Now that it’s finally summer, we’re eating raw oysters like mad. With a beer or a glass of cold wine, they’re supreme. We asked Sean to share a unique way to use that ocean-like flavor, and he has spared no expense in sharing an old English recipe. I want to make a dozen of these to stuff in my freezer; I’d cook them up when the weather turns foul or when I just need to share a bit of #foodgiftlove. -Maggie
Oysters are like tiny treasure chests of the sea, hidden in the muddy beds of estuaries waiting for discovery. Every time I hold one, I feel excited knowing I’m only moments away from the jewel inside. There’s something so special about finding oysters – it’s almost as if they’re the fruits of the ocean – you pluck them from the shallow waters, pop them open and eat; much like a ripe pear or peach, the simplicity of eating raw, straight from nature is a beautiful act.
Oysters are about more than flavour. For me, it’s about the feel, the smell, the look. A good oyster should be heavy for its size and very cold like the deep sea. The shell should be sharp, but slightly flaky with tints of oceanic colours –grey, blue, green, white, silver, even yellow. Once opened, it should smell clean and briny, like sea air in winter, the flesh should look silvery and moist, almost creamy. But they are not showy creatures of the sea by any means. You could sail over acres of oyster beds without knowing, you could stare at oyster shells and never understand the fuss, but once you’ve tried one, you begin to understand the secrets of the oyster.
This recipe is a bit of a nod to tradition. Oysters were once a poor man’s food, abundant and cheap and chucked into any stew or pie or gobbled down raw with a few pints of stout. A beef and oyster pie conjures up images of Dickensian characters loitering in dark inns with flagons of beer, weary travelers and home-cooked food. This pie is a British classic really, but nowadays has become an indulgence rather than sustenance.
Beef, Stout and Oyster Pie
For the Filling:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the pan
- Handful flour
- Pinch salt and freshly ground pepper, plus more for seasoning
- 14 ounces stewing beef, diced
- 3 shallots, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3-1/2 ounces bacon, diced
- 12 ounces stout or porter
- 12 ounces beef stock
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- Pinch granulated sugar
- 8 oysters
For the Pastry:
- 7 ounces all-purpose flour
- Pinch salt
- 9 tablespoons (4-1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cubed
- 4 ounces water
- 1 egg, beaten
- Place a large saucepan over a high heat with a tablespoon of oil. Season the flour with salt and pepper, and coat the diced beef in the flour. Shake off any excess flour then add the beef to the pan. Fry the meat until nicely browned. You may need to work in batches. Once the meat is browned, set aside.
- Reduce the heat to medium. Add a drop more oil. This time add the diced shallots to the pan and fry for 5-10 minutes without colouring. At the end, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so. Add the diced bacon and fry for a minute. Add a drop of the stout and deglaze the pan. Then add the rest of the stout, stock, Worcestershire sauce and herbs. As the liquid comes to the boil, add the beef back into the pan. Drop the heat until the liquid is bubbling at a simmer and cover. Cook for 1½ hours.
- Remove everything from the liquid and place in a casserole dish. Discard the thyme and bay. Bring the liquid back up to the boil. Season if necessary with a bit of salt, pepper and sugar (just to sweeten the sauce up a bit). Once the sauce is thick, pour into the casserole dish.
- Open the oysters. You’ll need an oyster knife and a tea towel. Push the tip of the knife into the back ‘hinge’ of the oyster and wiggle the knife back and forth until you can feel the hinge snap. Then twist the point into the oyster and upwards. Bring the length of the knife down the oyster until the lid pops off. Be very careful not to slip and make sure your hand is well protected. This can be a dangerous job.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Add the oysters to the casserole dish.
- Next, make the pastry. In a large mixing bowl add the flour, salt and butter. Combine the butter and flour with your fingertips and massage into the flour until the mix resembles breadcrumbs. Add a bit of water and bring the mix together to a dough. You don’t want it too wet, but moist enough to hold together. Once the dough is a single ball, roll out and knead for a minute on a floured surface. With a rolling pin, roll the pastry until it’s about 2 centimeters wider than the casserole dish.
- Lay the pastry on top of the dish and pinch it to the sides. Trim away any excess pastry. Poke a steam hole in the lid. Refrigerate the dish for 20 minutes or so to relax the pastry.
- Then bring the pie out from the refrigerator and brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden. In the summer serve with a light salad, in the winter, think about mashed potatoes.
Photos taken and styled by Sean.
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