I was perusing the guardian food section last week online (as you do) and came across a nice article on the A-Z of winter food . Under P there was a fantastic looking pie called the cheek and tail pie. On closer inspection I saw that this was out of the Hawksmoor at Home book that some friends had given me last year. As I am into making pies at the moment, and had my mum and stepfather coming for dinner the following week I saw this as a sign from above (maybe!) and decided to make this amazing pie.
Hawksmoor, for those who may not know is a fantastic steak restaurant in London. They serve meat from the Ginger Pig butcher only, and they focus on big, juicy and very tasty steaks. There was one near my old work, so I was lucky enough to visit it a number of times. The book Hawksmoor at Home follows their philosophy of getting the best meat and cooking it simply to enhance the flavours. I love this style of cooking, heavy on the meat, easy on the technical aspects, working to bring out the best in the meat
This wasn’t a hugely complicated dish (apart from the pastry which is always a little tricky) but it was time consuming so it was it was down to my trusty butchers as soon as it opened to pick up the meat for this pie. On the shopping list today was beef cheek, oxtail, a whole piece of pork belly bacon and a 6cm long piece of bone marrow.
There was further excitement when I tweeted Hawksmoor to tell them I was taking on their pie and received a reply almost instantly wishing me luck – you’ve gotta love social media.
As always the meat looked fantastic (I have never been let down by the butcher yet). The cheek was intensely red in colour and had a very strong iron smell almost like game. It was tough as old boots, but with a few hours cooking I knew this would be tender and have a wonderful rich beefy taste. The bacon looked and smelt amazing, really smoky – so much better buying big pieces than small rashers, and the oxtail as always just looked a bit weird!
Once this was all at home, stage one was the marinating. The oxtail pieces went in whole alongside the slab of bacon and big chunks of the beautiful cheek, I poured a bottle of Doombar beer over the top and left in the fridge for about 3 hours to soak.
Whilst this was marinating, I cracked on with the pastry. I love making pastry, it’s messy and frustrating, and as it is all judged by hand quite tricky to get right sometimes. This recipe continued the theme of being different from every other recipe by using iced milk instead of water or melted butter. This in the end was inspired and really made this dish extra special. So flour was mixed with baking powder and salt and lots of thyme leaves. Butter was then grated in alongside suet. 4 egg yolks were then added and then the milk was added in until it resembled pastry. I kneaded this very little, only to bind it, as I didn’t want to loose all the bubbles so I had a little rise and nice, crispy light pastry for the top of the pie. Once done this was wrapped in clingfilm and put in the fridge.
I had about 2 hours to wait then, so put on my Blade Runner Blu-Ray I got for Christmas and whiled away the time, immersed in this amazing sci-fi movie, until the timer finally went and it was time to crack on with the real cooking! The beef was removed from the bowl, dried and then coated in flour. The bacon was cut up into a mountain of lardons. I also prepped the veg (well I guess it had to have some!) carrots, mushrooms, onions and garlic.
The meat was then browned, making the kitchen smell pretty damn special, then the veg was added and finally this was all put back into the pan along with the beer marinade, some HP sauce and beef stock. My dish as you can see was at full capacity and in fact I did manage to spill a load all over the hob – never mind, Jen was on clearing up duty!! This was then just simmered for about 2 and a half hours, until the cheek was tender and the oxtail was falling apart.
After this was done, I removed all the meat and veg from the pan and reduced the liquid. I added some arrowroot at this stage to speed it up, as was starting to run out of time. As this was working its magic, I stripped the meat off the oxtail, a messy, but satisfying job! and added this all together ending up with a bowl full of beef, bacon and the odd token bit of veg – it looked immense, and smelt even better.
Once the liquid was reduced everything went back in the pan, alongside some stilton cheese and this was cooled until I was ready to build. First went the meat mixture, then I stuck the marrow bone right in the centre so it protruded above the meat. The pastry was then rolled out and then put (very carefully) over the top of the pie. I cut a hole out of the middle so the marrow stuck out like a pie flute, and then trimmed the edges. Finally milk was brushed on the top. Producing this rather magnificent pie ready for the oven.
After 45 mins at 180, it looked ready to go. And I have to say I was really happy with how it ended up looking. The pastry had turned a gorgeous brown colour, and the marrow really added a great impact to the finished dish. After a few minutes rest, whilst I mashed the potatoes and finished off the cabbage, it was time to eat!
So it looked good, but what about the taste. Happy to report, it was go-oo-od! The meat inside was tender and delicious, the chunks of cheek kept their shape and size meaning that you had lovely big pieces of meaty beef, the strong iron flavour had dissipated and was replaced with an intense rich flavour. The ox-tail was more shredded in consistency after taking it off the bone. You got little hits of flavour from this. It again was rich, but had a slightly fatty taste to it (which was really nice, despite my description!) and the bacon lardons, well as bacon always is, was amazing. This added the smoky taste, which you needed to cut through the meatiness of the beef. The sauce was unctuous (love that word) and rich, you got a hint of the beer and a hint of the stilton (I would double the amount next time) running through it.
But if I am honest the star of the show was the pastry. This was one of the best I have done. Whilst it was incredibly crispy and flaky on the top, underneath this, (due to the addition of the milk) there was a softer layer. It was like a mixture between a batter (think Yorkshire pud) and a pastry. This meant that there were different textures and tastes, all creating a really tasty, beautiful dish. If I were to change anything next time, I would make my chunks of cheek even bigger and I would reduce the sauce more as it was quite liquidy. But these are minor things.
We washed this down with a beautiful bottle from my Dad’s Australian wine collection (one of the last unfortunately), a Merlot from Margaret River. This complimented it perfectly, as it was a strong punchy red.
So another successful pie, and one I will do again. I will be using this pastry recipe for other pies as well I think as it was so good, and really made this dish what it was. Next up from this book is the Beef Shin Macaroni dish I have just seen on the next page – can’t wait!!