be hardcore, you can make your own puff pastry for the task, but I am decidedly NOT that hardcore, so I used store bought, which really didn’t want to thaw for me, but I persevered.
The original recipe said to ladle the mixture into 4 bowls, and cover each with its own pastry crust before baking, but that sounded like a lot of work, so instead I poured it all into a single pie-plate, and covered that.
Could I have tried harder on this part? Yes.
Do I apologize for this clearly phoned-in effort? No.
Could I have rolled those lines out more? Yes, but I had a play to go see, so I was in a hurry, and also a rain/hail-storm had kicked up so there was a non-zero concern the house would lose power soon. This ended up not being the case, and after 30 minutes of baking, the pie was ready to scoop into bowls for serving.
Now THAT is a strong-looking stew.
The final flavor wasn’t world-changing, but it was satisfying. My only real complaint was that I clearly needed to do something about the middle section of crust, as it really hadn’t browned as much as it should have, so there was some doughy-ness. Otherwise, it tasted surprisingly simple for the amount of ingredients poured into it. And it was certainly a solid note to close the month on.
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THURSDAY: STILL DON’T REALLY HAVE ANY GREAT IDEAS. I’M BEEN PUTTING OUT THE OTHER SIX FIRES.
MONDAY: OH MAN, IF YOU THINK I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING THURSDAY, LET ME TELL YOU, MONDAY IS A GODDAMN ENIGMA.
Let's unpack this
Steak, Shroom, And Stout Pie (Much better name, ashamed it took me this long)
1.25 pounds stemmed and chopped assorted mushrooms
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
¼ tsp Umami seasoning (substitute equal parts onion powder and salt if unavailable)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
1 cup Guinness or other Irish stout
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons drained brined green peppercorns, coarsely chopped
2 tsps dried thyme
½ tbsp. beef bouillon
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F, if braising.
Heat a large skillet (if simmering) or large heavy pot (if braising) over medium high heat, add the chopped mushrooms, and cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally to promote browning. Remove
Pat beef dry. Stir together flour, salt, pepper, and umami powder . Add to beef on a plate or shallow dish, tossing to coat, then shake off excess and transfer to a plate. Heat oil in previously used skillet or pot over moderately high heat until just smoking, then brown meat in 2 batches, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes per batch, transferring to a bowl when browned.
Add onion, garlic, mushrooms, and water to pot and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot and stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in beef with accumulated juices accumulated, broth, beer, Worcestershire sauce, peppercorns, and thyme and bring to a simmer, then cover and transfer to oven. Braise until beef is very tender and sauce is thickened, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Season, and cool stew completely, uncovered, about 30 minutes.
Put a shallow baking pan on middle rack of oven and increase oven temperature to 425°F.
Divide cooled stew among bowls or pour into a pie plate . Roll out pastry dough about 1/8 inch thick. Trim edges and cut dough to fit vessels. Stir together egg and water and brush a 1-inch border of egg wash around each square. Invert 1 square over each bowl and drape, pressing sides lightly to help adhere. Brush pastry tops with some of remaining egg wash and freeze 15 minutes to thoroughly chill dough.
Bake pies in preheated shallow baking pan until pastry is puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 400°F and bake 5 minutes more to fully cook dough.