Happy British Pie Week!
A pie-lovers dream, British Pie Week gives all fans of the pastry-based delight the perfect excuse to indulge on as much of the most scrumptious of delicacies as they desire. The festival has been running since 2007 and acts as a remembrance to a delicacy that has been used to kill off two Shakespeare characters, as well as a number of Freys in A Game of Thrones, is sent to the queen by the people of Gloucester for every jubilee or coronation in the form of lamprey pie, and was invented by the Romans as a baking dish, storage container, or a way to serve the filling.
To elaborate on that final point, records show that a mixture of flour, oil and water made for an often tough and inedible container that was used to hold a variety of meat and seafood goods, with a number of historians believing that the empty casing was later fed to the servants of the rich. These days the taste, texture, and overall standing of the pastry has improved tenfold, with several different styles, including filo, puff and short crust, coming to the fore, and many diners – including this humble writer – believe that if cooked correctly, the exterior can often be that bit more enjoyable than the interior.
As opposed to our American counter-parts, whose National Pie Day takes place at the end of January, here in Britain we take it one step further, celebrating British Pie Week on the first full week in March, which in 2017 falls between Monday 6th and Sunday 12th. But let’s face it, the pie is quintessentially British – in fact, whenever I watch one of the multitude of American sitcoms, dramas and fantasy shows that seem to clog up my Sky+ memory on a weekly basis, the only reference to pie that I ever come across can be seen in the form of a dessert (unless you count Rachel’s Shepherd’s Pie/trifle abomination on Friends).
Yes, I am aware that there are many pie forms that constitute as desserts in Britain too, but there are also a number of hearty treats that promise to make for wondrous main meals too. I won’t bore you with how a pastry is made (at least on the most part) but here are five of the delightful pie fillings that will surely excite the taste buds as they wholeheartedly appease the appetite.
The Good Ol’ Steak and Ale Pie
It seems only good and proper to start with an old British favourite, the steak and ale pie. The wonder that is the steak meets one of the most popular beverages in the isles, the ale, in a concoction that surely typifies this great nation. My choice number on a cold and dreary day (which let’s face it, is far more of a regular occurrence than we would like), it is best served steaming, with accompanying roast carrots, mangetout and broccoli.
4lb of stewing steak
2 finely diced onions
3 large carrots, chopped and diced
3 cubes of beef stock
200ml pint of boiling water
2 tsp beef granules (for thickening)
1 and a half pints of ale (the darker the better, my choice would be Theakston’s)
½ tbsp olive oil
2 chopped bay leaves
A pinch of salt and pepper
½ tsp chilli powder (optional, for those that like their food to have a bit of a kick)
Having initially cut the stewing steak up into cubes, you’ll start the process by heating the oil and onions in a pan for one minute before adding the meat in and cooking until it is seared over and there is no pink to be found – juice should have formed in the pan by this point, and it should be sizzling. After-which, you’ll pour in half of the ale and allow it to simmer, again for around a minute, then pour in the rest with the chopped bay leaves, salt, pepper and, should you so desire, the chili powder (when it comes to the ale, I always like to pour myself two pints, so I can enjoy the final ½ pint as a refreshment).
Next comes the beef stock, which should be reduced in the boiling water (the amount of water used depends on how much of the beef flavour you want to come through) before being added to the mix, simultaneous to the beef granules, which should ensure that the mix becomes nice and thick. Let this simmer for 10 minutes and then transfer to a large casserole pot, adding in more water (or ale) if the gravy doesn’t cover the contents within, before putting the dish in the oven at gas mark 3/167C and leaving for 90 minutes – ladling the blend into the pastry afterwards and cooking for a further twenty minutes.
The Thick and Creamy Chicken ‘n’ Mushroom Pie
Smooth and rich, the chicken and mushroom pie delivers many of the same feelings as the one above, while presenting the taste buds with a sensation that could not be more different. The latter creamy where the former is thick, light where it is heavy – but both being so tasty that when both are on the menu, I find it almost impossible to choose!
1 tbsp vegetable oil
8 large chicken breasts
1 and a ½ finely diced onions
250g pack mushrooms
A handful of thyme sprigs
2 tbsp plain flower
3 chicken stock cubes
300ml boiling water
8 rashers of smoked bacon (optional, for added flavour)
A pinch of salt and pepper
Begin by heating the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and frying until golden brown, turning occasionally to ensure that all sides are even, before removing for the time being. Should you have decided to add the bacon (which is certainly the direction that I would have taken – the more meat the better in my eyes!), then this should now be tipped into the pan and fried until crisp before adding in the onion, thyme and mushrooms and switching it to a high heat until the onions begin to colour.
Up next is the flour, which you should tip into the pan and cook, stirring constantly. With the pan off the heat, reduce the stock into boiling water (using the same method as its steak and ale counterpart), and gradually stir this in, followed by the milk and the previously cooked chicken – leaving to simmer for around 30 minutes. Follow this by spooning the filling into a large baking dish with a lip and leave to cool, pre-heating the oven at gas mark 7/220C as you do. The mixture should then be transferred to the pastry and heated for another thirty minutes
The Huge Haul Fish Pie
This option takes a stride away from the norm, in the sense that the fish pie uses not an ounce of pastry, instead opting for the lighter, yet no less scrumptious, option of the mashed potato. Being a lover of all things seafood, this is perhaps my first choice when it comes to the pie, and it is one that I would always get excited about when my mum would place the ingredients on the table – it’s also one that I have tried to replicate on numerous occasions, falling short every single time.
1kg of potatoes
1 ½ kg mixed seafood
2 fish stock cubes
A pinch of black pepper
Cheddar cheese (optional)
Commence the preparation by preheating the oven to gas mark 6/200C and pouring cold water over the potatoes, which should have been placed in a saucepan – bringing them to the boil and simmering until tender. Once you’re satisfied, drain the potatoes thoroughly and then mash them with a splash of milk and around 15g of the butter until they reach your required consistency, seasoning with black pepper.
In the meantime, put the butter and flour into another pan and heat gently until the butter has melted, stirring frequently and gradually whisking the milk in. Cook until thick while adding in the fish stock, ensuring that no lumps are left behind, previous to adding in the parsley, mixed seafood and, if necessary, cheese. Once ready, spoon it into an oven-proof container, add the potato and cheese (again, if this is desired), and pop it in the oven for 20-25 minutes, before leaving it for a few minutes to cool.
Now I’ve been fairly ambiguous when it comes to the actual seafood used within the pie which is, quite frankly, because any kind at all can be used (though you should really steer clear of tinned tuna), personally, I’d go for mussels (de-shelled of course), prawns, cod and smoked haddock (for that little bit of extra saltiness), though it all comes down to personal tastes – and that is the beauty of the fish pie!
The Enticingly Pungent Cheese and Onion Pie
Possibly the least complicated option on the list, the cheese and onion pie really is a dream for the particularly herbivorous cook (though it has been known to sway more than a few meat eaters to its side). If made correctly, it is perhaps the strongest in flavour of the listed pies and serves to provide a meals-worth of enjoyment to cheese enthusiasts and pastry aficionados alike
5 finely diced onions
2 pinch’s salt and pepper
500g cheese (my choice would be Red Leicester, but what you choose really depends on your cheese preferences)
Having pre-heated the oven to 180C/gas mark 4, the butter should be heated in a saucepan until melted as you fry the onions for ten minutes without colouring, subsequently mixing in the salt and pepper and boiling until almost all of the liquid has evaporated.
Once the time period for the onions has elapsed, they should then be removed, spread out and left on a plate to cool, all before covering the pastry with half of said onions and grating over half of the cheese, putting a thin layer of pastry over such and repeating the process and placing the pie in the oven to bake for 40-50 minutes, or until golden brown.
The Apple Pie Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree
I couldn’t look myself in the eye without mentioning that which is one of the more widely admired, and certainly most traditional, of desserts to be found in the UK. A sharp yet sweet selection that is as heart-warming as it is delectable, the dish has made for a divine conclusion to many a meal, or a naughty snack for those that find their sweet tooth in need of a little gratification.
For the filling
6 large apples
50g granulated white sugar
55g light brown sugar
1tbsp lemon juice (adjust measure for sharpness)
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
28g of unsalted butter
5tsp corn flour
A pinch of salt
A punnet of raspberries (optional)
For the Pastry
50g golden caster sugar
350g plain flour
You may notice that this is the only option that I have included a recipe for the pastry, and that is because using a bog-standard pastry would absolutely ruin any type of pie-based dessert, and to ruin an apple pie would be akin the blasphemy in the food world. So, once the apple has been cored, peeled and sliced to around 5mm in thickness (do this in any order), you should make the outer-casing by beating the butter and sugar in a large bowl until mixed thoroughly, breaking in one whole egg and the yolk of the second (the white is good for glazing later), before beating before it looks a bit like a scrambled egg and working in the flour, a third at a time, with a wooden spoon, until it begins to clump up. Then gently work the dough into a ball, wrap in cling film, and chill for 45 minutes.
Now combine the sugar, cinnamon and flour for the filling and gradually add in the rest of the ingredients (except for the apples) in a pot that is large enough for the fruit to fit into later, and heat the oven to gas mark 5/170C and lightly beat the left-over egg white with a fork. After-which, cut off around a 3rd of the pastry (this will be the lid of the pie) and keep it wrapped while you use the rest to line your tin – making sure to leave a slight overhang.
Now is the time to put the apples into the bowl of ingredients previously explained, which you will then give a quick jumble with your hands and immediately pile high into the pastry-lined tin (along with the raspberries, if that is to your taste). Finish by brushing a little water over the rim, placing the lid on top, pressing the edges together to seal, and making five little slashes in the lid to allow the steam to escape before baking for 40-45 minutes – having glazed with the egg white and sweetened with an extra sprinkle of caster sugar. Be sure to serve while warm for a more pleasurable eating experience.
A whole week devoted to the pie, what’s not to love? Let us know how you’ve celebrated British pie week, and whether you have used any of the recipes mentioned above, have decided to go on your own with a delicious recipe that is close to you, or are going to enjoy a well-deserved night out and indulge in one of the many warm and welcoming restaurants associated with Gourmet Society, on our Facebook and Twitter.
By Calum Dewsbury