It's David's special meal day. Well it was supposed to be yesterday but I just didn't feel like cooking yesterday. Yes it happens.
He had told me that the 'theme' would be Irish, and I had a desultory sort of look but was not particularly inspired. There seemed to be more cakes, bread and biscuits than anything - oh and potatoes of course. But he doesn't like potatoes that much.
Then I thought that I would look at Irish chefs - there are a lot of them, including our own Colin Fassnedge but their recipes were somehow not particularly Irish. Well I didn't think so anyway. And they were a bit haute cuisine - Guiness milk chocolate ice-cream anyone?
By now I was beginning to despair and then I thought - Guinness. Now what can be more Irish than Guinness, and finally, pay dirt.
I shall come to the food in a minute, but first a brief word or two about Guinness. The company website has a timeline and Wikipedia will tell you just about everything you might want to know, but here are a few things that struck me as being of note.
Back in 1752 - yes it's that old - one Arthur Guinness made his first beers in Leixlip, County Kildare with £100 that he had been left by his godfather. In 1759 he decided to move to Dublin - a part called St. James, where set up a new factory and by 1769 was exporting his beers to England. It wasn't until 1799 however that he first made a dark ale - or porter as it was known then. Named for the porters of London who drank it to give them strength to keep going. His ales were extraordinarily successful and by 1858 were exported as far away as New Zealand.
Another interesting thing that I did not know is that the drink known as Black Velvet, which I occasionally drank when I was a student - a mix of champagne and Guinness was invented at the time of the death of Prince Albert. A sommelier felt that it was not appropriate to drink champagne and so added the dark Guinness to make it look more sombre. Actually I think I generally drank a cheaper version made with champagne perry and Guinness - or a stout anyway. It had a slightly mocking name, that I can't quite remember now.
And did you know that Guinness is not actually black in colour but a very dark ruby red? Hold it up to a bright light and you will see.
The family continued making beer at St. James and by 1868 had built a massive factory there. It still stands in doubtless modified form, but at the time it was like a city in itself. Now headquartered in London, the beer is still made at St. James.
I believe sales in Guinness have declined but they are an innovative company and will no doubt survive. I gather that today a very large portion of their sales are made in Africa. In 1997 the company merged with Grand Metropolitan to form the British multinational Diageo pc. The Guinness family still owns 51% of the company although whether that money is focussed in one branch of the family or spread throughout I do not know. I do not think the family actually manages the company.
So much for Guinness the drink. It probably deserves a closer look - the drink itself I mean.
But on to food. David had specified that he did not want Irish stew, and besides I had made that a little while ago, but there did seem to be recipe for something called Dingle Pies - which were small mutton pies. I did look at this but just couldn't get excited somehow. By the time I was looking at Guinness I found heaps of variations of a beef and Guinness pie. My bingo moment was this Jamie video:
And this is what I am making. The filling is cooking as I write and filling the house with an increasingly tempting smell. When I searched for the actual recipe I found that there were heaps of sites which had actually made his recipe, although Jamie himself does not have the original recipe on his website. But if all those other people have made it one assumes it's good.
He does have a recipe for Mash topped Beef and Guinness Pie which is similar but not really the same. I also found a video of him making an Aussie Beef Pie - it's a bit silly with respect to the Aussiness of it all but is sort of similar. Aussie beer though, not Guinness
His original pie was so popular though that, as I said, lots of others have made it and messed with it a bit. I gather the thing that sort of makes it special is that when your beef has finished cooking you mix in a bit of cheese, and then when you put it in your puff pastry pie case you add a bit more cheese. Of the various blog sites that I encountered that had made the Jamie version - i.e. they acknowledged that it was the Jamie dish a site called Chewing the fat had the actual authentic Jamie recipe. However, everybody else tweaked it a bit - various additions included Worcestershire sauce, bacon, thyme, bay leaf, potatoes, or left out the mushrooms. Some of them cooked all the veggies and meat separately before combining them all, unlike Jamie, who basically just dumped them all in the pot.
Ben O'Donoghue has an extremely similar recipe called Steak, Dark Ale and Stilton Pie which also adds vegemite to the mix. Well he is Australian. The Stilton is an interesting twist. And Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has a version which is not a pie but a cobbler - Beef Stew with Cheddar Cobbler Topping (shown below) which instead of a pie crust has sort of cheesy dumplings on top. It actually looks very tempting.
And last but not least - of course - Felicity Cloake has a go at the Perfect Steak and Ale Pie, which is possibly, on this occasion at least, the most perfect looking version of all. Interestingly, although she always refers to other people's versions she does not mention Jamie's. And she made hers with proper pastry not the bought puff pastry that Jamie and I are using. I should also have mentioned that others had used various other versions of a short-crust pastry - some with cheese. Indeed Jamie himself did when he made his Aussie pies.
All of which makes me (a) see that I too have strayed from Jamie's recipe - I added bacon, thyme and a bay leaf to mine, mistakenly believing that the version I had printed out was the original Jamie one and (b) that perhaps this is actually a truly traditional Irish dish.
I think the first recipe I found in my Guinness search was Irish beef and Guinness stew from Recipe Tin Eats.
It probably is what set me off on the trail of my final choice. For David had mentioned that he fancied a pie, and this was just a stew. A very similar mix though and the 'author' says that in Ireland it should be made with lamb but that she had tried it with lamb and found that beef was better.
Well my stew has finished cooking. It tastes pretty good. Maybe a tiny bit bitter. Shall I add a little sugar, as some have done? Anyway it has to cool down now until I put it in it's pastry casing and cook it for another 40 minutes or so. Another quick/slow dish. Not much time spent actually doing stuff but a long time cooking. But very easy. I did the preparation almost as quickly as Jamie in his five minute video.
David is actually half Irish on his mother's side - from Dublin and Cork, and I also have 17% Irish DNA - from my paternal grandmother's side. So hopefully that will mean we both like this. Probably should drink it with Guinness but I'm not really a fan.
Oh and Guiness is good for you - really. It's supposed to have anti-oxidants like red wine and chocolate and is good for the heart. Good for the production of breast milk too!