‘Winter just wouldn’t be winter without some delicious homemade pies’
SAVOURY pies tend to get a bit of a bad reputation here in Scotland but, when cooked from scratch, they can be a wonderful winter treat and they don’t have to be as unhealthy as you may think. A bit like soups, pies can be a brilliant way to combine what you have in the fridge – whether it’s meat, fish or vegetables. Fill them with wonderful winter flavours and you’ll create a hearty and satisfying meal for all the family – it can be an easy cook-ahead dish.
The joy of making pies from scratch is their versatility – filling, pastry type and size – you can create something to suit your own taste. For some, the fear of pastry rolling and dreaded soggy bottoms is enough to put them off, but making pies begins with a few simple techniques and if you can master them, you can build a whole variety of dishes. One of the important things to remember is pies are hearty dishes – they don’t have to look perfectly pretty and some of the best pies look rustic, with a little hint of what’s inside showing from the juices bubbling slightly over the edge.
There are many different kinds of pies from bottom crusted, double crusted, short crusted or even lattice topped. Some pies are filled and then baked in the oven, others are better blind baked and then filled, but generally most pies share a few characteristics and essential techniques. Master those techniques and they are a lot simpler to make than you may think.
The foundation of any good pie is in the pastry. Homemade is best, but if you don’t have the time you can buy some good-quality, ready-to-roll pastry. The first step is in the handling of the pastry. Work it too much and it’ll end up too tough. A lighter touch is best and keeping your hands cool while you work the pastry is key. Once you’ve got it ready, it’s best to rest it in the fridge for at least half an hour to avoid any shrinking when you bake it later. Using a heavy-duty baking tray and keeping your oven nice and hot can also help to avoid soggy pastry disasters.
A well-made pastry-topped pie is such a joy to eat as it’s a little parcel with a tasty, juicy filling hidden inside. For me, there’s something incredibly comforting about breaking into a pie straight from the oven and taking that first delicious, crumbling mouthful.
One of my favourites at this time of year is a tender seasonal game pie. Long, slow cooking of meat pies produces the best, most flavoursome results. The wonderful wild meat you can get here in Scotland can make the perfect filling and it’s a good way to use up any leftovers.
Winter just wouldn’t be winter without some deliciously warming homemade pies.
STEAK & ALE PIE
1kg stewing steak, cut into 2-3cm pieces
flour for dusting
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil for cooking
1 onion, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
250g button mushrooms, cleaned
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
250ml red wine
500ml dark Munro Ale (Highland Brewing Co)
250g ready-rolled puff pastry
eggwash (1 egg yolk, beaten with ½ tsp water and a pinch of salt)
Heat the oven to 150C/gas mark 2. Dust the pieces of stewing steak all over with flour and season with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy-based ovenproof sauté pan over a medium-high heat and add a good drizzle of olive oil.
Brown the beef in two batches for four or five minutes until well caramelised. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Return the pan to the heat and add another drizzle of oil. Add the onion, carrots and mushrooms, lower the heat and sweat gently for four or five minutes. Add the garlic and bouquet garni.
Pour in the red wine and let it bubble to reduce by half, then add the ale. Bring back to the boil and return the beef to the pan. Put a lid on the pan and place in the oven. Cook for three hours or until the beef is tender and the liquor has reduced and thickened.
Raise the oven setting to 180C/gas mark 4. Transfer the beef stew to a pie dish, discarding the bouquet garni. Cut out a disc of pastry large enough to cover the pie dish generously (allow about 3cm extra all round). Dampen the rim of the dish with water, then lift the pastry over the top of the stew. Press the edges of the pastry on to the rim of the dish and trim away the excess pastry.
Brush the pastry lid with the eggwash and bake the pie in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and crisp. Serve with seasonal vegetables.
1½ onions, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
8 sprigs thyme
300g venison trimmings
100g hare trimmings
250g pork fat
100g pork belly
150g game livers
150g foie gras
2-3 sheets of frozen puff pastry, 2mm thick
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
To make the filling
Melt the butter in a pan and gently cook the onions and garlic until they are very soft and translucent. Mix in the thyme. Add the brandy and port and cook until the alcohol has evaporated. Spread the mixture out on a plate and leave to cool.
Once the onion is cool, mix the venison, hare, pork fat and belly, livers and foie gras. Mince this mixture and place in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. It’s important to check the seasoning at this point. The best way to do this is to fry a small amount (basically a mini burger) in a frying pan until cooked through and then taste it. Correct the seasoning if necessary.
To assemble the pithiviers
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Lay out the pastry and cut out four 12cm discs for the bases and four 16cm discs for the tops. Lay the pastry bases on separate pieces of baking parchment to make the pithiviers easier to handle.
Place a small amount of the filling mix in the centre of each pastry base. Make it as round as possible, for a neat finished product. Then lay the pastry tops over the filling, pressing the edges together firmly to enclose the meat mix and making sure there are no air pockets.
Brush the pastry with beaten egg and place in the fridge for 15-20 minutes to rest the pastry. Carefully score the top with the tip of a small knife, starting at the centre and curving round to the base. Make a small hole at the centre to let steam and excess moisture escape. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
A pithivier is a meal in itself so just serve with a green salad to eat afterwards.