A few people have asked me for the pie recipe. I’ll say, up front, that I’m fairly anti-recipe myself. Not really sure why – not a very strong principled stance, more a horror of the indignity that befalls adults when they bellow “Four hundred and fifty-FOUR grams, not four hundred and FIFTY” at each other in cramped conditions. Life’s too short.
Recipes are ok for getting ideas, maybe, but my cooking is more a leisure activity than a science experiment. Anyway. This is how I made the pie. I’ve deliberately avoided anything like accurate description of weights and measures – it’s a story, not a formula. OK, as a small clue, this will feed about six people – eight if they’re not greedy knackers like we are.
Stick a glass of water in the fridge.
Tip about half a bag of flour into a big bowl. (If your first thought on reading that is: “what size bag?” I really wouldn’t read any further. You know – a normal-sized flour bag, like all the ones in Waitrose). Some lumps of butter and lard – if mushed together they’d be as big as a normal pack of butter, with perhaps a tiny bit more lard than butter. Throw in a decent pinch of salt. Slowly mush the lumps of blard together with the flour, rubbing gently. As you do, the big lumps will disappear and the white flour will start getting thicker and darker. Go on for a while. Every now and then, scoop up what’s in the bowl and turn it over and through, lightly. Don’t want it going all squodgy at the bottom.
When all the lumps are gone, do a final sprinkle of fresh flour over the mixture, and very, very lightly toss the whole lot around, making sure you’ve got no lumps left. Fetch that water from the fridge, tip a tiny bit in, and, with fingers only, mix it in, and roll what you’ve got in the bowl into a big ball. That’s your pastry. Leave it in the bowl and put it in the fridge to think about things.
You will need: a whole chicken, two big leeks, a chunk of smoked bacon collar joint, some onions, garlic toothpaste, loads and loads of mushrooms (really – twice as many as you think are sensible), a few dried porcini, odd bits of butter and a fair bit of luck.
Chop up the onions and leeks and chuck them in a big pan with a squirt of garlic toothpaste (puree) and a bit of butter. If you don’t use garlic toothpaste, do. It’s very good. Give it loads of heat, so that the leeks burn a tiny bit. It’s ok. Whack the heat down, stir it all around, and let it cook as softly as you can for ages. Don’t turn this pan off until further notice. Boil a full kettle, put a few dried porcini in a mug and fill up with boiling water.
Head straight to the chicken – with a very sharp knife take off the breast meat (not the skin), and whatever you can off the legs (ditto). Ignore the rest. Put the meat aside and stick the rest of the chicken in another big pan. Heat it hard, so it starts to burn a little bit. It’s ok. Splash about half the mug of porcini water into the pan (it’s been brewing while you were cutting your fingers filleting bits of chicken). It will shriek and whiff a bit, but that’s ok. Stir it around then add the rest of the kettle water to fill up the pan. Leave on low heat for ages.
Stick the rest of the porcini mug contents in with the onion and leeks. Scrub all the mushrooms and put them whole into a fresh pan, with the tiniest dab of olive oil. Heat them hard, stirring a bit. They’ll go brown. They’ll also give off lots of liquid – keep decanting this into the onion pan so the mushroom pan keeps fairly dry. Eventually, no more liquid will come off and the mushrooms will be lying there getting nice and brown. Tip them into the onion pan, chuck in some salt and stir everything together. I use Maldon sea salt flakes because that’s what people tend to buy in Waitrose. Don’t judge me. Don’t wash up the mushroom pan either. By this point you’ll have a nice creamy liquid starting to appear in the onion pan. This is a very good sign.
Chop the chicken meat into medium sized bits and the bacon into small bits. Stir-fry them all in the mushroom pan until the chicken is barely, barely done. Transfer everything to the onion pan. Put a few spoons of the boiling chicken stock into the mushroom pan (well, latterly the meat pan, you know). Heat all that up, and use it to boil any remnants of mushrooms and meat that have been glazed on the bottom of the pan, then tip the lot into the onion pan. Which is now your pie filling pan, of course. Throw out the chicken bits from the stock pan, strain what’s left, and boil it down to half its volume. Pour that in with the filling and you’ve got all the pie goo you need. A pie short of goo is a sad thing indeed.
Tip the lot into a fresh big bowl and stick it in the fridge. I’m sure I’ve heard some twaddle about letting things cool before putting them in the fridge. I ignore this. The fridge is for cooling things. Manly cooking brooks no such nonsense.
Go and do something else for a few hours.
Switch on your oven to quite hot. My oven is so small and hopeless that it only does “off” and “quite hot”. It doesn’t seem to make much difference. More on cooking in a moment. Just trust me on this one. Take your pastry lump and rip off a third of it. Roll this out to the same size as your pie dish. If you haven’t got a rolling pin, just bash it with your fists until it’s mostly flat. Put it in the pie dish. Stick it in the hot oven for a few minutes until the pastry has just started to go hard. I believe this helps stop the filling soaking through the crust and making the whole thing gooey. I have no rational basis for this belief, I just made it up.
Put in the filling. If it doesn’t fill the casing you have a slightly smaller pie than you were expecting (best you stick some sausages under the grill). If there’s too much you just made yourself a nice pasta sauce for one. Take the rest of the pastry and make a thicker pie top, rolling/bashing according to equipment/anger. Press it down around the edges, trim, make a couple of slits as vents and decorate with a witty bon mot or some garish decorations made out of the pastry trimmings. Brush some milk over the whole thing. If you haven’t got a brush (who has a brush?) flicking and smearing the milk with your fingers works just as well. Unless you’re in a hurry to serve and eat, you can stick it all back in the fridge at this point. No rush.
There’s a lot of bollocks talked about the cooking bit. You’ve already cooked anything here that might be toxic, so as long as a) you heat up the middle to a level that will please your guests and b) make the pie crust go golden, you’re fine. So stick it in the oven until these things have happened. Why do you think the oven has a glass door?
That’s it. I’ve really written this for men, who should do more of this sort of thing, without agonising over the details. It’ll be fine. I’ll do more if you like it. Let me know. But it’s NOT a recipe, OK?