I know it’s not my concept exactly, but a while ago I decided that we should introduce a weekly pie night into our diet. Just so long as you avoid anything too elaborate, it’s a cheap, easy and while everyone around the table knows that it’s really just a stew with a hat on, pies carry the air of effort having been expended.
My husband was all for it as long as it wasn’t just an excuse for me to say the phrase ‘pie night’ a lot, which it kinda is.
There is counterintuitive truism in pies (and for that matter tarts and flans) that the closer you get to rustic peasant-looking food, the more expensive and time-consuming the endeavour is. However chuck a bit of goats cheese and a bit of red onion on a slice of ready-rolled puff pastry and you’ve got yourself an impressive looking dinner party starter.
Probably what scares people most about the idea of making their own pies is the pastry bit. Now, while I am a big fan of making things from scratch yourself, even just once to see how it’s done, I honestly don’t know why anyone bothers making their own puff pastry. Even Jamie Oliver, who spent years making pastry in a professional kitchen, uses bought stuff at home.
There are two problems with making your own puff pastry. The first is that there is very little added benefit by diy-ing it, other than the smugness (which I’m all for). The ingredients are so basic that you won’t save any money and unless you want an organic version, using the best butter and flour won’t make much difference to the end result, in fact, you’ll lose the consistency and reliability of ready-made. The second problem is that if you make it yourself you are forced to face the reality of how much butter it uses. For those of us who have a sense of our own mortality, this can be a bit off putting. I mean, I love butter, but I’m not sodding French.
However I change my tune completely when it comes to shortcrust pastry. Making it yourself is so easy, and buying it is a waste of money. Basically if you stick to the fat to flour (3/4) ratio, adding a bit of water to bind it, you can’t go far wrong. Recipes can get a bit screetchy about keeping all the ingredients cold and touching it as little as possible, which I believe is all about preserving the gluten, but all you really need to do it avoid messing around with it too much. So, for example, using cold butter isn’t a great idea because it’ll take longer to mix into the flour, and I’ve always struggled with that whole using a knife to combine it. It never blends together properly for me. I find it better to get in there and mix it properly, but quickly and without overworking it. Then I put it in the fridge for 20 mins or so before taking it out and letting it come to room temp before rolling it out.
Also remember that an egg wash covers a multitude of sins.
As for the filling, nothing could be simpler. If you can make a casserole/stew you can make a pie.
On a side note, what is the difference between a casserole and a stew? I think it must be aspirational like lounge/front room.
Anyway the simplest form of savoury pies come in two forms which I choose to generalise as either brown gravy and red meat type, or white, chicken-y creamy type.
For a brown filling:
Soften onions and brown off meat then add stock and whatever veg you want. Leave to simmer for as long as you like, but at least a couple of hours. Put in a pie dish and cover with pastry, (line it too if you like) and cook for half an hour in a 180° oven.
White filling (best for fish, chicken or just veg)
I almost always use this one for leftovers, otherwise I’d precook the ingredients. Soften onions (in butter), add meat and veg the stir in a couple of spoonfuls of plain flour. Cook for a few minutes before slowly adding milk, stirring as the sauce thickens. Wrap up in a sheet of puff pastry and cook for 30 mins in a moderate oven.
As for sweet pies, they’re even easier.