Anyone who knows me well will know that I love pie. I love pie with creamy mashed potato, doused in thick gravy until the mash begins to dissolve in the liquid and the pie crust starts to soften (to my mum’s sheer horror). I love cutting into fresh, crisp pastry, homemade when I have the time, and as it crackles under the knife, steamy filling revealed, my heart does a little skip of joy. There is something immensely satisfying about anything encased in pastry, and knowing it’s unhealthy adds a feeling of luxury and indulgence. There is no mistaking: this is a treat.
I generally prefer savoury filling to sweet, and though pies can be made with almost anything, to be really good, there are 3 things which make a perfect pie (in my opinion!).
- It needs to be handmade, and chunky. Whether it’s made at home, from a bakery or from a farm shop, a mass-produced pie really doesn’t compare. There is usually too much pastry, not enough filling, and most of that filling is gravy. And while I do love gravy, I do want some substance in there too… two small chicken with an array of disintegrated chicken fibres do not a chicken pie make. The pastry should be bulging with chunky filling, meat or veg, with just enough gravy so it doesn’t dry out.
- A perfect pie has big flavours. Fill pies with fresh ingredients, herbs and spices. Every element will add to the flavour – and the flavour should be as large as the chunks. This is rustic comfort food. A pie should be bold and robust – and when it is, I love it even more (if that’s possible).
- And the final thing? Time. Slow cooked filling tastes even better. The ingredients infuse their flavours, the meat and vegetables are soft and juicy in the gravy, and the whole thing tastes like the labour of love it really is. Slow-cooked the filling before adding the pastry crust and baking in the oven for maximum flavour. Bonus points if you roasted the vegetables first…
So how do I put this into practice, and make the perfect pie, I hear you ask? Well, I’ve listed my top 3 pie recipes, with good chunk size, rich flavours, and slow cooked or roasted filling to intensify the flavour and make the filling soft enough to fall apart. They’re all perfect winter warmers for chilly nights, and will fill your kitchen with delicious smells as they cook. Serve them hot, with mash, peas, and plenty of gravy.
A note on pastry
There is some debate around the proper way to make a pie. Do you top with the pastry, or fully encase the filling? For ease and to reduce the calories, I generally only top the pie with pastry, but you could line the dish before adding the filling if you want to – and even serve the pie turned out onto aboard if you’re really careful and looking to impress!
The recipes below all list pre-made pastry, but could easily be made with shop bought or homemade pastry, puff, shortcrust, or even filo if you’re looking to reduce the calories. I often don’t have much time, so I buy the ready-made pastry blocks for convenience, but my favourite pastry has always been homemade pastry. I make it the same way my mum does it, with a ratio of 1:2 fat to flour. It’s kept cold and worked quickly and lightly, so the end result is crumbly, flaky pastry that melts in your mouth. It makes a perfect pie crust, and a pretty decent quiche or tart too! The key to the recipe really is not to overwork it or add too much water. The consistency should be just held together, threatening to fall apart if you’re too rough with it. If you have to patch it together, you’re on the right track.
You will need:
85g salted butter (the stuff that comes in a block)
170g plain flour
3-4 tbsp cold water
Optional – a pinch of dried mixed herbs, e.g. thyme
Put the flour into a large mixing bowl, and add the butter, cutting it into small chunks.
Rub the flour and butter together between your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the water – start with 3 tbsp – and mix with a knife.
If the dough starts to come together in large pieces, try forming it into a ball. It should still be a bit crumbly. If you need to, add more water, 1 tbsp at a time, until it forms a crumbly ball.
Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 10 mins.
Take out the dough and roll out on a floured surface. It should be about 0.5cm thick. TIP – move the dough after each roll to make sure it doesn’t stick to the surface, and make sure the rolling pin and your hands are also floured.
Make sure it fits your pie dish, and roll up onto the rolling pin to move to cover the dish.
My 3 favourite pie recipes
Slow-Cooked Steak & Bath Gem Ale Pie Recipe
The ultimate savoury taste of a steak and ale pie I difficult to beat, I love it best when freshly baked: puff pastry layers crackle under the knife, and dark, sticky gravy oozes out onto the edges of the pastry. I love chunky steak, sweet carrots and earthy mushrooms. I love rich saucy gravy edging slowly across my plate, muddling with muddling with creamy, buttery mashed potato. Drooling yet? I am.
Chicken and Mushroom Pie Recipe
For me, chicken and mushroom pie is ultimate comfort food, and is full of nostalgia. As a child, my favourite dinners were always the kind which came with gravy and veg. This recipe is an easy luxury meal to make at home and is full of childhood memories – which for me, is a perfect combination!
Tandoori Spiced Roasted Vegetable Pie Recipe (v)
This Tandoori Roasted Veggie Pie recipe is a warming, spiced meal that’s perfect for chilly evenings! Roasting the veggies before adding them to the pie adds extra flavour, and a delicious sweetness to the carrots, and the Tandoori Masala spice mix is the perfect combination of flavours to warm you up inside. Not to mention the wonderful smell of the Tandoori Roasted Veggies cooking!