In praise of the pie: The Field's guide to our five favourites, including Mary Berry's excellent steak and ale to Drew Ackroyd's hearty pigeon pie
There’s little to top a pie, unless of course it is a delicious pastry top or buttery mashed potato. Here, The Field shines a spotlight on five of our favourites.
1. MARY BERRY’S STEAK AND ALE PIE
Taken from The Complete AGA Cookbook.
- 2–3 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 500g (1 lb 2 oz) stewing steak, cubed
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 × 500ml (18 fl oz) bottle of local ale
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 225g (8 oz) button mushrooms, quartered
- 280g (10 oz) all-butter puff pastry
- Beaten egg, to glaze
You will need 4–6 individual pie dishes or 1 large 1.75 litre (3 pint) pie dish.
Measure the oil into a pan. Add the steak and quick fry on the Boiling Plate until browned – you may need to do this in batches. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Tip the onion into the pan and fry for a few minutes. Add the flour, stir and cook for a minute, then slowly stir in the ale. Return the meat to the pan, season and add the mushrooms. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and transfer to the floor of the Simmering Oven for about 2 hours, or until the meat is tender. Turn into a pie dish and leave to cool.
Roll out the pastry to cover the top and then glaze with the beaten egg.
BAKING IN AN AGA
Place on the grid shelf on the floor of the Roasting Oven and cook for 20–25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the meat heated through.
BAKING IN A CONVENTIONAL OVEN
Brown the meat in a non-stick frying pan on the hob, then cook slowly in an oven preheated to 160°C/Fan 140°C/Gas 3 with the other ingredients for about 2 hours or until tender. Assemble the pie, increase the temperature to 220°C/Fan 200°C/Gas 7 and cook for about 20–25 minutes.
2. DUCK RAGU PIE WITH ROSEMARY, RIOJA AND COINTREAU
- 80g plain flour
- 40g chilled salted butter, grated
- 40g strong cheddar, grated 1/2 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
- 1 medium egg, lightly beaten
- 250g ready-rolled all-butter puff pastry
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 whole duck, 600g-700g (I used a mallard)
- 1 medium red onion, peeled and finely diced
- 1 medium fennel, finely diced
- 3 sticks celery, finely diced
- 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 tbsp plain flour
- 3 tbsp Cointreau
- 200ml Rioja
- 400ml light game stock (or water)
- 20cm diameter pie dish
- Preheat the oven to 150C fan/gas mark 3 .
- In a bowl, mix the flour, butter, cheese and rosemary.
- Stir in half the egg (keep the rest for glazing) and 1 to 2 dessertspoons of iced water to bring into a dough.
- Form into a disk, wrap and chill for 30 minutes before rolling and lining pie dish. Chill until needed.
- Place a hob-to-oven casserole dish on a medium heat. Season the duck and brown on all sides in the oil then remove to a plate. Add the onions, fennel, celery, garlic, cinnamon and bay, turn down the heat, season and, stirring often, saute for 20 minutes. Stir in the flour.
- Return the duck to the dish, breast side down and pour in the Rioja, stock and 1 tablespoon of Cointreau. Bring to a simmer then top with a cartouche and the lid.
- Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the duck meat is tender.
- Leave to cool slightly then shred the duck meat back into the sauce, after removing the cinnamon stick and bay leaves, and add the rest of the Cointreau. Leave to cool completely.
- Spoon the ragu into the lined pie dish. Cover with puff pastry, crimp the edges and brush with the beaten egg. Use any pastry off cuts to decorate and brush again with the beaten egg.
- This can now be refrigerated overnight or baked.
- Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6.
- Cook for 30-40 minutes or until the top is puffed up then turn the oven down to 160C fan/gas mark 4 and cook for 15-20 minutes. The top should be golden and the centre piping hot.
- I love pies served with buttery mashed potato or celeriac and greens. If you want something lighter, try a crunchy green salad with mustard dressing.
3. PIGEON PIE
This is a dish that benefits greatly from evolution – vary the additions and use what you have in the fridge. Chestnuts are great in this, dried blueberries, too. Be brave!
- Handful of smoked fatty lardons
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
- Squirt of tomato purée
- 1 tsp plain flour
- 1⁄2 bottle or so red wine
- 1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
- 1⁄2 tsp Marmite
- Handful dried wild mushrooms
- Meat of 5 pigeon, chopped into chunks
- Butter for frying/melted butter for baking
- 2 packets filo pastry
To make pigeon pie, preheat oven to 190C°/375°F/Gas Mark 5. Fry off the lardons over a gentle heat and sweat the shallots in the fat. Add the garlic, carrot, celery and tomato purée and fry until lightly coloured. Sprinkle with the flour, add the wine, redcurrant jelly, Marmite and mushrooms. Simmer gently until the liquor is reduced by a third and starting to thicken. Taste, season, taste and adjust as required.
Fry the chopped meat in a hot pan with a little butter until just coloured. Add it to the sauce and transfer to a pie dish or casserole. Take a sheet of filo and loosely scrunch on top of the pie. Repeat until covered then brush gently with melted butter and bake until the pastry is just golden; 15 minutes should do it – you don’t want to overcook the pigeon.
Serve with dark-green vegetables, buttery mash and claret.
4. CREAMY PHEASANT PIE WITH SHERRY, MUSHROOMS AND TARRAGON TOPPED WITH BUTTERED SWEDE
It is hard to beat the comforting, rich aroma of a creamy, boozy pie wafting through the house on a cold, dark evening.
- 1 pheasant
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 medium leek, cleaned and sliced
- 2 rashers smoky steaked bacon, diced
- 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
- 100g small white mushrooms, halved
- 2 tbsp finely chopped tarragon
- 1½ dsp cornflour
- 75ml dry sherry
- 250ml pheasant stock
- 150ml double cream
- 750g swede, peeled and chopped
- 100ml milk
- 40g butter
- 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- 60g cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 180°C/ 350°F/gas mark 4.
Submerge the pheasant in a pan of cold water and bring to simmer; cook for about 1 hour 20, or until the meat is tender. Remove the bird, cool a little then remove the meat from the bones and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Place the pheasant cooking liquid back on the stove and reduce by about half.
In a separate pan on a medium heat, melt the butter and oil then season and sauté the leek, bacon, celery, mushrooms and tarragon until soft (about 20 minutes). Stir in the cornflour then add the sherry, 150ml pheasant stock and the cream. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the pheasant meat and check the seasoning.
Meanwhile, cook the swede in a pan of salted water. When soft, drain and mash with the butter, milk and parsley. Season.
Spoon into a pie dish and top with the mashed swede and finally the cheese.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden and bubbling hot.
5. MINI PHEASANT AND BLACKBERRY JAM PIES
These are perfect peg food but also seem to go down rather well at afternoon tea.
- Breast and leg meat from 1 pheasant (approx 250g) blitzed fairly fine in a food processor
- 160g plain pork sausage meat (2 sausages approx)
- 1 large shallot, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- 1 tsp finely chopped thyme
- 1 tsp ground caraway
- 1 dsp lemon zest
- 2 tbsp sloe gin
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp double cream
- 10 tsp blackberry jam or jelly
- 345g plain flour
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 1 egg
- 90ml milk
- 100g lard
- 1 dsp Dijon mustard
- 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp milk
You will need a muffin tin
Preheat oven to 180°C/ 350°F/gas mark 4.
For the filling, mix everything (except the jam) together in a bowl and season well.
For the pastry, place the flour and salt in a bowl. Mix in the egg yolk.
In a pan, melt the fat in the milk and mustard, bring to a simmer, then pour onto the flour mix and bring together into a ball. Give it a quick knead then cut 10 larger circles (for the base) and 10 smaller ones (for the tops).
Press the bases into your muffin tin, half fill with the pheasant mix, make a little dip and add a spoonful of jam, then top with more meat mix.
Brush the lids, both sides, with the egg-yolk glaze mix and press onto the top.
Use a fork to press down the edge then with a knife make a small whole in the middle.
Bake for 30 minutes on the middle shelf then carefully remove from tin and bake for another 20 minutes on a flat tray.
Leave to cool completely on a rack before scoffing.