Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Steak and Ale Pies (includes Instant Pot / Pressure Cooker method)

In this house, steak and ale pie is the King of all pies...

I've been making steak and ale pie for years - I often start off by braising beef this way, and sometimes it even gets the traditional pastry lids when it actually ends up as a pie (I usually like to do them individually in pots with just a puff pastry or rough puff pastry top), sometimes it ends up not as a pie, but with fluffy dumplings on top, soaking up the juices, or occasionally it's served with baguette slices laid on it near the end, smothered in a mix of butter and mustard and topped with cheese... and sometimes, it's 'just' served as a beef casserole with potatoes and vegetables.

This is my pie - it's a small one - everyone elses' is about double the size!

It's just the kind of braised beef dish that's soooo good, and so versatile that I go back to the core ingredients time and time again but end up using them in different ways. Usually, I make this quantity the day before, and put half in pots for making pies the next day so it's nice and chilled before putting the pastry lids on, and the other half is frozen for another time. You can get away with putting it into the fridge to chill for just an hour or two before putting pastry lids on and baking if you're using individual dishes for the pies, as it will cool down quicker (and if you want to top it with dumplings, you can just pop them on top as soon as it's cooked, and cook for another 20 minutes or so until they're fluffy and cooked - adding mustard, parmesan and some thyme if you have it is lovely!).

This quantity serves eight people (or if they have Desperate Dan appetites, maybe six?) and is easily doubled if you want to cook in bulk.

If you're counting calories, it is 2,965 calories for the whole quantity of filling, not including pastry, and therefore 371 calories for an eighth (of filling only - so for a low calorie meal you could always have the filling as a braise with steamed green veg and some new potatoes, and try to ignore those eating it pie style with chips!!).
You don't have to stick rigidly to the ingredients and exact quantities here - as long as you have somewhere between 1-1.5kg beef and the correct amount of liquid you can play around with the vegetables, herbs and other flavours depending on what you have and what you like - try it with stout  if you like it (it has a slightly more bitter flavour), or if you don't want to use alcohol, use 500ml of beef stock. I'm lucky enough to live down the road from a brewery which produces some fantastic ales (such as Belvoir and Old Dalby).

I tend to avoid wheat and gluten a lot of the time in its grain form. If you have a decent food processor I have a very easy recipe for gluten free (rough) puff pastry here using GF flour, ice cubes and frozen cubed butter - one quantity should top four individual pies, and it is easily doubled. If you want to make the whole thing gluten free, be sure to use gluten free ale and check your worcestershire sauce is gluten free too.

[Calories for ingredients in square brackets - beef calories are for lean braising steak]

  • 1.3kg braising steak* cut into 1 to 1.5 inch cubes (see notes re. beef below) [1,768 calories]
  • 200g smoked bacon lardons (or rashers cut into thin strips) [228]
  • 300g mushrooms, halved or quartered (I like to use small portabello, forestiere or chestnut) [48]
  • 500g carrots (about six medium), cut chunky [130]
  • 3 medium onions, chopped (275g) [113]
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed [12]
  • 1 celery stick, whole [removed]
  • Small handful of flatleaf parsley [removed]
  • Few sprigs fresh thyme [removed]
  • 2 bay leaves [removed]
  • 2 tbsp worcestershire sauce [34]
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard [45]
  • 1 heaped tsp black treacle (or you could use dark brown sugar) [44]
  • 1 x 500ml bottle ale (e.g. Newcastle Brown Ale) [202]
  • Beef stock / bouillon cube or concentrate to make up 500ml of stock (don't add the 500ml water) [20]
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste [2]
  • Oil (I use about 2 x 15ml tbsp - feel free to use more oil than I suggest, I just like to keep it down) [247 calories for 2 tbsp]
  • Cornflour (cornstarch) - around 2 x 15ml level tbsp to thicken [72]
To top the pies
  • One pack of ready-rolled puff pastry will top four to six individual pies (depending on the size of your pies - but assume it will top four to be on the safe side). Get two packs in if you want to make the full eight pies
  • Or to make gluten free (rough) puff pastry, go to my easy recipe here if you have a good food processor - double it up for eight individual pies.
  • Beaten egg or milk to brush the pastry lids.
Useful equipment
  • A pressure cooker or a lidded casserole dish (one that can go from hob to oven is best if you have one).


This method includes instructions to slow cook the meat filling conventionally in the oven (for a couple of hours or until tender) or pressure cook (including Instant Pot / pressure cooker instructions in italics in brackets), depending on your preference, before baking the pastry-topped pies. You could also use the slow cooker setting if desired, using the same amount of liquid as for pressure cooking.

Herbs tied to celery and browned beef
1) Cut the celery stalk to a size that will fit your cooking pot or pressure cooker. Put the parsley and thyme into the groove of the celery, and tie it securely with some clean cooking string and set aside. If cooking in a conventional oven, pre-heat to gas mark 3 / 160C / 140C fan oven.

2)  Fry the bacon in 1/2 tbsp oil (Instant Pot: Press the Saute function button, and adjust to more to get it nice and hot) until starting to become golden and crispy, then add the mushrooms with a tiny pinch of salt and continue to cook until they have released excess liquid and are just cooked through. Set aside (or refrigerate if slow cooking the beef).

3) Season and brown the beef in small batches to get a good colour on it without crowding your pan. I use 1/2 tbsp oil to start, then add another half way through, as needed. Set the beef aside.

4) Saute the carrots in the final 1/2 tbsp oil until they are *just* starting to catch a little colour on the edges, then add the onion and continue to saute for a few more minutes until it has softened and just started to turn a little golden.

5) Add the crushed garlic, and cook off for a minute before adding the ale and scraping up anything from the bottom of your pan with a wooden spoon (flavour!).

6) Add the beef back into the pan together with the celery and herbs, bay leaves, the mustard, worcestershire sauce, black treacle (or brown sugar), beef stock/bouillon cube and some freshly ground pepper. Go to instruction (7) for pressure cooking, and instruction (8) for conventional oven cooking.

7) If pressure cooking, give a stir, make sure all the pieces of beef and the herbs are submerged as far as possible, put the lid on and seal it, and cook on high pressure for 35 minutes, then natural release or wait 15 minutes before releasing any remaining pressure (Instant Pot: Turn the knob on the top to sealing, then you can select the Meat / Stew button, which will automatically cook it on high for 35 minutes. When it finishes, press cancel to turn it off, then leave for about 15 minutes before releasing any remaining pressure, carefully). Check your meat is just tender. If not, you can always give it another 10 minutes on high then check again. Go to instruction (9).

8) If cooking in the oven, add 300ml water and bring to a simmer, and then transfer to the middle of the oven with a lid on, and cook for approximately 2 to 2 and 1/2 hours, or until the meat is just tender.

9) Add the bacon and mushrooms back into the mix and then simmer (Instant Pot: press the Saute button, and leave on normal heat) for 15 minutes to reduce the sauce. After 15 minutes, mix the cornflour with a little cold water until you have a thin paste, and stir in half gently, and cook out for a minute. Depending on how thick you want your gravy, then stir in the rest and cook out for another minute until thickened. Taste some of the sauce, then add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste until you're happy with it.

10) Divide the mixture between pie dishes as appropriate (setting any aside to cool that you wish to freeze). Cool, then place into the fridge to chill. Meanwhile, if you are making your own pastry, then go ahead, or follow instructions on the packet as to when to remove from the fridge before using.

11) Top your pies by moistening the edges of the dishes with water or beaten egg and placing a disc of pastry on top, slightly larger than the dish. Pinch the edges slightly to secure it, brush with eggwash, and poke a few holes in to let the steam out.

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7 / 220C / 200C fan oven, and place the pies in the middle of the oven on a baking tray to cook for around 30-35 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling is hot all the way through. You can take out and leave for 5 or 10 minutes before serving, if you want to avoid burnt mouths!

*Some little tips regarding beef. The cut of beef, the diet of the cow (grass fed is best), the time it has hung, and even the particular animal is going to have an impact on the tenderness and flavour of the meat you use.

Lean braising steak can remain dry, possibly even a little tough despite a few hours of conventional cooking, so look for a decent marbling of fat (or go for the pressure cooker method). Stewing steak tends to have a greater fat content, and become more tender once cooked. Something like shin of beef, or beef/ox cheeks require much longer cooking, but yield a deliciously tender, gelatinous result after around four hours or so of conventional cooking.

The thing I've discovered with pressure cooking is it seems to take a lot of the 'guesswork' out of cooking beef, and give relatively consistent results, almost regardless of the cut, so I heartily recommend giving it a go if you're comfortable with using a pressure cooker. Even lean braising steak comes out quite tender and moist, and cuts which require several hours cooking conventionally come out deliciously tender in pretty much the same time. Which is around 35 minutes at high pressure, so it makes a huge difference!

If you're cooking in a conventional oven, then just keep an eye on the liquid levels, top up if and when needed, and if it's not quite tender, then give it a little longer until you're happy with it.


  1. This sounds so good. you can't beat recipes like this. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Hello from San Diego, thanks for an amazing pie!

  3. Great pressure cooker recipe, thanks. I added some whole chestnuts for Christmas cheer!

    1. I love the chestnut idea for a festive twist!! Thanks for sharing, Betty :)


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