Why a beef pie should have been called a ‘sea’ pie is not clear unless its simplicity meant a ship’s cook could produce one even in rough weather. This recipe daringly includes beer and a bay leaf. Use bitter or stout, not lager, but if you want to be basic just use water. Just-cooked Savoy cabbage makes a nice accompaniment.
Dredge the pieces of beef in flour and brown them in the lard or beef dripping in a medium-hot pan. Transfer to a shallow saucepan. Fry the onion and carrots in the remaining fat. When softened put them with the meat.
Add the bay leaf and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and push down with a slotted spoon or potato masher to compress, then pour over just enough beer to cover. Bring to the boil, lower the temperature and simmer gently for 40 minutes, topping up with the rest of the beer and/or water as required to keep the meat just covered.
While the meat is cooking, make the suet crust: put the flour in a bowl with the suet, salt and ice-cold water. Stir and work the mixture with a fork until it balls. Alternatively, use a food processor briefly (flour, suet and salt in first, adding water through the feeder tube to bind), but avoid using your hands. The less you handle suet pastry the lighter it will be.
Roll this out on a floured surface and cut out a round just smaller than the diameter of a pudding basin. Carefully sit the suet crust on top of the meat, put the pastry lid on top and continue cooking for 50–60 minutes. Test that the meat is done by pushing a skewer through the crust and into the meat.
When it gives to your satisfaction, cut the crust into 4, lift it out, a piece at a time, and place on individual plates, then divide the meat, vegetables and gravy.
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.