Four and Twenty Baked in a Pie

Beef and oyster pie or pudding is a classic dish from Victorian times, a time when beef (even the so-called cheap cuts) was expensive and oysters were ten a penny.

Oysters were a staple food of the working class, particularly in London where they were harvested from the Thames or brought in from nearby Whitstable. They were used to bulk out the pie filling and the poorer you were, the higher the ratio of oysters to beef in your pie.

These days, adding oysters to a pie would be deemed extravagant, expect to fork out around £18 for a beef flank and oyster pie at Hix Oyster and Chop House, but I wondered if the reasoning behind adding oysters to a pie to bulk it out could be extended to other ingredients. Granted it’s quite usual to bulk a pie out these days with mushrooms or kidneys but is there another, reasonably cheap ingredient which could also be used to substitute the oysters?

If you’re bold enough to forage, clean and prepare them yourself, snails would be a free ingredient to use, although to buy they’re still relatively cheap. A mollusc just the same as oysters and with a soft, almost mussel-like texture, I was confident they’d give me what I was looking for.

With that thought in mind, a bottle of Bristol Beer Factory Bristol Stout and a can of escargots de Bourgogne (Burgundy snails are revered by the French) in hand, my beef and snale pie was conceived.

Take your usual beef and ale pie ingredients, slow cook for a few hours then stir through some snails before adorning with a pastry top.

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