An Irish "pi" for any day of the week
March 14 is known around the world as Pi Day in recognition of the Greek symbol used to represent the mathematical constant known as Pi, or the never-ending number of 3.14 plus, plus, plus. Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, and regardless of the circle's size, the ratio will always equal pi, or approximately 3.14.
Math lovers around the world mark this occasion by participating in mathematical competitions, running 3.14 miles, wearing clothing with the pi symbol or the face of Albert Einstein, whose birthday just happens to fall on March 14.
Those of us not so mathematically-inclined can also join the fun simply by eating anything with a circular shape, like pizza, or a cookie, and of course, pie. With St. Patrick's Day on Saturday, this is the perfect opportunity to introduce our new recipe for Irish Stout and Steak Hand Pies.
Savory hand pies are a popular specialty of Irish pubs, with variations nearly as infinite as pi. Our recipe features flaky, half-moon pockets filled with tender cubes of steak, carrots and potatoes, and a wonderfully complex flavor profile that comes from the addition of onions, celery, thyme, garlic, beef stock and, of course, Guinness Irish Stout.
For this recipe, I've chosen to use boneless shoulder chuck steak. You can use any tender beef steak, or even ground steak or lamb, but I prefer this cut for this recipe because it is flavorful, tender and firm enough to hold its shape.
When I have time, I make the dough from scratch using my favorite shortcrust pastry recipe. This dough is easy to make and work with, and results in a wonderfully flaky crust. If time is an issue, Pillsbury's refrigerated pie crust also works great; however, I've found that the pre-formed sheets of dough can become too thin for this hearty filling. To better control the thickness of the dough, I mold each sheet into a ball and flatten it into a disk before rolling and cutting out my circles.
Using a pair of dice as my visual guide, I cut the beef into half-inch cubes and remove any excess fatty tissue. The cubed beef is tossed in flour before cooking, and I like to brown it with diced bacon for added flavor.
The beef filling takes about an hour to make, from start to finish, and I often make a double batch to freeze some for later use. Once assembled, you can also freeze the hand pies, either baked or unbaked.
These pies are excellent when served hot with a side of brown gravy or your favorite dipping sauce, especially when washed down with a pint of Guinness. Savory, hearty and delicious, these Irish Stout and Steak Hand Pies are the perfect way to celebrate Pi Day, or any day. Erin go Bragh!
Irish Stout and Steak Hand Pies
Makes: 6 to 8 hand pies
For the crust:
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and chilled
¼ to ½ cup ice water
1 tablespoon milk, cream or water
Chill cut butter in freezer for 15 to 20 minutes.
In a food processor, mix the flour, sugar and salt together until combined, about 15 seconds. Add the butter and pulse 15-20 times until the mixture appears coarsely ground. Add the water slowly through the feed tube, starting with a ¼ cup, and then by the tablespoon, until the dough just holds together when pinched between two fingers.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface and form into a ball. Divide the ball in half and form each half into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to two days, before using. Dough may also be frozen for up to 2 months.
When ready to assemble pies, roll each disk out into a large circle until ¼-inch thick. Use a mold or template to cut 6 or 7-inch circles and transfer each to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Gently shape leftover scraps into a disk and roll out again until completed. Refrigerate for 10 minutes before assembling pies.
For the filling:
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 strips bacon, diced into small pieces (thumbnail size or smaller)
1 pound beef chuck shoulder, excess fat trimmed, cut into half-inch cubes
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small yellow onion, diced (about 2 cups)
1 celery rib, diced into ¼-inch pieces (about ½ cup)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped (1/2 teaspoon dried)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup beef stock
2 small carrots, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
1 to 2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
1/3 cup Guinness Irish Stout or other dark beer
In a shallow dish, combine the flour, salt and pepper. Add the beef cubes and toss until evenly coated, shaking off any excess flour; discard the flour when done.
Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped bacon and cook for 2 minutes, then add the floured beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove meat from pan and set aside.
Lower heat to medium and add the onion, celery, thyme, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook until soft and lightly golden, stirring often, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add more oil by the tablespoon if needed.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the beef stock to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer and add the carrots and potatoes. Cook until tender, about 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a heatproof dish and reserve the stock for use in the filling.
Once the onions are golden and tender, use a wooden spoon to stir in the Guinness and scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the reserved beef stock and stir to combine.
Add the browned beef cubes, carrots and potatoes, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the liquid reduces and thickens into a gravy, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool until just warm or room temperature.
To assemble the hand pies:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place 1/3-cup of the beef filling in the center of each circle. Use your fingers to smooth cold water over the edge of the upper half of each circle. Fold the bottom half up to meet the top to form a semi-circle, pressing gently, then press a fork all along the edge to seal each pie. For best results, refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes before baking.
Remove pies from refrigerator and brush the top of each with the egg wash, covering completely. Gently poke a fork in the center of each pie to allow steam to escape. Add a sprig of fresh thyme or sprinkling of herbs to garnish, if desired.
Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately. Leftover pies may be refrigerated for several days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
• If using pre-made pie dough, for best results, form the dough into a ball, then shape it into a disk before rolling out to ¼-inch thick circle.
• Let the beef stew cool before placing on the dough, or the heat may cause the dough to break.
• Chill the cut dough before assembling the hand pies to ensure they are firm enough to accommodate the filling.
• For the flakiest crust, chill the pies for 10 to 15 minutes before baking.
• These hand pies can be frozen either baked, or unbaked. Baked pies can be reheated at 300 degrees until hot. For unbaked pies straight from the freezer, bake at 400 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes.
• If freezing unbaked pies, be sure to poke the air holes in before freezing, but don't apply the egg wash until just before baking.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 13-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.