Monday, December 15, 2008

Cheeky beef


Meat pies are so often taken for granted. Always available in one form or another, the humble meat pie has many (plain to gourmet) variations. If somewhere in the south of the South Island is where you call home, you are very fortunate in the meat pie department as there are local Otago interpretations considered to be some of the best that New Zealand has on offer.

It is my personal opinion that 'Who are all the pies?' in Dunedin and 'the fridge' in Alexandra produce some prime specimens.

If you are lucky enough to live there, no doubt you've heard of these fine establishments, if not, I'd be keen to know where you find your favourite pie. When wandering at home or abroad, where to get a good pie is valuable information.

These days, however, unless I were partial to Marks & Sparks or Swansons' frozen specialities, I'm having to make my own. And for me, forget wagyu, THE best cut of beef for pie would have to be cheekmeat.

Cooked slowly and with a moist heat, beef cheekmeat yields some of the most succulent stew or meat pie filling you will ever taste. To locate this fine cut, you'll likely have to locate a butcher.

For a braising liquid, I am partial to a good stock and beer mixture along with all the aromatics: vegetables and herbs. Trim the cheeks of their external connective membranes. Place your knife at the edge of this silvery covering, guide the knife upward and it will separate fairly easily.

Dust the cheeks with seasoned flour and brown them on both sides in a little grapeseed oil. Place then in casserole or dutch oven with some herbs (thyme or a little oregano) and if you'd like to get some veg in, you can also add chunks of carrot, celery, onion wedges and some halved button mushrooms. Cover with braising liquid. Your choice of any favourie beer or wine added to a good stock is all you need.




Cheeks need a few hours to cook. You want the met to shred easily (not completely dissolve into nothing) so as soon as it is possible to pull it apart without too much effort, take it out of the oven to cool. Set the meat (and veg, if using) aside and strain the braising liquid, reducing it a little if necessary. You want it to be thick enough to hold the pie together, a nice amount of gravy but not reduced to glue.

Any favourite savoury pastry will do here. I like something flaky, with enough flavour to stand up to the filling but not too rich. Something in the shortcrust family (here are a few suggestions courtesy of BBC Food) works beautifully. Brushed with an eggwash, it will turn glossy and crisp. Some recipes use ready made pastry and suggest using a pre-baked shortcrust base with a puff pastry top.

And to drink: Many beers work well to accompany a meat pie. I usually prefer more of the beer that was put into the braising liquid, something on the darker end of things. I like Bookbinder because I find the hops really balance the richness of the pie and compliments the herbal notes in the gravy. And it's my favourite session ale. In the cooler months, one of the many Belgian inspired styles would be delicious. However, if you are the lucky one to be in the heat of the kitchen, you could justify a few pints of your favourite as well.

Cheers!

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