Thursday Dinner: Beer-Braised Beef and Vegetable Pie

I don’t remember who wrote this, but I once read that you should not cook with cheap wine because it will just make your recipe taste cheap. The same goes with the type of wine you use. Full-bodied wines can change the flavor profile of a recipe, depending on what and how you are cooking. You wouldn’t use a pinot grigio in a marinara, just as you would avoid adding a semi-dry table wine to a chicken dish.

The same is the case when cooking with beer. Ales and lagers bring vastly different flavors to a recipe. Hardy beers like porters and stouts stand up to high-heat or long cooking times, while IPAs and pale ales will break down under the same conditions. Rarely do you want to cook with a thin beer. I mean, if you want the beer to play a role in the flavor of your chili or stew, for example, a Bud or Corona might not be the way to go. Bulky lagers and ales, though, compliment the meat and vegetables in a stew quite nicely without breaking down completely over the heat.

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Jennifer’s original recipe for this dish at Seasons & Suppers used Samuel Adams’ Boston Lager, a heavier, malty lager that I enjoy drinking from time to time. For my version, I used beer that was in my house. At the time, this meant I could choose from a chocolate milk stout, peach-flavored Berliner weisse, numerous pale ales, a brown ale and Anchor’s Winter Wheat ale. I really enjoyed this one because it is ink black, and has both a huge malt content and body that can withstand the various levels of heat used in preparing this. I was largely happy with how it worked out, as the biscuity malt hung out all the way through and complemented the pastry. If I were to do this again, I might go with a Shiner Bock (a dark malty lager), or a brown ale.

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WHAT WORKED: The beer was good, but I have to talk about the indestructible, indispensable cast-iron pan. I realize that I’ve said this before, but I’m not sure how I went this long without one.

WHAT DIDN’T: For me it was time. Jennifer has you cooking the pastry-covered skillet for 25 minutes to evenly bake and brown the topping. I let it go 10 minutes at 450 and broiled it for 3 to 5 minutes, taking care not to burn it.

EASE OF PREPARATION: Medium. Puff pastry isn’t tough to work with, but it can be easily ruined.

BEST FOR: A weeknight dinner when you have time, or the weekend when you don’t.

SERVE WITH: A dark beer.

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Skillet Beer-Braised Beef and Vegetable Pie with a Puff Pastry Topping
Adapted from the original at Seasons & Suppers

  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs. beef stew, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 12 oz. bottle of ale or lager
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 large potato, cut into fork-size chunks
  • 5 oz. frozen green peas
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp. herbes de provence
  • 2 cups beef broth, divided
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 full sheets of puff pastry
  • 1 egg

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

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Heat oil over medium-high in a large Dutch oven. Add the beef and cook, stirring frequently until well browned on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beer beef to a plate and set aside. Add onion and garlic to the remaining oil and cook until onion is softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, followed by the beer, carrots, potatoes and 1 1/2 cups of beef broth. Stir to combine and sprinkle in a three-fingered pinch of kosher salt, a couple of turned of a black pepper grinder, and the herbes de provence. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

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Remove the top of your pot. Whisk together cornstarch with the remaining beef broth and pour in the pot. Stir until thickened, then the stew transfer to a cast-iron skillet, and set the skillet on a baking sheet.

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Unroll the first sheet of puff pastry and lay it over the pan, letting the pastry hang over the edges. Use the remaining pastry to cover any gaps of exposed pan. Whisk the egg with a splash of tap water, and brush the egg wash on the pastry.

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Bake for 10 minutes on second-lowest position in the oven. After 10 minutes, turn the oven off and turn your broiler to high. Broil 3 to 5 minutes, keeping an eye on the pastry, until it is browned but not burned.

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