The festive season is a time when eating really goes into overdrive but as food costs continue to rise and animal welfare becomes more and more of a contentious issue it is harder and harder to feed family and friends cheaply and ethically. Most Wanted have therefore compiled a list of thrifty festive entertaining meals and ways to cut the costs of eating. One way to eat well and keep the budget under control is to use cheaper cuts of meat, usually for long slow cooking, but not always. Shin, cheek and tail of beef are all relatively inexpensive cuts which benefit from a long time in a low oven to yield rich, sweet and meaty dishes. If you want to cook something quickly then skirt is a perfect cut. Another trick is to look for the meats that our grandparents would’ve seen as staples; hogget and mutton are becoming a lot more available these days and are cheaper than their younger offspring; lamb.
Root vegetables are plentiful and inexpensive at this time of year and even if your meat is a little more expensive you can bulk out stews with carrots, turnip, beetroot and if, unlike me, you don’t think it the Devil’s vegetable, even parsnips. Indeed vegetables can go a long way to keeping costs down by becoming wholesome and healthy soups, supplemented with pulses and grains while all the peelings are perfect for stock.
The recipe I like to cook for a big gathering in winter is steak pie. In Scotland it’s a Ne’erday staple, served with potatoes, turnip, always ‘steeped’ peas and you’ll doubtless find your guests fighting over the ‘soggy’ pastry! Usually I’d use braising steak but to keep costs even lower to feed a party of ten I’ve gone for shin, a tough hard working cut that loves hours in the oven covered in dark brown ale while you go about your day. Ask for it with the bone in as the marrow will melt into the gravy and add so much flavour. Sausages are another staple in steak pie on the first day of the year. Traditionally you’d stew them with the meat but I prefer to use my Mother’s trick of stewing them alone to prevent all the fat they release from making the gravy greasy. This pie is great any time of year but there’s something special as Christmas and New Year approach to sit down with friends and all eat from the same dish.
Beef shin and stewed sausage pie
2.5 kg beef shin
Oil for frying
2 bottles 80/- or other dark ale
4 sprigs rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
12 beef link sausages
500g puff pastry
1 egg whisked for eggwash
2.5 kg potatoes
Butter and milk for mashing
1. Set the oven to 140C. In a large heavy based casserole dish brown both sides of all the slices of shin well. You’ll need to do this in stages unless you have a very large casserole.
2. Cover the browned shin with the ale and add the herbs into the liquid. Cover and bring to the boil before placing in the heated oven.
3. Braise for 4 hours until the meat is meltingly tender, checking after 3 as may be ready or drying out. If drying out add a little water. Just before the meat is ready bring a pan of water to the boil and add the sausages. Reduce the heat and cook for 15 minutes on a simmer. (A word of warning, this will be full of fat, don’t discard down the sink unless with washing liquid and a long flush)
4. Remove the pastry from the fridge to let get to room temperature for 30 minutes. You can make your own pastry if you wish, it’s fun but shop bought is perfectly fine, why add to the stress?
5. Heat the oven to 200C. Remove the bones and add the meat and gravy to a large ashet or roasting tray along with the sausages. Roll out the pastry and cover the meat to the edges of the dish. Brush with the egg and then place in an oven for 30 minutes until golden brown.
6. While cooking boil the potatoes and turnip and mash them with butter and milk. Serve.
Photo credits to Sumayya Usmani