Nothing beats a good pie on a winter’s evening and Tom Parker Bowles tell us how to best make it at home with the kids.
Why it’s great
A good pie is an immensely serious thing, to be treated with hushed awe and loving respect. Because from the moment your fork cracks through that golden crust – and it matters not whether it’s thick or thin, shortcrust or puff, as long as the thing’s done well – releasing a glorious fug of savoury scents, you know exactly what you’re going to get; tucker with wonderful succour.
There’s nothing complicated or clever or frightening about a proper pie. Well, unless it’s torn from the shelves of a service-station fridge. In which case, you only have yourself to blame. The very finest pies are uncomplicated things, usually filled with the cheaper cuts of meat, slow cooked so they break down into soft, silken strands. And while purists will demand you construct your own pastry, I usually don’t bother. For a start, I fear the making of pastry. It usually requires precision and patience, two qualities with which I was not blessed. Anyway, the ready-made stuff in the supermarkets is now pretty high-class. As long as you make sure it’s made with 100 per cent butter, rather than that filthy upstart margarine.
As for the great shortcrust v puff debate, I sit fairly firmly on the fence. Horses for courses, and all that. Although I generally think that the more John Bullish of pies –steak and ale, say, or the great steak and kidney – somehow suit a no-nonsense slab of crusty short. Especially when the top is beautifully burnished and the underside is a touch soft and soggy, infused with the quintessence of meat. The more lithe, elegant specimens, chicken and morel, for example, seem better when lounging beneath a puff-pastry lid. ?But there’s no place for hard-and-fast rules here, nor empirical constraints. Use the best-quality ingredients you can find, and you’re on the way ?to pie perfection.
One of the greatest pies I ever devoured was at the joint birthday party of Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver, the owners of St John. After a starter consisting of vast bunches of radishes with good butter and salt, huge dishes were borne to the tables and plonked before us. Then a rich, thick, buttery shortcrust was hewn open to reveal… a wobblingly seductive mass of slow-braised pig’s head. Just the good bits. No snout or bristles or skin. It sounds a little visceral, but it was unbelievably wonderful.
But it’s not a dish best thrust upon children. Quite understandably, they prefer something a little less, well, idiosyncratic. Like chicken and mushroom, for example. Although the moment one of them remembers that they ‘hate’ mushrooms (‘like slug snot, Daddy, slippery and yuk’), the other joins the anti-mycologist movement and, before long, their plates are divided into crust and chook (‘deeelicious’) and disconsolate piles of abandoned fungi. Hey ho.
Although they would still rather inhale industrial quantities of Quavers and cupcakes – damn you cupcakes (has there ever been a more trite and insidious baking ‘trend’?) – the children now get the point of pie. Which makes me happy.
Sure, there are the usual moans and groans to start (and we’re still a long way off even mentioning kidneys, let alone serving ’em up in pie), but the pastry is usually devoured first followed, with some prompting, by the filling. The recipe below uses morels, something the children won’t touch (‘rat brains’, according to my daughter). Which is a relief, as they’re rather expensive. Dried ones are good, but buttons will work just as well. Or you could even leave them out altogether. But they’re now at an age where we all eat the same thing at lunch, rather than two separate meals. Hallejullah. And my wife and I like the mushrooms. So they’ll just have to continue being fished out. It’s also a recipe that can be easily adapted across the globe, a useful standby for any culinary emergency. That’s the whole point. You can always rely on pie.
When roasting a chicken for dinner, add another one to cook down and use later. As ever, the better the chicken, the finer the taste and texture.
80g sifted plain white flour
1 litre chicken stock
2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 lemon, juiced
Few dashes of Tabasco
1 large onion, finely chopped
225g button mushrooms, sliced
Handful of dried morels, soaked in warm water and chopped (optional, as they are expensive but they do add some mycological magic to proceedings)
Glass of dry white wine
1 cold roasted chicken, ?flesh stripped.
Handful of chopped tarragon ?and parsley
1 packet of good puff pastry, rolled to fit over filling.
1 beaten egg, for glaze
Make a roux with butter and flour, then cook gently for about 3 or 4 minutes. Don’t let it colour. Slowly add warm stock until you have a thick sauce. Season.
Add mustard, lemon and Tabasco, and leave to simmer for 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, sauté onions and mushrooms until soft in butter. Add the wine, burn off booze, bring to boil and add to sauce, stirring over a medium heat for a couple of minutes.
Add chicken and herbs and allow to cool. Then preheat oven to 200°C, put chicken mix into pie dish and top with pastry lid, cutting a couple of small vents, sealing around the edges. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 25 minutes, or until golden.