I find it annoying when chefs and recipe writers revert to puff pastry as the default “easy” pie topping.
“Nothing could be easier than topping this pie with pre-rolled puff pastry sheets” … “As it uses shop bought puff pastry, it’s easy and quick to prepare” … etc, etc.
If it tastes great or gives the finish you want, then fine. State that. But if you’re selling something just because it’s easy, you’re missing an opportunity to teach a skill that’s actually as simple, but far more useful, than learning that puff pastry is stored next to butter in the supermarket chiller. Because there are not many 3 year olds who couldn’t mix suet with self raising flour at a 1:2 ratio, add cold water and pat into a ball. In doing so, they’d find they’ve created a pastry far superior as a lid for a meaty, winter pie, than any pack of Jus-Rol ever was.
The particular winter pie I have in mind is a pheasant, chestnut and leek one – in which the leg meat is braised in cider and picked off, the leeks are sweated down with smoky lardons, garlic and thyme and then loosened with stock from the braising process and a touch of cream. Raw breast meat and chestnuts are added and then the suet pastry lid goes on top … and given the double egg wash treatment as it cooks.
A pheasant pie with a suet crust like this is a proper crowd pleaser and worth a go if you’re entertaining or feeding a sizeable family over the festive period. You could substitute the pheasant with leftover turkey meat if you wish. Just be prepared for there to be fights over the caramel brown coloured, pork crackling-esque pastry edges.
This recipe is from a piece I wrote for Borough Market’s website on cooking and eating over the Christmas and New Year period. Read it here.
Suet crust pheasant pie
For 83 pheasants (to provide approx. 450g of leg meat and the same of breast) 1 stick celery, roughly chopped 1 onion, roughly chopped 1 small carrot, peeled and roughly chopped 8 cloves garlic, peeled 12 stems thyme 500ml cider 350g leeks, chopped into 1cm rounds and washed 200g smoked lardons 50g flour 100g double cream 400g stock 200g cooked chestnuts 300g self raising flour 150g beef suet 180g cold water 1 egg. Salt and pepper Rapeseed oil
Remove the legs and breasts from the pheasants. Ask your butcher to do this for you if you are not confident. Be sure to keep the carcasses.
Set the oven to 120C.
Heat a spoon or two of rapeseed oil in a large ovenproof stock pot or saucepan. Add the celery, onion, carrot and five of the garlic cloves, cut in half. Cook the vegetables in the oil for 2 minutes – lightly browning not burning. Turn the heat up and add the pheasant legs. Brown them for 4-6 minutes, turning once. Pour in the cider, add 4 stems of thyme, chuck in the carcasses and cover with water. Put a lid on the pot and place it in the oven for two hours.
When that time is up, remove from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature for at least an hour (you could leave in the fridge overnight once cool). Remove the carcasses and discard (pick off any useful brown meat). Remove the six legs from the pan and pick the meat off the bone (it will slide off). Pass the stock through a sieve and reduce by a third.
Make the pastry at least an hour before you need it. Sieve the self raising flour into a mixing bowl and add the suet. Mix together with a knife or metal spoon. Make a well in the middle and add the water (it must be cold). Gradually bring the flour into the water well and combine till you have a ball of pastry. You might need 10-20g more of water, but just be careful not to make it too wet. Wrap with clingfilm and put in the fridge.
Fry the lardons in a large frying or sauce pan. When crispy, add the leeks and turn the heat down. The lardons should render plenty of fat, but add a knob of butter if you need. Sweat the leeks down until soft and sweet. Add the remaining garlic (finely chopped), strip the remaining thyme leaves into the pan, then add the flour and stir into the soft vegetables. Cook for three minutes before adding the stock and cream.
Remove from the heat and add the cooked pheasant leg meat, the chestnuts (roughly breaking them up a little with your fingers), a decent pinch of salt and lots of ground black pepper. Leave to cool to room temperature before adding the uncooked breast meat (cut into approx. 3cm2 pieces), mixing thoroughly and putting into a large pie dish.
Reserve any remaining stock to use as gravy (you might want to reduce it a little more).
Dust a surface with a little flour. Roll out the pastry to fit your pie dish. Aim for approx. 1cm thick. Top the dish with the pastry so the pastry overlaps the sides by a cm or two (you can use pastry trimmings to decorate the top). Break and beat the egg into a mug or small bowl, add tbsp. of milk and brush the pie with the 2/3 of the mix. Cook the pie at 180C for about 50 minutes, until the top is golden brown and crispy. After 25 minutes, brush the remaining egg mix over the pie to ensure a super colour.
Serve with mashed root vegetables, steamed kale and/or stewed red cabbage.