Billy's beef pie is a sizzling success

SUE SKINNER It is a dish more suited to a frosty night in February than a blisteringly hot day in July.But Billy Brown's classic winter warmer is still going down a treat with customers at a Norfolk pub - and has now been declared the best in the country.

SUE SKINNER

It is a dish more suited to a frosty night in February than a blisteringly hot day in July.

But Billy Brown's classic winter warmer is still going down a treat with customers at a Norfolk pub - and has now been declared the best in the country.

The 36-year-old head chef at the Hare Arms at Stow Bardolph, near Downham Market, has been crowned National Steak Pie Champion 2006 after a fiercely-contested cook-off against five other finalists. His Steak and Peppercorn Pie, which contains beef reared just a few miles away, was showered with praise by the judges but is already a firm favourite with regulars at the award-winning hostelry.

"We're not allowed to take it off the menu," said landlady Trish McManus. "We've tried to do a beef, Guinness and oyster pie or beef chasseur pie and people come in and say, 'where's the beef and peppercorn pie - we've come in specially for it'.

"It's something which is very popular. We're still selling 20-30 pies a day, even in this weather. People still have a love of pies at this time of year."

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The contest is run by the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX) and Mr Brown, who has worked at the Hare Arms for 18 years, won a place in the final after a mystery diner visited the pub unannounced to sample and score his creation on site.

"I couldn't believe it when my name was called out as the winner," he said.

The pie, served in an individual dish, has a shortcrust pastry lid over steak which has been simmered slowly with beef stock, brandy, cream and cracked black peppercorns. The meat is supplied by butcher Jeff Sargeant, of nearby Stowbridge.

"He is very proud of the meat he provides us with and his animals are carefully cared for, which helps ensure excellent quality meat," said Mr Brown. "In my opinion, it's primarily the quality of the meat that really makes a great pie."

Celebrations have been the order of the day at the pub but Mr Brown stressed it was a team effort.

"It's not just myself - there are three other chefs who have a hand in making it while I'm not here," he said.

Hugh Judd, foodservice project manager for EBLEX and a judge at the cook-off, said: "David's Steak and Peppercorn Pie stood apart from the competition with its deliciously succulent and rich filling of Norfolk beef, together with spicy peppercorns topped with a home-made shortcrust pastry. Just mouth-watering!"

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