From the ultimate steak and ale pie to the tastiest chicken soup ever, Felicity Cloake takes the best ideas from top chefs’ recipes to create THE perfect versions. Now tuck into part two of her irresistible series
Perfectionist Felicity Cloake presents four more of her ultimate recipes – including tasty chicken soup
You won’t find better recipes for your favourite dishes than these. Why? Because Felicity Cloake has rigorously tested versions from all the greats – from Elizabeth David and Delia to Jamie Oliver and Nigella – then pulled together the best bits from each to create her own perfect recipes. Now you can enjoy her unbeatable creations in our delicious new series
What a noble thing is the pie. Everyone, with the puzzling exception of my own mother, loves plunging through that pastry portal to discover the riches that lie beneath – and whether that’s cheese and potato, apple and blackberry or, as here, classic meat and gravy, the pie rarely disappoints.
The most important thing about steak and ale pie is you shouldn’t use steak. Or at least, not the kind generally recommended for pies – stewing, braising and chuck steak all came out tough in my experiments. Much better were the shin beef recommended by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the ox cheek and ox tail deployed by the Hawksmoor steak restaurant in their cookbook: flavoursome, rich, and yes, melt in the mouth. Generously sized chunks of bacon add another layer of smoky flavour (lest there be any remaining doubt, this is not a dinner for dieters). I’m not keen on the slimy mushrooms which seem bafflingly common in pie recipes, nor indeed on the classic but inevitably mushy carrots. But baby onions make the cut, adding sweetness to what is otherwise a defiantly savoury dish.
For the gravy, ale is obviously non-negotiable. Go for a full-bodied, sweeter variety – as beer writer Melissa Cole explains, using just any old stout can make your gravy bitter. You could top it up with water, but I think the Hairy Bikers’ beef stock gives a more meaty result. And then, despite what I’ve said about the ale, I’ve added some cocoa powder, like chef Tom Norrington-Davies, which somehow rounds things off perfectly.
Finally, to top the dish, I’ve eschewed the usual featherlight puff in favour of a crumbly suet version: crisp on top, soft, almost doughy beneath, and the perfect thing for soaking up all that lovely gravy. I don’t, unlike Hugh, believe it’s necessary to line the entire dish with the stuff, because I’m not keen on the gumminess at the bottom. Serve with steamed greens, as a nod to a balanced diet. Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan 150°C/ gas 3. Melt a generous knob of dripping in a large frying pan over a high heat and toss the chunks of beef in seasoned flour to coat.
Sear it in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan, until well browned. Transfer to an oven-proof casserole dish once done.
Reduce the heat a little, and add the lardons and the onions to the pan. Cook until the bacon fat begins to melt, and the onions are brown on all sides, then tip them into the casserole along with any fat and juices.
Pour a glug of ale into the frying pan and bring it to a simmer, scraping the bottom to dislodge any bits, then pour the whole lot into the casserole with the meat.
Add the remaining ale, the stock, herbs, sugar, vinegar and cocoa, and bring it all to a simmer.
Cover the dish and bake for 2¼ hours, then uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 1½ hours, until the meat is tender and almost falling apart (it will cook further in the pie). Allow to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, make the pastry. Mix the flour, baking powder and mustard powder, if using, in a bowl with the salt. Stir in the fat, then add just enough iced water to make a dough. Shape into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C/ gas 5. Spoon the filling into a pie dish, and roll out the pastry to about 1cm (½in) thick.
Wet the rim of the dish, then place the pastry over the filling, pushing down around the edge to seal. Cut a hole in the middle to let the steam out. Brush with a little milk and bake for about 50 minutes, until golden in colour.