There are pies and then there are pies. The majority of the shop-bought options are pretty poor, with doughy pastry outweighing their fillings 10-to-one.
Despite what the paltry supermarket offerings suggest, a Great British Pie should contain hearty chunks of meat, lashings of rich gravy and abundant veggies, all wrapped in a robust layer of golden pastry. Making a proper pie is simply a matter of getting the proportions right. I’ve often turned up on shooting trips to find a dismal array of soggy sausage rolls and dry scotch eggs.
It’s always the pies that get people talking, particularly my cold chicken and ham pie. Although pies may seem like traditional winter fare, they’re perfect for picnics, too. Just don’t forget your piccalilli.
Cold Chicken and Ham Pie (above)
If you’re not a confident cook, a pie can seem tricky, but believe me, they’re pretty easy. Once you’ve made a pie like this a couple of times, you can adapt the filling according to your preference and what you have to hand, using ingredients such as veal and ham or layers of mushrooms. For this recipe, you’ll need to cook a ham hock. To do this, soak it overnight in water if necessary, drain then cover with water in a pan. Add a few sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf, 1 or 2 medium onions (peeled and quartered), a couple of sticks of celery and a pinch of peppercorns. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 hours or so until the ham is tender, topping up the water if needed. Remove the ham from the liquid and leave to cool. Keep the stock for a soup.
450g boned weight of chicken thighs, skinned, cooked and cut into 1cm dice
450g home-cooked ham (see preparation, left), cut into rough 1cm chunks
1 onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4tbsp chopped parsley
A few sprigs of thyme, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the hot-water crust pastry
375g plain flour
130g lard, cut into pieces
1 small egg, beaten
1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Mix the chicken and ham in a bowl with the chopped onions, parsley and thyme, then season.
2. To make the pastry, mix the flour and salt in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Bring the water and lard to the boil in a pan, then stir it into the flour with a wooden spoon to form a smooth dough. Leave covered for 15 mins until less sticky and easier to handle.
3. You will need a removable-based deep flan ring or cake tin about 18–20cm x 5cm. Lightly grease the flan ring, line the bottom with a disc of lightly greased silicone or greaseproof paper and place it on a baking tray.
4. Take two-thirds of the dough and on a lightly floured table roll into a circle about 5mm thick and 25–26cm across, big enough to line the flan ring and overlap the edge by 1cm or so. Making sure there are no holes in the pastry, place it into the flan ring, carefully press into the corners and allow it to just hang over the edge. Roll the remaining dough into a circle large enough for the top and cut a 2cm hole in the centre or make a slit with the point of a knife.
5. Fill the pastry with the chicken and ham mixture, then brush the edges of the pastry circle with water and carefully lay it on top.
6. Trim the edges with a knife and pinch the base and top pastry edges together to make a good join. You can decorate the top and edges if you feel the urge, but it’s not necessary (unless the mother-in-law is coming round).
7. Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg and cook for 45 mins (30 mins for smaller ones). If it’s colouring too much, cover with foil and turn the oven down. Remove the ring and brush the sides and top again with egg, and bake for a further 15 mins. Remove from the oven to cool and once cold, refrigerate for two hours.
8. The pie will keep for 4 days fridged. For the most dramatic serving impression, take the whole pie to the dining table on a board and cut it there. Serve with piccalilli or chutney.
Hix's Piccalilli (above)
Makes 2 half-litre jars
This is one of my favourite pickles to go with a pie (or cheese, for that matter). It’s best left for about a month, but you can tuck into it sooner if you can’t resist.
1 medium cucumber, halved lengthways and the seeds scooped out with the point of a teaspoon
Half a head of cauliflower, cut into small florets and halved
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
150g caster sugar
60g English mustard
1tsp ground turmeric
1 small chilli, trimmed and finely chopped
270ml cider vinegar
1. Cut the cucumber in half again lengthways, then chop into 1cm pieces. Put in a dish with the cauliflower and onions and sprinkle over the salt. Leave for an hour, then rinse well in cold water and drain in a colander.
2. In a saucepan, mix the sugar, mustard, turmeric, chilli and cider vinegar, then bring to the boil and simmer for 2–3 mins. Mix the cornflour with the water, then whisk it into the vinegar mixture and continue to simmer gently for another 5 mins. Mix the hot liquid with the rinsed vegetables and leave the mixture to cool. Store in the fridge in sterilised preserving jars.
Karelian Potato and Cheese Pies
In London’s Golden Square there is an enticing little Scandinavian cafe called the Nordic Bakery, where I like to pop in occasionally and grab one of these tasty little potato pies. They’re totally different from the pies we’re accustomed to, and are delicious eaten at any time of day. You can change the filling according to what you fancy, though I do like the simplicity of the potato. Here, I’ve scattered some wild fennel pollen on top, which I harvested from my garden last year.
1–2 baking potatoes together weighing about 400–500g
100–120g hard cheese like cheddar or similar
For the pastry
70g rye flour
70g plain flour, plus some extra for rolling
1tsp fennel or caraway seeds or a mix of the two, chopped
50g cold butter, diced into small pieces
A little milk for brushing
1. Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6. Put the potatoes on a baking tray and bake for about an hour until soft, then cut in half and leave to cool a little.
2. Scoop out the inside, mix with the butter and cheese, then season to taste.
3. To make the pastry, mix the salt with the flour and seeds. Rub the butter into the mixture until you have a fine breadcrumb consistency, then add enough water to mix into a smooth dough. Roll it out to 3–4mm thick and cut out into 10–12cm diameter discs.
4. Divide the potato between the discs of pastry and brush the edges with water. Bring the edges towards the centre to form a square, with the potato still exposed. Brush the pastry with milk and bake for 25–30 mins, until the pastry is crisp: the rye pastry will not brown like normal pastry because of the flour.