The pies have it: Mark Hix celebrates the world's finest comfort food

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British Pie Week begins on Monday – so why not join in with the celebrations and bake your very own? The humble meat pie first appeared in Britain in the 12th century and ever since that date we have been experimenting with fillings, and toppings – whether the simple shortcrust variety or melt-in-the-mouth puff pastry.

Made well, a pie has the potential to be the most satisfying fast food on earth, but the side is let down by the cheap and nasty varieties in our shops. The humble pie can also be turned into something more extravagant, such as the rabbit and crayfish Stargazy pie that won me some stripes a couple of years ago on Great British Menu. If you don't want to make your own pastry, there are several ready-made products on the market, including Jus-Rol.

Kentish pudding

Serves 4-6

We are lucky enough these days to have all the cuts of chicken available to us, conveniently packed and ready to cook. Boned thighs are perfect for long-cooking methods like this as they don't dry out like a breast. Originally this dish would have been made using a boiling fowl, but these are difficult to come by nowadays. You could also use oysters or girolles instead, which would add great colour and flavour to the finished sauce.

750g boned, skinned chicken thighs, halved
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
100g rindless smoked streaky bacon, cut into rough 2cm chunks
250g button mushrooms, halved or quartered
3tbsp flour
4tbsp white wine
350ml chicken stock
2tbsp chopped parsley

For the suet pastry

275g self-raising flour, plus more to dust
140g beef suet
tsp salt

To make the suet, mix the flour and suet in a bowl and add the salt; mix into a dough with 100ml cold water. The dough should be soft, but firm enough to roll into a circle large enough to line a 2-litre pudding basin. Cut a quarter out of the circle for the lid. Butter a pudding basin, drop the larger piece of pastry into it (it should fit nicely with the quarter removed), joining the edges where the quarter was removed. Trim the edges around the bowl. Season the thighs; lightly flour. Melt 15g of the butter in a large frying pan and cook the chicken gently for a couple of minutes on each side without colouring. Remove from the pan; put to one side. In the same pan, melt the rest of the butter and cook the onions and bacon until soft; add the mushrooms and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Add the flour, stir well, then slowly stir in the white wine and chicken stock and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Mix the sauce with the chicken thighs and parsley. Adjust the seasoning and tip the mixture into the lined pudding basin. Remould the pastry for the top and roll it out to the correct size to top the pudding. Lay it on top of the filling and press the edges together so that the filling is sealed in; trim the pastry where necessary.

Cut a piece of foil big enough to fit over the basin and overlap the sides, making a pleat down the middle to allow for expansion during cooking. Tie it in place with some string, making a string handle so it can be lifted when topping up with water. Half fill a pan large enough to accommodate the bowl with water, bring to the boil and lower the pudding into it. The water must be boiling and come about halfway up the side of the pudding basin. Cover with a lid and simmer very gently for 4 hours. If the water level gets low, lift the basin out and top up with more boiling water. To serve, remove foil and serve the pudding straight from the basin. Serve with mash, greens or root vegetables.

Rabbit, snail and hedgerow garlic pie

Serves 4

You may think this an odd combination – but I came across this dish in Spain years ago. We've been buying some lovely Herefordshire snails recently for the restaurant, which have been going into this dish, finished off with seasonal garlic.

40g flour, plus more for dusting

12 rabbit legs (front and back)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
2 medium onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
50g butter
100ml white wine
1 litres hot chicken stock
16 or more plump snails out of their shells
A handful of hedgerow garlic, chopped (or garlic chives from Chinese food stores)

For the pastry

225g self-raising flour
1tsp salt
85g shredded beef suet
60g butter, chilled and coarsely grated
1 medium egg beaten, to glaze

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Halve the back legs of the rabbit at the joint, then lightly season and flour all of the rabbit legs with a tablespoon of the flour. Heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan and lightly fry them for 2 minutes on each side without colouring them too much.

In a heavy-based saucepan, cook the onions in the butter for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the rest of the flour; stir well. Gradually add the white wine, stirring to avoid any lumps; gradually add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, add the rabbit legs and lightly season. Simmer gently, covered with a lid, for about 1¼ hours or until the rabbit is tender. When the rabbit is cooked, add the snails and hedgerow garlic and re-season if necessary. The sauce should be quite thick; if not, remove the rabbit legs and simmer until it has thickened. Leave to cool then transfer to a pie dish.

Meanwhile make the pastry: mix the flour and salt with the suet and grated butter. Mix in about 150-175ml water to form a smooth dough and knead it for a minute. Roll the pastry on a floured table to a thickness of about –¾cm, then cut out the right size and shape for the pastry to cover the dish, plus an extra 2cm. If you have a pie funnel then place it in the centre of the pie. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little of the beaten egg, make a slit in the centre for the pie funnel and lay the pastry on top of your pie, pressing the egg-washed sides against the rim of the dish; brush with beaten egg. Leave to rest in a cool place for 30 minutes; bake for about 45 minutes until the pastry is golden.

Mutton and potato pie

Serves 4

500g minced mutton shoulder
1tbsp vegetable or corn oil
1tsp thyme leaves
2 leaves of sage, chopped
1 large onion, peeled, halved, roughly chopped
1 small stick of celery, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
tbsp flour
1tsp tomato purée
750ml lamb or beef stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed with a couple of knobs of butter

For the pastry

100g plain flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
tsp salt
25g cold lard, cut into small cubes
25g cold butter, cut into small cubes
Cold water to mix

Heat a pan with the vegetable oil and fry the mutton on a high heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring to break up the meat. Add the onions, season and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Add the flour and tomato purée, stir well then gradually stir in the stock. Bring to the boil, add herbs, celery and carrot; simmer gently for about an hour or until the meat is tender and the liquid is coating the meat. Re-season if necessary.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Meanwhile make the pastry; mix the salt and flour together then rub the lard and butter into the flour with your finger tips until it's a breadcrumb-like consistency. Mix in enough water to make a rollable dough. Roll out the dough on a floured table to about cm thick and line four 8cm x 4cm deep lightly greased tart tins. Rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Line the tarts with discs of greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Bake the tart cases for 15 minutes or until they begin to colour, then remove from the oven and leave to cool.

You can assemble these and keep them in the fridge for a couple of days. Spoon in the mutton mixture, then either pipe or fork the potato mixture on top and bake for about 30 minutes or until they are hot inside and the potato is golden.

Banana and custard pie

Serves 4

The classic nursery combination should go down well with the children.

For the pastry

110g soft butter
135g caster sugar
225g strong flour, plus extra for dusting
tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
125ml double cream
1 small egg beated to glaze
1tbsp granulated sugar, for sprinkling

For the filling

One-third of a vanilla pod
200ml single cream
4 egg yolks
50g caster sugar
1tsp cornflour
2 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced

Cream the butter and sugar, sieve the baking powder and flour together and stir into the butter mix with the salt then slowly pour in the cream until well mixed. Chill for about 30 minutes before rolling. On a floured table, roll the pastry out to about cm thick and line four approx 8-10 x 4cm deep, lightly greased, individual tart or pie tins or 1 larger one, allowing the pastry to slightly overlap the edges. Roll 4 tops to fit the pies, then leave to rest for another 30 minutes.

Split the vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds with a point of a knife. Put the cream, vanilla pod and seeds into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes. In a bowl mix the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour together. Remove the vanilla pod from the cream and pour on to the egg mixture and mix well with a whisk. Return to the pan and cook gently over a low heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens, but without letting it boil. Remove from the heat and give a final mix with a whisk and transfer to a clean bowl.

Remove the lined tart tins from the fridge for about 15 minutes then mix the bananas with the custard and spoon into the tarts (you may have some mix left over so you could make extra with pastry trimmings, or I'm sure the kids will polish it off). Brush the edges of the pastry with the beaten egg and lay the tops on, pressing the pastry together with your thumb and forefinger to seal it then trim any excess with a knife and neaten up the edges again with your thumb and forefinger. Brush the pie tops with the beaten egg and scatter with the granulated sugar. Place on a tray and bake for about 15-25 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crisp. Leave to cool a little then serve hot or warm.

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