I am around seven years old, standing in a car park somewhere in the South of England, crying hot tears onto a cold steak slice. Standing over me is a woman with desperation in her eyes, a woman who would do anything for this strange little girl to stop making a scene and get into the car so we can leave.
It’s not my mother but someone else’s. I’m on holiday with a friend – we’ll call him John, even though he won’t read this – and it is their family holiday. I have no idea why I was so upset (maybe homesick?) but the memories are flashbulb moments of his mum leaning over me – bewildered, frustrated and at times, downright angry.
She had a thing about hot Ribena for the duration of this holiday or rather, her kids did. Hot Ribena is the single most disgusting beverage in the world, right up there with warm snake’s blood and coconut water. For some reason, I felt like I had to drink it anyway, that reason most likely being that I was seven years old and didn’t have the confidence or bad manners to tell her otherwise.
I remember standing in the driving rain, feeling the sickly burn combine with nausea in the pit of my stomach. There was a time when I was being particularly difficult (perhaps bawling at the prospect of another purple blackcurrant juice scalding its way down my oesophagus) and The Mum had all but given up. Enter the steak slices. I remember clearly the moment when she popped the boot of the car, pushing aside the wellies, cagoules and carrier bags to reveal a pile of Ginsters, the black and red wrappers garish, her face grimacing as she handed them out. This was a woman who used to force feed us consommé from a tin and once had a go at me for using the wrong knife on a piece of cheese. She had aspirations.
I remember her apologising for the fact there was nowhere to heat up the slices but I couldn’t have been happier. She wouldn’t believe me. I really loved a cold steak slice, see, along with a cold steak and kidney pie, or a cold cheese and onion pasty. She was giving me a huge hug from home with one hand while trying to take it away with the other. I gleefully ate it, all the wobbly peppered steak inside gummy cold pastry.
I was reminded of all this when I made these toasties because the filling, when eaten straight from the fridge, tasted just like a steak slice. It transported me instantly to the inside of a rustling raincoat, tiny red fingers clutching a packet. I had to make them. They went a little wrong because I over-filled (rookie mistake) and one burst open in the oven. Coincidentally, I did this because I was upset about something and I simply cannot cook when my mind isn’t on the job. The past few months have been stressful, which is why I had just a little taste of a freshly baked slice, before letting it cool and putting it carefully to rest in the fridge. The next day, it emerged as the perfect comfort food, no tears necessary.
Enjoyed this trip down memory lane? You may also like my Horse Meat Crispy Pancakes in the style of Findus.
Steak Slice Recipe
I tried a couple of variations on this including one with cheese and pickled onions. It was nice, but in the end I preferred just the steak filling.
1 quantity of this steak filling (I added a handful of tiny button mushrooms too)
1 x 375g puff pastry, ready rolled (why not, eh?)
1 egg, beaten
Once the filling has been made, allow to cool and refrigerate, I left mine overnight. It needs to be completely cold and jellified otherwise it will run everywhere.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Do this next bit fairly quickly, because the pastry needs to stay cold. Cut the sheet of pastry into 4 pieces, and place two of them on a baking tray. Divide the steak slice filling between the sheets leaving a 2.5cm border (that’s a guess) around the outside and brush it with beaten egg.
Roll out the remaining sheets of pastry so they’re slightly larger than the bases. Put them on top of the steak filling and press the edges together with a fork. Score the top if you like, using a butter knife (don’t cut all the way through). Brush the whole thing with beaten egg and cook for 20-25 mins until golden.
If you’ve got any taste at all you’ll let them go cold before eating. Maybe.