When Solange at Pebble Soup suggested vanilla as the theme for this month’s Spice Trail, which she is very kindly guest hosting for me, my mind went into overdrive. I simply had to come up with a way to use this gorgeous spice in a savoury dish. And this deeply dark and delicious beef and Guinness pie is what I came up with.
My husband was the inspiration. He thought vanilla might work well in our favourite braised pig cheek recipe. I’m sure that would be heavenly but, as I’ve only recently featured the dish here on the blog, I couldn’t really go with that again. So the idea of pairing vanilla with slow cooked with meat in a rich, warming sauce evolved instead into this sumptuous beef pie.
Vanilla and Guinness are a genius combination. Soft and rich and ever so slightly sweet, but without being cloying. The vanilla flavour is subtle; just enough sweetness to be warm and comforting. Teamed with tender beef and vegetables – I opted for butternut squash and celery to continue the sweet them and some chestnut mushrooms for texture and a touch of earthiness – and topped with buttery puff pastry, this dish is definitely my idea of foodie bliss.
Beef and Guinness pie with vanilla and thyme
1 tbsp vegetable oil
400g braising beef, cut into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp corn flour
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
250g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
2 celery sticks, sliced
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into bite-size pieces
440ml can Guinness
260ml hot beef stock
large handful fresh thyme, picked
1 vanilla pod
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
375g ready rolled puff pastry
Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.
Heat the oil in a large casserole and fry the beef until browned on all sides. Stir in the corn flour to coat the meat.
Add the onion, mushrooms, celery, butternut squash, Guinness, beef stock and thyme. Split the vanilla pod lengthways and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Add the seeds to the pan, along with the pod. Season to taste and give it all a good stir.
Bring it to a gentle simmer. Pop the lid on and place in the oven for at least three hours until the meat is beautifully tender.
Remove the stew from the oven and leave to cool.
Turn up the oven to 200°C / gas mark 6.
Transfer the stew to a ovenproof pie dish (around 2 litre). Brush the edges of the pie dish with a little beaten egg and carefully lay the ready rolled puff pastry over the top of the stew. Knock the edges with the back of a knife so they stick to the dish and trim off the excess pastry.
With a sharp knife, cut a little hole in the middle of the pastry to allow the steam to escape and brush the top with beaten egg.
Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
Serve with vegetables and creamy mashed potato to soak up all that meaty vanilla-flavoured gravy.