At the pinnacle of foods that gain something grand by being wrapped in pastry is probably Beef Wellington. I like a good Wellington, especially if someone talented has made it for me; making the dish is involved and enervating, which should make the reward of gentle filet and tender flake that much richer, but leaves me, instead, craving a humble sandwich. Coulibiac, the Russian dish of salmon, rice, mushrooms, greens and dill is unquestionably grand. I can’t help thinking it has something Hot Pocket about it though—an all in one entree as convenient as it is clever.
No; the best dishes are those that are ordinary in a bowl but elevated to magnificence when ensconced in pastry. At the top of that short list is beef pie, as honest as it is deep. I suppose it is no coincidence that making a proper one requires the marshaling of my favorite cooking disciplines—those fundamentals that separate cooks from weekend hobbyists. But I’m just as drawn to its versatility. A beef pie, even a cold one, is a terrific lunch. Hot from the oven, though, it can be as grand as a goose. In fact grander: beef pie is my Christmas dish of choice.
Make a rich stock from beef bones and vegetables. Braise several pounds of beef cut from rump, shin and shoulder in mirepoix, red wine and stock. Chill. Make a few pounds of pastry. Line a dish or dishes with pastry, chill. Put braised beef in pastry-lined dish(es). Roll out lids and cover, crimping layers together. Cut steam holes on top. Bake in three hundred and fifty degree oven until hot throughout and golden.