David Kennedy this week brings you a fabulous meat dish perfect for warming you up on a cold day
I was never a great fan of savoury pies and puddings when I was a kid. Except for shepherd’s or cottage pie with their wonderful mashed potato toppings, of course. What is their not to like about these two fantastic but simple dishes?
I didn’t even mind fish pie, but only if it came with a fluffy mash thatch and creamy filling which transformed smoked haddock, cod and prawns into something really special. Flaky pastry was definitely a no-no, however.
When you’re a child food doesn’t get any better, especially on a cold winter’s day.
But I never felt quite the same way about steak and kidney, sausage and leek, chicken and mushroom, turkey and cranberry or steak and ale pies.
Why, I’m not sure. Don’t get me wrong; presented with a steaming plate of homemade rabbit pie or a Cornish pasty with a copious side order of vegetables, and I would always clean my plate.
But I didn’t look forward to those meals in the same way I did the mashed potato topped affairs.
Roll on a few years and I can’t believe I ever entertained a pie-prejudice.
When it comes to savoury pies – whether blanketed in pastry, wrapped in suet or smothered in mashed potato – there’s nothing second best.
And on a cold day they are the ultimate traditional British winter warmer.
Until recently comfort food was a much maligned phrase. It conjured up images of fatty, high calorie and unsophisticated meals.
The dining out trends were for fat-free diet foods; dishes with convoluted and incomprehensible names that looked nice on the plate but failed to sate the appetite; buzz ingredients like squirt bottle garnishes and flavour-infused butters and oils; weird and funky pairings and fusion cuisine.
No one wanted to be seen eating old- fashioned make-do-and-mend meals like cottage pie that they and generations of their family before them had grown up enjoying.
The brave new world of the 1990s and early noughties demanded food that was equally daring.
There is still a place for experimental food. But as the saying goes: ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’ There is a reason why the UK’s plethora of savoury puddings and pies with regional variations, have outlasted all the foodie trends of the past few decades.
It’s because they are good, honest, tasty, satisfying, wholesome and ultimately filling recipes.
They have been honed to perfection over centuries and when all is doom and gloom both on the weather and economic fronts they are, to coin another phrase, just what the doctor ordered.
It’s funny how when things aren’t going our way we hark back to our childhood when everything seemed brighter, warmer and less complicated.
For me family meals are at the heart of my happy childhood memories. Those were the days when nothing was wasted, and pies and other comfort food loomed large in the kitchen.
Sunday’s lamb roast would be turned into shepherd’s pie on a Monday. Left-over beef into cottage pie; chicken into a puff pastry creation.
Steak and kidney was relatively cheap to buy and encased in suet pudding is a fantastic rib-sticking meal for the coldest of days.
Truly satisfying food doesn’t just fill the stomach; it feeds the mind and senses too.
Now I am a chef I appreciate the complexities and variations that savoury pie recipes offer. I have never met two people who make shepherd’s pie the same way. Some add Worcestershire sauce or red wine to the mix while others let the flavours of the meat and vegetables alone do their work.
Many include carrots, swede, celery and tomatoes or prefer just mushrooms and onion with a good dose of mixed herbs.
I’ve eaten it flavoured with Indian spices, sherry and tomato ketchup (not all together, I hasten to add) and topped with crushed pumpkin, butternut squash or celeriac in place of traditional mash.
I’ve even tried a West Indian version using chillies, garlic, lime and sweet potatoes.
The great thing is none of these methods is wrong. A basic shepherd’s pie recipe can be pepped up to suit people’s own tastes. Comfort food for when we need it most: to sustain and soothe until spring has sprung.
David Kennedy is executive chef of David Kennedy’s Food Social @ The Biscuit Factory, 16 Stoddart Street, Shieldfield, Newcastle, NE2 1AN, 0191 260 5411, www.foodsocial.co.uk.
RECIPE OF THE WEEK: Overnight braised oxtail and brisket cottage pie
This recipe comes courtesy of Food Social’s head chef Andrew Wilkinson. It’s slightly fiddly to make as you have to marinade the meat, but it is worth the effort.
400g oxtail on the bone
400g beef shoulder blade
1tbsp tomato puree
1 stick celery
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
4 black peppercorns
Bottle red wine
500ml beef stock
2 carrots, diced
¼ swede, diced
¼ celeriac, diced
6 large potatoes, baked
100ml cream, warmed through
Salt and pepper to taste
Place all the meat, still on the bone, in a bowl and pour over all the red wine. Add the celery, whole carrot, garlic, bay leaf, thyme and peppercorns. Leave to marinade in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
Remove the meat and pat dry. Lightly dust all the pieces with flour and seal in a hot pan. Place in a roasting tin.
Add the marinated vegetables and red wine along with the tomato puree to the hot pan and reduce the liquid by half. Pour over the meat, add the beef stock, cover with tin foil and cook in the oven at 140C/275F/gas mark 1 for four-and-a-half hours. To make the mash, bake the potatoes. When cooked remove the flesh and mash or pass through a ricer. Add the butter and warm cream and mix. Season with salt and pepper and put to one side.
When the beef is cooked, drain off the liquor into a bowl and flake the meat into chunks.
Pass the liquor through a sieve, put into a clean pan and bring to a simmer, reducing by half until it thickens.
Bring a pan of water to the boil and blanch the diced swede, celeriac and carrot for four or five minutes.
Put the meat into an ovenproof dish, pour over the red wine gravy and add the root vegetables. Top with the mashed potato. Bake in the oven at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for another 20 minutes until golden brown.