The recipe has its roots in British India during the late nineteenth century. Even though he wrote some three decades after Eliza Acton revolutionized the cookbook by including measurements in her recipes, the colonel remained Old School and offered little guidance to his reader about the proportions of his ingredients. The Editor has recreated this remarkable pie, the exemplar of an unknown Raj cuisine, through the practice of English empiricism.
His spiced pepper is a signature component of Kenney-Herbert’s cookery, and while he may be generous in ascribing its genesis to Jules Gouffé, a contemporary author of bestselling cookbooks in both France and Britain, the mixture is the colonel’s own. It sounds like a strange set of flavors but does wonders for a lot of meaty pies and stews. You will need a batch to build this pie for four.
- 2 teaspoons whole cloves
- 2 bashed nutmegs
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1 teaspoon dried savory
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- scant teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- Grind everything to powder in a spice mill or small food processor.
For the stock:
- about 2 cups gelatinous homemade beef stock or canned consommé
- the liquor from your oysters (see ‘For the Filling’)
- about 4 oz medium dry Sherry (like Amontillado or East India Solera)
- about 1 Tablespoon mushroom ketchup
- the rind of a lime
- a blade of mace (see the Notes)
- Bring everything to a boil, simmer the stock for about ½ hour and strain it.
For the filling:
- 2 lb skirt steak cut into thin slices measuring about 2x3 inches
- about ½ lb ham cut into ½ in square batons 2 inches long
- a chopped onion
- a minced shallot (but see Step 3)
- a sprinkle of flour (preferably Wondra)
- zest of a lime
- 2 dozen shucked oysters (and their liquor, for the stock)
- heaped teaspoon or more ‘spiced pepper’
- possibly some salt
For the pastry:
- 1 lb self-raising flour (see the Notes)
- ½ lb shredded suet (Atora is ideal or grate your own)
- heaped ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- as much white pepper as you like or some ‘spiced pepper’
- about ½ cup cold water or less if possible
For some gravy:
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 Tablespoon flour
- any stock not used to moisten the pie (there will be plenty)
- After assembling the spiced pepper and preparing the stock, roll each slice of beef around a baton of ham.
- Lay the rolls in a saucepan just big enough to hold them snugly, scatter the onion and shallot over them, pour in just enough stock barely cover the rolls, bring it to a boil and immediately reduce the heat to a simmer for 30-40 minutes. Check for salt and let them cool.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
- Make the pastry by mixing together all the dry ingredients and them gently kneading as little water as possible into the dough; add only enough liquid so that the dough only just adheres.
- Roll the pastry into a ball, gently flatten it into a disc, envelop it in plastic wrap and stick it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes while the beef rolls simmer.
- Rub a piepan of appropriate size with a cut shallot and scatter the sprinkle of flour across its bottom.
- Carefully nest the beef rolls snugly in the piepan (they would prefer to fall apart but the gentle use of tongs will deter them), push the oysters down among them, scatter the zest and spiced pepper over them followed by the onion and shallot (a slotted spoon is handy), and then fill the pan with enough of the stock to rise nearly, but not quite, to the top of the filling (you do not want soggy pastry).
- Push out the pastry on a floured board with the palm of your hand until it is barely bigger than the surface of your piepan, lay it over the filling, cut a hole in the center and trim away any overhang.
- Bake the pie until the pastry turns pale gold in about an hour.
- Make the gravy while the pie bakes by melting the butter in a heavy skillet over low heat, whisking the flour into the butter to make a paste, slowly stirring all the leftover stock into the roux, bringing it to a boil and then immediately reducing it to a simmer.
- Simmer the gravy under a partial cover for about 30 minutes, then keep it warm.
- Remove the pie from the oven and carefully pour some of the warm gravy through the hole in the pastry before serving the pie: You want to fill the cavity beneath the pastry but do not want to overfill the pie so the gravy overflows the pastry.
-A blade of mace is the firm lattice that encases a nutmeg. If you have no whole blade substitute about ½ teaspoon powdered mace.
-If you have no self-raising flour, use plain flour and add another teaspoon of baking soda to the dry ingredients of the pastry at Step 3.
-Colonel Kenney-Herbert used only the equivalent of ½ teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns, which he called ‘Nepaul pepper,’ in his spiced pepper mixture. He also omitted the onion and shallot from the filling.
-It helps to mound the filling so the pastry looks like a shallow dome: The shape helps keep the pastry from getting soggy by preventing spillout of the stock from the hole in the center of the lid.