Minced beef wellington
One of my friends caught my attention the other day when she said she’d eaten a minced beef wellington, and it was pretty close to a giant Cornish pasty. How can you go wrong with a giant Cornish pasty I thought? That delicious puff pastry that soaks up the juices from the meat and vegetables… better, sometimes, than a pie (although I appreciate some will find this heretical).
The basic recipe is Jamie Oliver’s, from his Ministry Of Food. What I was really hankering after though, was the rich flavours that you get from steak and ale. The rich, sweet sauce from the cooked down ale… In a pie you just chuck the ale into the pie dish, cover with the pastry and leave it in the oven. Getting a lot of liquid into this recipe was out of the question – the mince and veg have to be piled onto a sheet of puff pastry, and rolled up. Too runny and it would make a total mess, slopping across the pastry sheet and smugly avoiding attempts to be rolled neatly.
So I resolved to make a thick, gooey reduction with the ale, much as you would with red wine. For this recipe I used a bottle of Whitstable Bay Organic Ale, which is quite a light, refreshing ale, amber in colour – a darker, stronger ale would probably be more appropriate – given the choice I would have gone for something like Black Sheep, but I was limited by what the local shop had. You can use whatever ale you choose though.
This recipe is identical to Jamie’s with the addition of the ale reduction, and the removal of a handful of frozen peas from the vegetable mix. Peas inside the wellington didn’t really appeal to me… something sort of school-dinnerish about it?
1 medium onion
1 celery stick
1 medium potato
2 large field mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic (or more if your cloves are small or your garlic weak)
4 sprigs of rosemary (this turned out to be not quite enough we thought)
500g lean minced beef
500g puff pasty
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
For the ale reduction:
3 small shallots
½ beef stock cube
Baby potatoes (baby new, Charlotte or Anya)
couple of sprigs of mint
Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 / 180 C.
First, make the ale reduction. This takes a while, so you can prepare the other vegetables while it’s doing its thing.
Chop the shallots very finely. Heat some olive oil in a sauce pan, and saute the shallots on a gentle heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are starting to colour, and break down a bit, without caramelizing them too much.
Deglaze the pan with a good splash of beer, scraping up the shallots, turn up the heat and pour in the rest of the beer. Bring it to a simmer, stir in the half stock cube until its dissolved, and simmer for 45 mins or so until it’s become a thick reduction. You really want to get it as thick as possible, but keep an eye on it as it reduces and keep stirring– you don’t want it to catch and burn. It should be an similar consistency to a runny jam, or sweet chili sauce.
While this is happening, chop up the carrot, celery and potato in about 1cm chunks. Peeling the carrot and potato is optional… depending on how fresh they are!
Heat some olive oil in a wide saucepan or deep frying pan, and chuck the veg in, and cook on a low heat for 5 mins. Finely chop the garlic, take the leaves from the rosemary sprigs and chop them, discarding the stalks, and add them to the pan.
Clean the mushrooms and chop into 1cm chunks, add them to the pan too. The recipe said to saute the veg for about 8 minutes until it softens and colours – I left them in longer, mainly to get some more water out of them as I was going to be adding the reduction and making it wetter. After 10-15 minutes take them out and put in a bowl to cool.
While the veg is cooking, and the ale reducing, you can prepare the pasty. You’re going to have to roll out quite a large sheet, and then stuff it with heavy meat – so you need to plan ahead as to how you’re going to maneuver it onto a baking tray. If you have a tray large enough, I suggest you roll out the pastry and then lift it onto the tray first. We rolled it out on the table, then stuffed it and rolled it up – and it was quite tricky to lift the sticky puff pastry, laden with meat and veg from the table onto the tray without the whole thing bursting open.
Anyway, however you do it, you want to roll the pasty out to the size of a small tea towel.
By now your reduction should be getting there. Pour half the egg into the bowl of veg, and when the ale reduction is ready, pour that in too. Mix them up well, and season generously with salt and pepper. Taste it, and aim to make it just a bit too salty. Then add the beef mince and mix thoroughly. If you’re not afraid of raw beef, it’s you can taste the mix again to make sure it’s seasoned enough.
Take the mixture and pile it along one edge of the pastry. We had so much mix that the long edge was really the only option. Gently press the mixture into a fat sausage shape. Now, brush the outside edge of the whole sheet of pastry with the egg, and then wrap the pastry over the beef mix. Press it down where the pastry meets – you want to make as good a seal as possible. Repair any cracks with extra bits of pasty, and brush plenty of egg all over the join when it’s finished. Use up the end of the egg brushing the rest of the top surface of the pastry. Transfer to a baking tray, if it’s not on one already, and stick it in the oven.
Bake it for an hour, until it’s nice and golden on the outside. Unless the pastry is getting overcooked, it can take a bit more than and hour, which might be an idea if your wellington is quite thick (as ours was).
When it’s almost ready, boil a large pan of water, cook the potatoes in it until they are cooked but still have plenty of bite. Chop the mint and toss the potatoes in butter and the mint. Transfer the potatoes to a dish in the over to keep warm if necessary.
Chop the savoy cabbage into slices, and blanch in salted boiling water for a minute or two. I like my cabbage pretty crunchy, so take it out as soon as or before the water starts to go a little green.
Take out the wellington, and cut into slices, serve with the cabbage and potatoes, and a little English mustard on the side if you like.
We drank more Whitstable Bay and Oxford Gold beers with dinner.
This turned out excellently… minor issue was not quite enough rosemary, the flavour didn’t come through too well. The inside was not too wet at all (a little liquid had leaked out onto the pan in cooking though). You could definitely taste the sweet note from the ale, it could have been moreso – next time I might try 500-600ml of stronger, darker beer. The pastry on the bottom had soaked up a lot of flavour, as had the potato pieces inside – biting into them gave you a burst of rich beefy goodness.
You could also, instead of the ale, try some other additions – minced chicken liver (as in some ragu bolognese recipes) or bacon, fried up with the veg. Worcester sauce would also be a good compliment. Finely chopped black olives might be good too, but would somewhat de-Anglicise the dish.