Thursday 27 November 2014

Baked in a pie

You can get all the family to the table with the warm, delicious aroma of a freshly baked pie, says Brenda Costigan. Take your fill of these winter wonders and feel free to experiment

Published 09/01/2011 | 09:50

Chicken and Leek Pie
Chicken and Leek Pie

To my mind, pies are comfort food, and good pies are comfort food of the best kind. They're a nutritious meal in a dish, cooked in the oven.

Even the aromas that escape into the kitchen when the oven door is open are comforting. While there are lots of lovely carbs to warm us during the winter days, there's also plenty of healthy protein in these recipes. Served simply with a crunchy vegetable, or a salad and a glass of wine, you have a meal fit for a king.

The fillings can be interchanged -- try substituting the wholemeal pastry for the potato topping, or vice versa. If you have a food processor, making pastry can be done in seconds.

Anyone who remembers the advice that our mothers gave will know that when you turn on the oven, you should fill it to make the most of the heat. Why not put in a dish of prepared cooking apples to bake along with the pie, and serve them as dessert? Then, while you are at it, rustle up a few buns for the lunch box or to enjoy with a cup of tea. Modern fan ovens ensure that the heat is evenly distributed around the oven so all the food will be evenly cooked.

THREE-FISH PIE

A delightful combination of smoked cod, fresh cod and fresh salmon. The fish fillets are cooked together in milk, which is then used to make the basic sauce. The strong flavour of the smoked fish is wonderfully mellowed, but it adds great flavour to the more bland fresh cod. Serves about 6.

You will need:

1.2-1.4kg (2 1/2-3lb) floury potatoes, peeled

225g (8oz) fillet smoked cod

250g (9oz) fillet fresh cod

250g (9oz) fillet salmon

900ml (1 1/2pt) fresh milk

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs fresh parsley

1 sprig fresh thyme or some fresh basil leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

100g (4oz) butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 leek, thinly sliced and washed

110g (4oz) mushrooms

150g (5oz) cherry tomatoes

40g (1?oz) flour

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (eg basil, parsley, chives)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Cut the floury potatoes into halves or quarters to speed up the cooking, and cook them in a steamer over boiling water until they are nicely tender.

Using a little pliers or tweezers, pull out any bones from the smoked cod, the fresh cod and the salmon. Running your fingertips over the surface of the fillets will reveal the whereabouts of any little pin-like bones. Place all the fish together in a wide frying pan or saucepan. Pour in the fresh milk. Add the bay leaves, the fresh parsley, and the thyme or basil, whichever you are using. Season with some salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat, covering with a lid or foil, and simmer gently for 3-4 minutes until the fish is just about cooked. Carefully lift out the fish and break it into generous chunks, discarding any skin or bones. Arrange the fish in a wide, ovenproof dish, distributing the different types evenly. Strain the milk, and, if necessary add a little fresh milk so that it measures 700ml (1?pt). Put this aside to use when you're making the sauce.

Melt a third of the butter with the olive oil in the rinsed-out saucepan or frying pan and fry the finely chopped onion and thinly sliced leek until they become soft. Add in the mushrooms and fry them to soften them. Finally, add the cherry tomatoes and fry them for a minute or two. Season with some salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. With a perforated spoon, lift out the vegetables and spoon them over the fish, leaving any remaining fat in the pan.

Melt half the remaining butter in the pan, add the flour and stir over the heat to make a roux. Remove the pan from the heat. If the milk you set aside earlier is still warm, then add it to the roux, and stir briskly with a whisk to make a smooth sauce, bringing it gently to the boil to thicken it. If the milk is cold, then stir it gradually into the roux.

Add the chopped fresh herbs and the lemon juice. Taste to see if there is enough seasoning, and then pour the sauce over the fish.

When the potatoes are tender, rinse out the saucepan and melt the rest of the butter in it. Toss in the potatoes, season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and mash them roughly with a fork to break down the potatoes into small, irregular chunks.

Spread the prepared potatoes in an even layer over the fish filling. Bake in a preheated oven -- 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6 -- until the top is turning a golden brown and the sauce is bubbling up from underneath. If the ingredients are hot going into the oven this will only take about 30 minutes, if they are cold it will take longer.

Chicken and Leek Pie

This meal isn't made in a hurry -- it's what cookery writer Nigel Slater calls "a belt and braces" recipe. First, the chicken has to be cooked in a pot. The sauce is made from the cooking stock, and the potatoes and leeks are cooked separately. The chunky potato topping is the final touch.

Rooster potatoes are a good choice because they are sufficiently floury, yet they don't break up into mush when they are cooking.

Finally, everything is assembled and baked to make a tasty dish, one which is ideal for an informal party or a weekend lunch.

Ideally, cook the chicken the day before and leave it to cool in the saucepan overnight. The next day, it's a doddle to strip off all the flesh from the chicken and make a tasty sauce with the strained cooking liquid.

This recipe is enough to generously fill one large lasagne dish that measures 30.5cm by 20.5cm (12in by 8in) at the top -- the base of the dish measures 2.5cm (1in) less each way. Serves 8.

You will need:

1 medium-large chicken, preferably free-range

1 chicken stock cube

1.75L (3pt) water

2 garlic cloves

1 onion, roughly sliced

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 stick celery, chopped

1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.1-1.4kg (2 1/2-3lb) Rooster potatoes, peeled and chopped roughly into chunks about size of table tennis balls

50g (2oz) butter

300g (11oz) leeks, washed well

3 tablespoons olive oil

75ml (3fl oz) water

For the sauce, you will need:

75g (3oz) butter

110g (4oz) mushrooms, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely sliced

75g (3oz) flour

900ml (1 1/2pt) of the chicken stock set aside from cooking the chicken

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon lemon juice

You will also need an ovenproof dish -- such as a lasagne dish with measurements as described above. Put the chicken in a saucepan. Don't use one that leaves lots of space around the chicken, as this will mean you'll need to use more water and the stock won't be as tasty. Crumble the chicken stock cube into the water.

It's unlikely that the 1.75ml (3pt) of water will be enough to cover the chicken completely, but this doesn't matter, and using this amount ensures that the resulting stock will have lots of flavour.

Add the garlic cloves, the roughly sliced onion, the roughly chopped carrot, the chopped celery, the herbes de Provence, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on for about one hour, or until it's just cooked. If necessary, turn the chicken over during this time to ensure even cooking. Leave it to cool in the saucepan when it is cooked.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle -- or the next day, if you prefer -- remove all the flesh from it and break the pieces into bite-sized chunks, discarding the skin and bones. Strain the stock and measure out about 900ml (1?pt) -- the rest can be used for soup or casseroles.

Cut the floury potatoes into halves or quarters to speed up the cooking and cook them in a steamer over boiling water until they are nicely tender. When the potatoes are tender, rinse out the saucepan and melt a lump of butter in it. Toss in the potatoes, season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and mash them roughly with a fork to break down the potatoes into small, irregular chunks.

Place the leeks in a frying pan or a wide saucepan with the olive oil and water. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat right down and cook gently for 3-5 minutes, just to soften the leeks a little -- don't overcook them. Take off the heat. Drain off any excess liquid and spread the leeks over the base of the ovenproof dish.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the chopped mushrooms and the finely sliced garlic and fry them until they are until soft. Add the flour and cook, stirring over a moderate heat, for 1-2 minutes, without browning, to make a chunky mixture. Take off the heat and gradually stir in the chicken stock you set aside earlier. Return the pan to the heat and bring to the boil, stirring all the time to thicken the sauce. Add the Dijon mustard. Season to taste with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and the lemon juice.

Preheat the oven to 210 C, 425 F, Gas 7. Spread the chicken pieces in an even layer over the leek layer. Pour the sauce over everything, poking the dish here and there to help the sauce to partially sink down into the filling. Spread the buttered potato chunks evenly over the filling. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the top is golden and the sauce is bubbling through. If the sauce has been recently made and is still hot, the dish will take less time to heat right through. Allow to stand and settle for about 15 minutes before serving.

Variation:

The flavour of the chicken and leek pie, above, can be given an exciting lift with the addition of some chorizo. Use about 175-225g (6-8oz) of sliced chorizo, and scatter the slices through the chicken pieces.

WHOLEMEAL PASTRY

If you wish, you can top your pie with pastry instead of potatoes, but make sure to cook it in a tin instead of a casserole dish to ensure a nice, crisp crust. This home-made wholemeal pastry is best used straight away. Don't put it to chill in the fridge, or it will split and crack when you roll it out.

You will need:

200g (7oz) white flour

200g (7oz) wholemeal flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

200g (7oz) butter or margarine

Cold water

To make the pastry, mix the white flour and the wholemeal flour well together, then season the mixture lightly with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Cut the butter or margarine, whichever you are using, into lumps and rub it through the flour with your fingertips until the resulting mixture looks like breadcrumbs. This can be done in a food processor in about 30 seconds. Add just enough cold water -- about 4-6 tablespoons -- to bind the ingredients together. Then draw the pastry together in a lump in the mixing bowl. Lift it out on to a board which you have already dusted with wholemeal flour. Cut the pastry unevenly in two -- the base of the pie will require more pastry than the top.

Roll the pastry out and line the prepared tin with it , allowing the pastry to run right up the sides. Roll out the other piece to fit the top of whatever pie you are making. Then follow the cooking instructions for that particular pie.

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