But as it’s been the suckiest ‘summer’ since records began I’m still making nice big warming pies. This was a great alterative to a Sunday roast – it’s very simple to cook, but does need to sit in the oven for a few hours while you do something more exciting instead.
It needs a cheap cut of beef – shin, oxtail or stewing beef. I found a big pack of oxtails for four quid at the market, but I’ve done this with shin too and it works just as well. Instead of a potato hotpot topping it could be mash, mashed carrot/swede or pastry.
Start in a casserole that can go from the stove to the oven (or use a pan and transfer to a pot). Brown the beef in a little oil. Then add half an onion and a carrot and celery stick, both snapped in two. Now pour over half a bottle of red wine and about a pint of beef stock.
For flavouring I added a few peppercorns, a bay leaf and a star anise (my new favourite ingredient for any beef dish). Thyme, rosemary and a few cumin seeds would work too.
Once this has come to the boil it needs to go into a low oven at about 130 degC for three hours – until the meat is meltingly tender. Take it out of the oven and skim off any fat from the surface of the sauce – there will be quite a bit of this.
Now carefully remove the meat to a clean plate to let it cool a bit.
In a new pan, fry off a diced onion and half a dozen sliced mushrooms until they’re getting a bit of colour. Pull the meat apart into chunks (a more fiddly job with oxtails, but well worth the hassle) and add it to the pan.
Now strain the sauce through a sieve discarding the carrot, celery and flavourings. Add this to the onions, mushrooms and beef and let it simmer down and reduce for about half an hour or until the sauce is thick.
About half way through this simmering, pop a pan of spuds onto parboil – cook them for about ten minutes. Pop the oven back on at about 200 degC to warm up.
Put the meat and gravy mix into a pie dish, slice the potatoes and layer them up on top. Dot little cubes of butter over the top of the spuds and give it about 15 minutes in the oven to get brown. If it’s not browning, shove it under a hot grill.
I have a strong inkling that this is going to be an autumn and winter favourite for me – less hassle than a roast and the depth of flavour you get from the slow cooked beef is epic.