This rich and steamy steak pot pie puts the ultimate finishing touch on what has been a very long and very cold winter. I brushed off the temptation to top these off with puff pastry; an idea that felt at best tired and at worst cliché. My rambling trips through the aisles of the Jean Talon market had me in the mood for something a bit more seasonal. Living the last few months under layers of snow and ice had put its stamp on me, and I wanted the dish to recreate some of that feel of waking up from a life spent in hibernation. Layers of tender slow-cooked meat, silky Jerusalem artichoke mash, and a parsnip and carrot topping. Winter’s last and greatest hurrah.
There is something about braising beef in beer. Perhaps it is the sweetness of the barley malt. Maybe it is the increased acidity that aids in breaking down proteins in the meat, giving a tender piece of beef that falls apart on your tongue. Probably it is because I always get to finish the bottle. Whatever the reason, a properly cooked steak base is the most essential part of the recipe. There is definitely a best way to prepare the meat, and it involves a brief searing on both sides at high heat followed by a slow cooking for several hours. When you pull this off your pie will know no limits. It is the difference between a tough slice of meat that tastes like the sole of your shoe or a tender piece of carnivore heaven that welcomes every molecule of flavour the sauce can provide.
The Jerusalem artichokes are also worth a mention, especially from a science perspective. These small tubers discolour very quickly due to an effect called enzymatic browning. Unlike the Maillard Reaction or caramelization, the two non-enzymatic browning reactions that require high temperatures, enzymatic browning happens at room temperature due to the action of certain proteins called enzymes. When you peel a Jerusalem artichoke you will very quickly note that the flesh begins to turn a grey-brown colour. Fight your instinct to keep peeling and instead resort to a little bit of science. The enzymes require an environment in which conditions such as temperature and acidity (as measured by the pH scale) are just right. In this case, at a low pH the enzyme polyphenoloxidase is much poorer at generating chemicals in the skin and flesh of the vegetable that give it the unappealing brown colour. So all we need to do is place them in water, add a small amount of citric acid from limes or lemons, or a dash of vinegar, and the pH will fall, giving a more acidic liquid. You will be surprised at how well this works – just don’t overdo things and kill the meal with too much. A small squeeze of lemon or a 1/4 tsp of vinegar will do the job.
This creation has everything you need in a main course. Serve with a side of salad and your choice of fresh and citrus-y vinaigrette to cleanse the palate and keep the meal from becoming too filling. Spring, here we come!
Steak and Porter Pie with Jerusalem Artichoke, Parsnip, and Carrot
1 kg beef, cut into strips (I use sirloin tip)
300 mL dark porter beer
400 mL beef broth
2 french shallots, diced
4 tbsp olive oil
40 g flour
4 sprigs of thyme, stems removed
3 large sage leaves
400 g Jerusalem artichokes
4 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp unsalted butter
zest from 1 small lemon
2 tsp ground pepper
2-3 thinly sliced small parsnips and carrots
Note: I often prepare the steak portion the evening before since it ideally needs 3 hours to develop the flavour and texture properly.
Set the oven to 250ºF and fill a braising dish or large oven-safe pot with the beer. Slice the meat 1/2 to 1 cm thick and about 3-5 cm long. Salt and pepper the pieces, then dust them with flour. Prepare a large skillet with 1 tbsp of neutral cooking oil, then saute the shallots on low to medium heat, allowing them to soften over a period of around 5 minutes. Transfer to the pot with the beer. Now sear the beef on high heat, approx. 30 sec each side. Process in batches to avoid crowding the pan and lowering the temperature, using the remaining 2 tbsp of oil. The top and bottom should be well seared and the inside should be red. Toss each batch in the pot with the beer and cover with the lid when finished. Add the broth, loosening and scraping away all of the remaining bits off the bottom of the skillet. Transfer this to the pot as well. Add both the sage and thyme, then salt and pepper to taste. Place in the oven for 3 hours.
Time for the Jerusalem artichoke mash. Prepare a pot of cold water with a squeeze of lemon juice or 1/4 tsp of vinegar. Peel the vegetables using the edge of a spoon, submerging them in the liquid when finished. When finished, boil until very tender, approximately 20 minutes, and transfer to a food processor. Add the butter, cream, and pepper. Process until a fine purée is formed then salt to taste.
Decide whether you want to serve one large dish or several smaller ones. Whichever route you choose, fill three quarters with the steak and porter mixture, then follow with the mash. Top the entire production with thinly sliced (mandolin) parsnips and carrots. Brush with oil and place in the oven at 350ºC for 20 minutes for a freshly made steak and ale mixture, or 300ºC for 40 minutes for a mixture that was placed in the fridge overnight.