The ultimate winter warmer? It's as easy as pie

Forget the January health regime – when cold weather sets in, it's time to roll out the pastry, says Enjoli Liston

It has spent years out in the cold, but the warm, hearty pie is making a comeback. "Pies are trendy again," says Tristan Hogg, chef and co-founder of the Bristol-based pie company Pieminister. I am sitting in Tristan's cosy kitchen, where he and fellow founder Jon Simon are about to give me a masterclass in the art of pie making.

"There has been a massive resurgence of good British food tied to the renewed popularity of farmers' markets, local produce and artisan foods. Pies are part of that," Tristan says. "Five years ago, the pie market almost completely catered for the over-50s. Now, our customer base is mainly in the 25-40 age range."

Health-conscious eating habits and calorific pastry once combined to help to keep pies off the menu. But with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June and the Olympics kicking off in London in July, 2012 is the year to showcase the best of British cuisine – including its richest gems.

"Everyone needs hearty, indulgent food sometimes," Tristan says. "Just eat less of it."

Tristan may not realise it as he enthuses about the humble pie, but he is preaching to the converted. As a music festival-goer, pie is the tastiest, warmest, most filling, and best value-for-money meal you can get when standing in a field.

Buying pies is easy, but making them is a completely different matter. First there's the pastry, which seems complex enough without having to do the filling, too. Veteran pie-makers seem to swear by a multitude of tricks, but does making the perfect pie really have to be as complicated and time-consuming as it seems?

Before my master class, I ask pie aficionado Simon "Si" King – otherwise known as one half of cooking duo the Hairy Bikers – for advice. Like the Pieminister lads, who brought out A Pie for All Seasons last year, Si and co-chef Dave Myers have put their pie recipes into a new cookbook, The Hairy Bikers' Perfect Pies, which oozes with passion for pastry parcels.

"There's mystery in a pie," Si laughs. "I love that you don't know what the filling will be unless you've made it yourself. They look fantastic on the outside, but what lies within?"

Si acknowledges that he may not be the best advert for combining pies with a healthy diet ("A pie is not just for winter – I'm this rotund shape because I eat pies all year round") but his regular pie consumption does make him an expert. "Originally, the pastry was secondary to the filling," he says. "The pastry on Cornish pasties just protected the filling when workers took them down in the tin mines. Now, it's not just a vehicle for getting the filling into your gob – pastry is just as important."

Si insists there is no special trick to making exceptional pastry. He and Tristan agree that the secret to success is plenty of practice. "There are a lot of myths about pie making, but the real secret to making good pastry is just practice," Tristan says, emptying packets of pre-made, shop-bought pastry on to a floured surface. That looks a lot like cheating to me.

"I didn't have time to make it myself," Tristan explains. "Most people don't have time to practise, and for some, the worry of making the pastry puts them off making the whole pie. So why not just buy it? Shop-bought pastry is often so good that most people couldn't make it as well if they tried," he says. Perhaps that's the real secret to perfect pastry.

As he rolls out the pastry (to an even 3mm thickness), Tristan explains that we'll be making two kinds of "cannapie" – mini pies that make great lighter lunches or party food. He is using a smoked salmon, dill and crème fraîche mix for the first lot, and a "paddy's pie" (shortcrust pastry with a steak and Guinness filling) for the second.

Tristan and Jon advise me to make sure there's enough pastry left round the sides of the pie base to help to seal the pie properly and squeeze out all the air. That helps to prevent the filling spilling out, which is known as "cook out".

"'Cook out' and 'soggy bottom' are the pie maker's nightmare," Tristan says. He says a common mistake some people make is to try to cook pies with bottom-crusts in terracotta dishes, which "will never cook properly". Pieminister swears by old-fashioned metal and enamel pie dishes to ensure the bottom-crust doesn't go mushy (hence the term "soggy bottom").

So far, pie making hasn't been as complex as I expected. "Pies are much more forgiving than people think," says Tristan, who has just discovered that he has accidentally used puff pastry for the bottom-crust of the fish cannapies, instead of shortcrust. No matter. The "double-puff cannapie", as it is newly christened, emerges from the oven 20 minutes later looking, and tasting, fantastic.

Si stresses the importance of presentation: "A pie should call out to you and say, 'Eat me.'" Sitting on top of chive mashed potato, with a horseradish relish, and a little lemon garnish on top, my cannapie fits that bill.

I am impressed at how quick and simple Tristan makes the whole process look. "Good food just looks good," he shrugs. "Pies are the original ready-meal – they're a convenience food."

Si agrees: "Pies are so versatile. They're a world cuisine. Everybody has their own version of a pie."

Judging from the huge range of recipes in each pie book (Si's favourite pies range from sausage and rabbit slices to tandoori chicken samosas) it seems as though you can chuck anything in a pie and it'll taste good.

Well, almost anything. "When we were researching recipes for the book we went foraging. A lot of the food we found was great, such as alexanders, a kind of wild celery which we use in the recipe for fat hen's hare pie. But one thing we tried and failed with was badger," Tristan says. "It was roadkill," Jon says, with a slight shudder. "We cooked that thing for 10 hours and it still tasted bloody awful."

"We discovered there is a line that you shouldn't cross with foraged food and pie fillings, and badger is it," Tristan says.

Justine's chicken and tarragon pie By Si King and Dave Myers

Serves 5-6

Small knob of butter
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
150ml white wine
1 chicken stock cube
1kg whole cooked chicken (you can buy a ready-roasted one from your butcher or use 550g cooked chicken meat instead)
400ml crème fraîche
2 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoon plain flour
Flaked sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the filo topping:

40g butter, melted
4 filo pastry sheets (each about 32cm x 38cm), thawed if frozen

You'll need a 1.5-litre pie dish. Melt the butter with the oil in a large frying pan over a low heat, then add the onion and the crushed garlic. Fry gently for 5-6 minutes until the onion is softened, but not coloured, stirring occasionally.

Pour in the white wine, then crumble the stock cube into the pan and stir well until it dissolves. Simmer over a high heat, stirring constantly, until the liquid has reduced by half and thickened. Remove from the heat.

Take the skin off the chicken, then strip the meat from the bones and tear it into bite-sized pieces. Place these in a large bowl. Add the onion and garlic mixture and spoon the crème fraîche on top. Scatter over the tarragon, sprinkle the flour on top and season with a good pinch of sea salt and plenty of black pepper. Toss everything together until just combined, then spoon into your pie dish. Preheat the oven to 210C/Fan 190C/Gas Mark 6 .

Now for the topping. Brush a sheet of filo pastry with melted butter and cut it into 6. Scrunch up each portion with your hands and place it on top of the filling. Repeat with the remaining sheets of filo until the filling is completely covered.

Bake the pie in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes or until the filo pastry topping is crisp and golden brown and the filling is bubbling beautifully.

From The Hairy Bikers' Perfect Pies (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on