Mark Hix recipes: Our chef celebrates British pies with some inventive fillings

Not just half-time filler at the football, a well-made pie is a thing of beauty, says our man in the kitchen. Especially if you fill it with game, cod and fennel or bergamot meringue
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It might have passed you by, but British pie week was only a few weeks ago. The thing is, we should be celebrating British pies all of the time – not just on this week or that. They are part of our culinary culture and you can put almost anything into them. There are those who quibble that only something with pastry on top and bottom is a pie – to them I ask, what is a fish pie then? As long as it hits the spot, who cares what you call it?

Raised game pie

Serves 8-10

If you're not a confident cook, a pie can seem tricky, but believe me, it's pretty easy. Once you've made a pie like this a couple of times, you can adapt the filling according to your preference and what you have to hand, using ingredients such as veal and ham, or layers of mushrooms. You will need a removable-based deep flan ring or raised pie tin about 18-20cm x 5cm.

400g boned weight of rabbit meat, cut into rough 1-2cm chunks
400g boned deer fillet or a tender muscle joint, cut into rough 1cm chunks
6 pigeon breasts, skinned and cut into 4
60ml port
60ml red wine
1 onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4tbsp chopped parsley
A few sprigs of thyme, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the hot-water crust pastry

375g plain flour
½ tsp salt
150ml water
130g lard, cut into pieces
1 small egg, beaten

For the jelly

1 jar of redcurrant jelly
2 leaves (6g) gelatine

Mix the game in a bowl with the port, wine, chopped onions, parsley and thyme and season. Leave to sit in the marinade for an hour, then drain.

To make the pastry, mix the flour and salt in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Bring the water and lard to the boil in a pan, then stir it into the flour with a wooden spoon to form a smooth dough. Leave it covered for 15 minutes, or until less sticky and easier to handle.

Lightly grease the tin. Take two-thirds of the dough and on a lightly-floured table roll into a circle about 5mm thick and 25-26cm across, big enough to line the flan ring and overlap the edge by 1cm or so. Making sure there are no holes in the pastry, place it into the flan ring or pie tin, carefully press into the corners and allow it to just hang over the edge. Roll the remaining dough into a circle large enough for the top and cut a 2cm hole in the centre or make a slit with the point of a knife.Now preheat youroven to 200C/gas mark 6.

Fill the pastry with the game mixture, then brush the edges of the pastry circle with water and carefully lay it on top.

Trim the edges with a knife and pinch the base and top pastry edges together to make a good join. You can decorate the top and edges if you feel the urge, but it's not necessary (unless the mother-in-law is coming round). Cut a hole in the centre with a small pastry cutter, or similar, to allow the jelly to be poured in when cool.

Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg and cook for 45 mins (30 mins for smaller ones). If it's colouring too much, cover with foil and turn the oven down. Remove the ring and brush the sides and top again with egg, and bake for a further 15 mins.

Remove from the oven to cool and once cold, refrigerate for 3-4 hours, or overnight.

The next day, make the jelly, soak the gelatine in cold water for 2-3 minutes until soft, then squeeze out the excess water.

Heat a quarter of the redcurrant jelly in a pan, stir in the gelatine until dissolved, then stir into the rest of the jelly until that's dissolved.

Carefully remove the pie from the tin, using a sharp knife to run around the edges to avoid breaking the pastry. If there are any visible holes in the pastry, you can plug them with some softened butter.

Slowly pour in the jelly and if it springs any leaks, plug them with more butter before pouring in more jelly. Fill to the top with jelly, then return to the fridge for a few hours.

The pie will keep for 4-5 days in the fridge. For the most dramatic serving impression, take the whole pie to the dining table on a board and cut it there.

Serve with piccalilli or chutney.

Bergamot meringue pie

Serves 8

You can buy bergamot fruits and juice online and they make for an interesting take on the classic lemon meringue pie.

60g unsalted butter
30g caster sugar
Grated zest of ½ a bergamot or lemon (reserve the juice)
½ a medium egg, beaten
125g plain flour
Flour for dusting

For the filling

100g butter
Grated zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 2 bergamots or 2 lemons
225g granulated sugar
8 egg yolks (reserve the whites)
2tbsp ground almonds
120ml double cream

For the topping

2 egg whites
60g caster sugar

First, make the pastry. In a food processor, cream the butter and sugar together with the zest until smooth. Slowly add the beaten egg, scraping the sides of the bowl every so often if you are using a mixer, until it is all mixed well, then slowly fold in the flour and mould the dough into a ball.

Lightly grease an 18-20cm wide, 3cm deep, straight-sided flan ring with a removable bottom (or use a buttered, bottomless flan ring on a buttered tray).

Roll out the pastry on a floured table until it's about 3mm thick, then lay it into the flan ring. The best way to do this is to roll the pastry around the rolling pin, then unroll it over the flan ring and ease the pastry into the ring with your hands.

Press the pastry firmly into the corners of the flan ring and patch up any holes by pinching the pastry together, or by patching in some of the excess pastry. This pastry is quite forgiving and a bit of patchwork won't be noticeable once it's cooked.

Roll the rolling pin across the top of the flan ring to trim off the excess pastry, then neaten up the edges by going round and pinching them with your thumb and forefinger. Leave to rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

Bergamot meringue pie is an interesting take on the classic lemon meringue pie (Jason Lowe)

Meanwhile, make the filling. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Remove from the stove and beat in the grated zest and juice, sugar, egg yolks, almonds and double cream. Return to the stove and stir on a low heat until it thickens, but don't let it boil. Remove from the heat, give a final stir and cover with clingfilm to stop it forming a skin.

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Line the flan ring with a large disc of greaseproof paper or foil and fill with baking beans.

Bake the pastry for 25 minutes, or until lightly coloured, then remove from the oven and leave to cool a little. Reduce the oven to 150C/gas mark 3.

Remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans and pour in the lemon filling. If you have too much, save to have as lemon curd on toast.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until just set, then remove from the oven and increase the temperature to 220C/gas mark 7.

Clean a stainless-steel mixing bowl and whisk (preferably electric) with boiling water and dry with a clean cloth to remove any traces of grease.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then add the sugar and continue whisking until they are stiff and shiny.

Spoon the mixture on to the filling and return to the oven for about 3-5 minutes, until lightly browned. Allow to cool and eat at room temperature within 24 hours.

Cod and fennel pie

Serves 4-6

Fish pie is an honest, down-to-earth food packed with flavours. It makes perfect comfort food if you are sitting in front of the television after a hard day and also works equally well as a dinner party main course. You can make this dish the day before and keep it in the fridge overnight. The basic recipe can be varied endlessly, according to what sustainable fish are available and what you like, but it is always good to include some smoked fish.

500ml fish stock (or a good-quality fish stock cube dissolved in 500ml hot water)
2tbsp dry vermouth
1 fennel bulb, cored and finely diced
300g sustainable cod fillet, skinned, any residual bones removed and fillets cut into rough 3cm chunks
200g un-dyed smoked cod fillet, skinned, any residual bones removed and fillets cut into rough 3cm chunks
2tbsp chopped mixed green herbs, such as parsley, dill and chervil
60g butter
1.5-2kg floury potatoes, cooked and mashed with a little milk
20g fresh white breadcrumbs
30g grated cheddar or parmesan

For the sauce

50g butter
50g flour
175ml double cream
1tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

In a large saucepan, bring the fish stock and vermouth to the boil, add the fennel, turn down the heat and cook gently for 8 minutes. Add the cod and smoked cod and poach for 2 minutes. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving the cooking liquid, and leave to cool.

To make the sauce: melt the butter in a heavy-based pan over a low heat, then stir in the flour and cook gently for a minute. Gradually add the reserved fish poaching liquid, stirring well until it has all been added and the mixture is smooth. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add the cream and continue to simmer for 10 minutes or so until the sauce has a thick consistency. Stir in the mustard. Season if necessary, then leave to cool for about 15 minutes or so.

Perfect comfort food: Cod and fennel pie (Jason Lowe)

Gently fold into the sauce the cooked fish with the fennel and the herbs. Spoon into a large pie dish or several individual ones, filling to 3cm from the top. Leave to set for about 30 minutes, so that the potato will sit on the sauce.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4 and mix the butter into the mashed potato. Season with a little salt and freshly ground white pepper and add a little milk so that it is just soft enough to pipe with a piping bag or spread with a spatula on to the fish.

Bake for 30 minutes, or a little less for smaller ones. Scatter on the breadcrumbs and cheese, and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden on top.

Steamed Allium pudding

Serves 4-6

A good vegetarian version of the classic steak and kidney pudding. We have loads of fantastic vegetables and herbs on our doorstep these days, so no excuse not to use them.

60g butter
12 small shallots, peeled
1 leek, trimmed, halved lengthways, washed well and cut into chunks
1 onion, peeled and cut into 6 wedges
60g flour
1ltr vegetable stock (or a couple of good-quality stock cubes will do)
Half a bay leaf

For the suet pastry

250g self-raising flour
125g shredded vegetarian suet
150ml milk

To serve

A few leaves of wild garlic
4-6 spring onions, halved
A couple of knobs of butter

Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and gently cook the alliums for 2-3 minutes, then stir in the flour and cook over a low heat for 30 seconds. Slowly whisk or stir in the stock to avoid lumps forming. Bring to a simmer, add the bay leaf and simmer for about 20 minutes, giving it an occasional whisk. The sauce should be very thick – like wallpaper paste, almost – as it thins down in the pastry with the cooking of the onions.

Meanwhile, make the pastry: mix the flour and suet together in a bowl, then gradually mix in the milk to form a dough. The dough should be soft but firm enough to roll out into a circle large enough to line a 1.5-litre pudding basin, or individual ones. Cut a quarter out of the circle for the lid and to ease the lining of the bowl.

Steamed Allium pudding is a good vegetarian version of the classic steak and kidney pudding (Jason Lowe)

Butter the pudding basin well, drop the pastry into it; join up the edges where the quarter was removed. Remould the pastry for the top and roll it out to the correct size. Mix the onions, shallots and leeks with just enough sauce to bind and season (excess sauce you can use for a soup, or freeze).

Spoon the filling into the pudding mould, leaving any excess sauce to serve once cooked. Lay the pastry lid on top and press the edges together so that the filling is sealed in.

Cut a piece of foil big enough to fit over the top of the basin and come halfway down the sides, making a pleat down the middle to allow for expansion. Tie it in place with some string, making a string handle so it can be lifted when topping up with water. Clean your pressure cooker if you have one, then pour in about 3-4cm hot water and lower the pudding or puddings into it. Close the lid and cook for 45 minutes, or in a pan of simmering water for double the time.

To serve, melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the spring onions for a minute or so, then add the wild garlic. Turn out the pudding on to warmed serving plates, spoon the spring onions and wild garlic over and serve extra sauce if you wish.