I am convinced, said Sydney Smith that character, talents, virtues and qualities are powerfully affected by beef, mutton, pie crust and rich soups.
Indeed Sydney, indeed. And as an estimable man of the eighteenth century cloth, one can only surmise that God and his earthly foot soldiers, given half the chance would all enjoy a nice pie.
And who can blame them. You can’t go wrong with a nice pie.
My favourite pie, on balance is my own concoction -chicken, leek, pancetta and sausage ball pie. Ooh, hold up lets keep it proper, I meant of course good old bacon. Or York ham. Because only a knob would take a pie, that quintessential fare of the British working man and put poncy old pancetta in it. Innit.
So some nice streaky bacon. That’s the stuff.
Just giving a smoky undertone, a salty kick to a soft white blanket of heartily seasoned roux. Moist poached chicken. Soft melting leeks and fatty nobbly balls of sausage. A leaf or two of sage and a golden puffy crust. A bowl of bright green, young broad beans, plucked from their grey casings. And mash- whipped with a wooden spoon, worked in with fridge cold cubes of salted butter and white pepper until you have something ephemeral, something magical and so comforting that it will damn near give you a hug and tell you that, Hey. Its OK. You hang in there buddy. You’re doing just fine. And you know what- it happens to lots of guys. Its never happened before and you’ve had a lot on a work. You’ve been STRESSED. Its really no big deal. Now come here handsome- you keep that chin up- you hear? Have you been working out?
Just really comforting basically. Thanks MASH. You’re the best.
And now, I tell you, thats a hell of a meal. Thats what I want to get my laughing gear round on a moist chilly August evening in SW15.
I like the word moist. Also Mid-Wiffery. Pronounced Mid Whiff-ery. With heavy emphasis on the Wh.
Note from editor. Self edit Luke. Self edit. You don’t have an editor.
So here is a promise, and it is one that I have made before: If you cook a pie for someone, they will like you more. I don’t care if its you son, your husband, your too good for you girlfriend, your old granny or the illicit shag three doors down. Cook a pie tomorrow, watch someone you love break the crust and as that steam bathes their face in savoury goodness, as they shovel forkful after forkful down, they will wonder what they did to deserve you and your lovely pie.
For my non-pancetta pie. I use frozen puff pastry. And do you know what, if you don’t or if you look down at me in any way, then you are reading the wrong blog. I am a chef and I can’t make puff pastry as good as the frozen stuff. Also I have a life and better things to do. Life is too short for making puff pastry. And wrapping presents. But that might be just me. I HATE wrapping presents.
I am also not keen on writing gram by gram, step by step recipes…… Just have a stab. There is literally nothing bad that can come of it. No sage? use rosemary. No bacon. Don’t worry about it. Lumpy roux? Whisk it more.
So this is how I make my pie.
Buy the best whole chicken that you can afford. Whilst at the meat counter purchase some excellent streaky bacon and some nice butchers sausages with a good high meat content.
Take the skin off your chicken- just pull it off. Wash your hands,grab a sharp knife, get stuck in, hack away and just pull off all that skin. Put skin aside for later. Cover your now naked chicken with cold water, chuck in a carrot, a leek, an onion, maybe a bay leaf or two. Bring to boil and simmer gently for about an hour.
Meanwhile. Slice a couple of leeks, an onion and 4 cloves of garlic. sweat in butter on low heat until soft and tender . Cut your bacon (lets say 200g) into batons and squeeze the meat from your sausages (lets say 4 sausages). Discard the now prophylactic-like skins somewhere that will not cause embarrassment. Form sausage meat into balls. About the size of a tiny elephant or a massive ant.
Now! This bit is important. In a little oil, fry the sausage balls and the bacon batons in a BIG pan- big enough to eventually contain all of your pie filling. When they are all nicely browned and golden, remove from pan, but do not discard fat or sticky bits. Take your chicken skin, liberally salt it and chop it up with a sharp knife into small squares. Add this to the bacon/sausage fat and fry until really crispy. Remove and add to your bacon and sausage.
Now add half a pack of butter to your fat. What a great sentence. The ghost of Jennifer Patterson lives on in me. When it has melted, over a gentle heat start adding plain flour. And gently whisk, amalgamating the flour, the crispy bits and the fats. Keep adding the flour until the mixture is too stiff to whisk and then cook until it starts to smell biscuty. Now add milk, slowly whilst whisking. Keep going until it has the consistency of double cream.
Now its an assembley job. In with the leeks and onion. bacon bits, crispy skin and sausage balls. Remove your chicken from it’s stock and take the meat off the bones. chop to whatever size you like and add to your mixture. Add some chopped up sage leaves and lots of salt and pepper. If it looks too thick you can loosen with some chicken stock.
And thats your pie filling- pour it into a pie dish, cover with puff, egg wash , prick and chuck in the oven at 210 for 35 minutes.
Use the stock for soup or similiar.
For me cooking is all about the crispy bits. Never waste them, deglaze, use the same pan, whatever. But I never want to come round and see soggy crispy bits in your dirty dish water.
Make a pie for some friends soon and see if they don’t love you for it.