Creepy Mystery Meat Pot Pies

Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d. Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin’d. Harpier cries:—’tis time! ’tis time! Round about the caldron go;  In the poison’d entrails throw.—  Toad, that under cold tone, Days and nights has thirty-one; Swelter’d venom sleeping got, Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot! 

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble. 

Fillet of a fenny snake, In the caldron boil and bake; Eye of newt, and toe of frog, Wool of bat, and tongue of dog, Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,— For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.  

Double, double toil and trouble;  Fire burn, and caldron bubble. 

Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf; Witches’ mummy; maw and gulf Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark; Root of hemlock digg’d i the dark; Liver of blaspheming Jew; Gall of goat, and slips of yew Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse; Nose of Turk, and Tartar’s lips; Finger of birth-strangled babe Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,— Make the gruel thick and slab: Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron, For the ingrediants of our caldron. 

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble. Cool it with a baboon’s blood, Then the charm is firm and good.

From Macbeth

Last year, I hosted an epic sweet feast of haunting goodies to celebrate All Hallows Eve. Witches Brew Orange Rum Cream Cocktail, Frighteningly Jagged Glass Threads, and Ghostly Glowing Cupcakes. Well this year, I imagined what the pre-cursor to that delectable banquet of treats might be.

One of the most troubling ideas to me as a child was the premise of Hansel and Gretel. A treacherous witch lures children (whom should not be alone in a forest, but alas) into her house made of candy (my favorite) only to attempt to cook them and eat them. “Never accept candy from strangers” was always obeyed after that fable.

But that idea went one step further when I saw Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The evil protagonist murdering patrons under the cover of a good shave and a mystery meat pie shop was incredibly sinister and unsettling in a lasting way. What better starter to a feast of terrifying Halloween goodies then?

Dark, depths of meat stew trapped beneath layers of spindly pastry whose only clue to the mysteries beneath are eyes peering up begging to be released…with your fork. Come along dear reader and learn the secrets of cooking up mystery meat pies. (But actually it’s Beef Bouguingnonne which is delectable, so don’t sweat)

Of course the most important part of creating a wonderful mystery meat pie is cooking down the tough meat so that your unsuspecting guests would never guess it’s not beef (but it is). Ahhh here comes the tissue softening. Here’s an excerpt from another fall stew of meat bits (again, beef).

There are many different types of proteins that make up an animal’s muscle. The main proteins we are interested in, however, are connective tissue proteins. Collagen, reticulin, and elastin are all responsible for holding together the larger structural proteins. These proteins are fibers that are destroyed when heat is added. Think of it like strings of muscle melting. When those fibers melt, the structure of the meat begins to fall apart, and the meat becomes tender. That saying “it’s so tender it falls apart in my mouth” when people talk about perfectly cooked meat is not an exaggeration. The meat is no longer being held together by structural proteins!

So delay not and go hunt yourself some “mystery meat” (at your grocery store…again I remind you it’s beef). This recipe does take some time, but the flavor is worth it. Nothing like slaving over the cauldron to lure the townsfolk to your table (okay last Halloween joke I swear). But if you would like to save some work, feel free to buy a pre-made, raw pie crust. This pie crust is reeeeaaaallllyy good though, like cheesy crackers almost, so I highly recommend putting in the extra effort.

And don’t skip dessert either. Check out the recipes from last year’s epic gathering. You’ll have the best Halloween shindig this year.

Creepy Mystery Meat (Beef Bourguignonne) Pot Pies

Makes 10 small ramekin-sized pot pies, or 6 small pies and one medium pie, or one large pie

Beef Filling

Olive Oil

½ cup all-purpose flour

Kosher salt

Black pepper

1 ½ pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces

3 slices bacon, roughly chopped

2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped

2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons spiced rum

5 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped

1 dried bay leaf

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup dry red wine

5 tablespoons butter, divided

8 ounces crimini mushrooms, stems removed and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice (freshly squeezed)

10 ounces (2 cups) frozen peas, steamed

Cheesy Pie Crust

½ cup butter

1 ½ cups (155 g) all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon kosher salt

A generous pinch cayenne pepper

⅛ teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons finely ground Parmigiano Reggiano

2-3 tablespoons ice water

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Assembly

1 egg

Black olives

  1. In a large, oven-safe heavy pot (such as a Dutch oven—you’ll need a lid), heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Mix together the ½ cup flour with a few cracks black pepper and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Add beef and toss to coat. Retain 1 tablespoon of remaining flour and discard the rest.
  2. Do this next bit in batches to avoid steaming your meat. When the oil is hot, add the beef, shaking off the excess flour before adding to the pot, and cook the beef cubes, turning often, until browned all over. This will take about 6 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate as the beef completes cooking. You don’t need to completely cook through—just browned similar to a medium rare steak.
  3. In between batches, collect any bits that are at the bottom of your pot to avoid burning and set aside on plate. This sounds gross, but don’t throw away! We want all those bits. Add 1 tablespoon oil and let heat prior to each batch.
  4. Once the beef is completed, cook the bacon pieces in the same pot. Stir often and continue to cook until the bacon is browned and crispy. Add ¼ cup water and cook, scraping up browned bits on the bottom of the pan from the bacon. Add the bits collected during the beef cooking now and mix in.
  5. Add the chopped onion and carrot to the pot and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400⁰F and move a rack to the lower third of the oven.
  7. Once the onion and carrot are soft, add the garlic, parsley, and cooked beef to the pot. Add the rum and stir well, simmering until it is almost gone. About 1 minute.
  8. Add the thyme leaves, bay leaf, stock, and wine to the pot. Season with a generous pinch of salt and cracks of black pepper. Bring to a simmer.
  9. Hopefully you remembered to retain that tablespoon of seasoned flour from step 1. If not, grab a new tablespoon of flour. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and mix into the tablespoon of flour. Mix this into the meat mixture in the pot.
  10. Cover the pot and place in the heated oven. Braise in the oven until beef is very tender—about 1-1 ½ hours.
  11. At this point, if you haven’t already, make your pie crust. Cut the ½ cup butter into ½ inch cubes, place on a plate, and put in the freezer for 5-10 minutes while you get the rest of the ingredients together.
  12. Stir together the flour, salt, pepper, cayenne, and cheese (PLEASE make sure your cheese is VERY finely ground—micrograter size—otherwise your crust will not work. If you do not have a grater that does this, omit the cheese) using a fork. Friendly reminder: pastry recipes always work best if you use a scale to measure the flour.
  13. Take the butter out of the freezer. Add half of the cubes to the flour mixture and toss to coat. Use a pastry cutter, or your fingertips, to cut the butter into the flour mixture. Stop when the mixture is crumbly. Add the remaining butter to the mix and toss to coat. Then use your fingers to break up the butter cubes into pea-size pieces. Press the butter into flat sheets in order to create flakier crust.
  14. Combine the vinegar with 2 tablespoons ice water. Drizzle half over the flour/butter mixture and distribute everything quickly. Slowly add the remaining liquid, continuing to mix, until the dough just comes together when pressed between your fingers. If you need a touch more liquid, add the remaining tablespoon of ice water, drops at a time, until it comes together.
  15. Pat into a flat round, wrap tightly, and place in the refrigerator until ready to use. Let rest at least 1 ½ hours.
  16. Once your filling has been in the oven for about 50 minutes, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Once melted and bubbling gently, add the mushroom pieces. Cook, stirring, until browned. About 8 minutes. (And remember your Julia Child teachings—don’t crowd the mushrooms!)
  17. Stir in the lemon juice and big pinch kosher salt and black pepper into the mushrooms. Turn off the heat.
  18. When the first part of cooking of the filling is done (from step 10), remove from the oven and stir in the mushroom mixture. Make sure to scrape against the sides and bottom of the pot to prevent burning later on. The volume should be reduced from before braising. Cover the pot and return to the oven. Cook 25 minutes more. When finished, remove from the oven and let stew cool. Keep oven on but move the rack up to the middle position of the oven.
  19. Steam the peas (in the microwave is easiest), if you haven’t yet, drain, and add to the stew. Stir together.
  20. Remove the crust from the fridge. Roll out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut into strips* and put in the fridge until ready to assemble.
  21. Spoon the cooled stew into ramekins. Don’t completely fill—leave ¼ inch at the top. Arrange the strips on top of the stews as desired to make it look like mummy wrapping or something similar. Put two black olive slices on top of the pie crust, tucking a couple spots under the pie crust wrappings, to make it look like eyes sitting just under the surface. Beat the egg together with a teaspoon of water and brush on top of the pie crust.
  22. Put the ramekins on top of a parchment-covered sheet pan and place in the oven. Bake until the crust is browned all over, about 15-20 minutes or longer if you’re baking larger pies.
  23. When finished, remove from the oven and let cool before serving. Enjoy!
  24. If you’re making these in advance, reheat into a 350⁰F oven for 8-10 minutes to heat through and crisp up the crust.*If you’re making one large pie, and it’s not Halloween, roll the crust out into a large round. Place over the filling once spooned into the baking dish and cut a couple slits in the top. Brush with egg wash and bake.

*If you’re making one large pie, and it’s not Halloween, roll the crust out into a large round. Place over the filling once spooned into the baking dish and cut a couple slits in the top. Brush with egg wash and bake.

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