Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A pie of note

More than half baked...

It was ironic that after Lord Sugar’s derogatory remarks about engineers being useless at business, the winner of The Apprentice was the self-deprecating engineer Tom Pellereau.* Many watching the show hoped that he would be announced joint winner with his fellow contestant Helen Milligan. Indeed, it was only the change of contest rules that prevented the intelligent, effective, efficient, charming (and yes, beautiful) Helen from walking away the clear winner. After all, the pie business that got both contestants into the final was firmly based on her business acumen and experience with a national bakery company.

So maybe that was why making a traditional pie came to mind when planning for another British tradition, a picnic combined with grand opera. “Avoid sloshy food,” intoned husband, mindful of white dinner jackets, silk frocks and the ominous weather forecast for Glyndebourne that weekend. So sturdy food it was to be.

And what could be sturdier than a raised hot water crust pie, originally devised not only as a way of keeping in delicious meat juices without requiring a lidded casserole dish but also to withstand the rigours of transportation by horse drawn coach over rutted roads in the 18th Century. It had been several years since I last enjoyed the tactile pleasure of moulding warm, smooth pastry up the sides of a tin and making flamboyant decorations for the lid.
Layering the pheasant and pork mince

I decided game was the appropriate filling, as the opera that evening was Rusalka, which opens with a royal hunting party in the Bohemian forest. The breasts of a brace of pheasant were marinated in brandy before being layered with spiced minced pork in a hot water pastry crust lined with smoked streaky bacon. The pheasant carcasses were simmered for three hours with herbs and vegetables and the resulting liquid boiled down hard to make an intense stock that would turn to a tasty jelly when cold.

The fun bit...
Removing the pie from its tin for final coating of beaten egg and a further ten minutes in the oven was a nail biting process, despite using a brand new, non-stick, loose bottomed cake tin. More grease next time, I think. The other challenge was ensuring that enough of the liquid stock could penetrate throughout the central hole in the pie to fill the gaps caused by the filling shrinking during cooking. A slow process, but next time I am tempted to drill a couple of additional holes closer to the pie sides, where the biggest gaps are created.

Cut and come again...
Was it worth the work? Absolutely. The Glyndebourne pie gave 12 generous portions and held its shape to look appealing the second (and third) time it appeared on the table. I cannot bring myself to spend £100 on one of those traditional clip fastening pie moulds made by only one company, in France. But I have bought a couple of 4 inch diameter pork pie tins to create tasty pies on a smaller scale – just the thing for picnics, after theatre suppers or lunch following a long muddy walk.

And the opera was magnificent. 

* (See Sugar and spice and all things nice, at

Raised pheasant pie
500 gm of minced pork (fatty rather than premium lean)
500 gm of thinly cut streaky bacon rashers
500 gm of pheasant, cut from the bone
3 tablespoons of brandy
1 heaped tablespoon of chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon each of nutmeg, cinnamon, ground cloves
salt and pepper
approx 450 ml of jellied stock (made from the carcasses, or bought)

Hot water crust
450 gm plain flour
200 ml water
175 gm lard
1/2 teaspoon salt
scant tablespoon icing sugar
beaten egg

If making your own stock, prepare the day before and leave to cool. Mix the pork mince with two or three of the bacon rashers chopped small and add the spices, parsley and seasoning. Cut the pheasant meat into neat pieces, about 5cm, and leave in a covered dish with the brandy and some salt and pepper. Keep all the meat cool whilst preparing the pastry.

Sift the flour with salt and icing sugar into a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Bring water and lard to the boil in a medium sized pan and pour into the well, mixing it with a wooden spoon. (Take care when pouring the water and lard, as it can splatter up dramatically against the side of the pan.) Keep mixing until the pastry forms into a smooth, elastic ball. Cover and leave in a warm place for it to cool enough to handle comfortably.

Smoothing the warm elastic dough...
Put about a quarter of the pastry on one side (for the pie lid) and put the remaining pastry into a well greased cake tin (approx 18 cm diameter, 8 cm deep) with a removable base. Shape the pastry up the sides of the tin, making sure that the base is evenly covered and that there are no cracks or gaps. If it slides down the tin, the pastry is a little too hot, so leave it for a few minutes before trying again.

Line the bottom and lower sides of the pastry with the bacon rashers, followed by a layer of mince, a layer of pheasant, a layer of mince, a layer of pheasant and finally a layer of mince. Pack the filling in gently, mounding it slightly in the middle. Pour in the remains of the marinade brandy.

Moisten the rim of the pastry with beaten egg and top with the reserved pastry rolled out for the lid. Knock up the edges and trim, make a hole in the centre and insert of small tube of rolled card (to let the steam out and to allow the jelly to be poured in after cooking). Brush the lid generously with beaten egg. Have fun cutting out decorations from the pastry trimmings, position them on the lid and brush again with egg.

Bake for 30 minutes at Mark 6, 400 degrees F, 200 degrees C, then lower the heat to Mark 3, 325 degrees F, 170 degrees C for a further 1.5 to 2 hours. Remove from the oven, allow to cool a little then carefully remove from the tin (leaving the pie on the loose base), brush the sides with beaten egg and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or so to brown.

Gently does it...
Remove the pie from the oven and whilst still hot, carefully remove and discard the card roll from the central hole and gently pour the stock, warmed up sufficiently to be just liquid, into the pie, allowing it to flow into the meat and fill the gaps. This is requires patience and it is tricky to gauge the amount, but the pie should take at least 200 ml of stock. Leave the pie overnight before serving. 

Serve with damson jelly (see Wild and free blog).  

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