Curried Fish Pie

If you’re not a fan of curry, fear not. The spices fade into the overall mix of heady flavours and aromas and there is no heat to speak of. This just leaves you with a fish pie taken not just to the next level, but the level beyond that.

I love fish pie; whether topped with mashed potato or puff pastry it is one of my ultimate comfort foods. I thought my existing recipe couldn’t be bettered, but when I spotted this while browsing through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Every Day’ there was no question that I would make it, and no question that we would love it.

Hugh is one of that all too rare breed of cookery writers whose recipes work, every single time, and they are always delicious. I have cooked probably close to a hundred of his recipes now, and without exception they have been loved by us all. The trouble with that is: how do you get time to cook new stuff?

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RECIPE – Serves 6

For the fish:

600g of firm white fish fillets, I use a mix of hake, haddock and sea bass
200g kippers
750ml whole milk
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
A few peppercorns

For the pie:

75g unsalted butter
75g plain flour
1 tablespoon sunflower or groundnut oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoon curry powder or curry paste (I use Mauritian curry powder)
2 handfuls of raw peeled prawns (optional)
a small bunch of chopped coriander
250g puff pastry
A little beaten egg for glazing


METHOD

Put all the fish in a pan and add the milk, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf and peppercorns. Place over a low heat. As soon as the milk comes to a simmer, switch off the heat and cover the pan. The fish will carry on cooking in the hot milk. After about 5 minutes, it should be just cooked through; if not, leave it in the hot milk for a little longer, then drain in a sieve placed over a bowl, reserving the milk. Discard the vegetables, bay leaf and peppercorns.

Now make a béchamel sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir well to make a roux. Cook gently for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, then gently whisk in a third of the fishy milk until the sauce is smooth. Add another third of the milk, whisking all the time until the sauce is again smooth, and then the final third, so that you end up with a smooth, creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper, turn the heat down low and cook very gently for 2 minutes.

Peel the skin off the fish, check for any bones and gently break the flesh into chunks. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onion and cook gently for about 5 minutes, until translucent and soft. Stir in the curry powder or paste and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add the curry-flavoured onion to the béchamel, then stir in the flaked fish, the prawns, if using, and the coriander. Taste the sauce and add more salt, pepper or curry powder/paste if you think it needs it.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface and cut it to fit the top of the dish. Put the filling into the dish. Dampen the rim of the dish, lift the pastry over the filling and press down the pastry edges to seal. Brush with a little beaten egg and place in an oven preheated to 200C/ Fan 180C/ Gas 6. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden and puffed and the fishy sauce is bubbling underneath.

Serve with peas and broccoli, with smooth buttery mash. Yum!

Steak and Ale Pie

It’s not often I get to make something properly meaty. Being married to a vegetarian and having several vegans in the family means that my diet is 90% vegetarian as well, so when my dad comes to visit it’s always a good excuse to make something seriously meaty, and seriously delicious. Eating steak once a year, as I do, also means that I appreciate it when I do have it.

A quick internet search for steak and ale pie brings up 14 million results so, as you can imagine, selecting just one recipe can be a lottery so why would you choose to make this one? Personally, I always look at a recipe as a starting point, modifying it, enhancing it (or trying to) and making it as good as I possibly can. I made this yesterday and everybody gushed so my advice would be, make it my way, then modify it and make it your way, and you will also end up with a pie that your family will love.

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RECIPE serves 8

For the filling:

10g dried porcini or mixed wild mushrooms

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1kg chuck steak (it may be sold as braising or stewing steak)

2 large onions, roughly chopped

4 large carrots, chopped into 5mm thick slices

2 tsp golden caster sugar

4 tbsp plain flour

300ml dark ale (I use Guinness)

400ml beef stock, or two beef stock cubes in boiling water

a small bunch thyme, bay leaf and parsley, tied together as a bouquet garni

200g smoked bacon lardons

200g chestnut mushrooms, halved

For the pastry:

650g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp English mustard powder

125g fridge cold butter

125g fridge cold lard or vegetable shortening

1 egg, beaten, to glaze


METHOD

Cover the dried mushrooms with boiling water and soak for 20 mins, then squeeze them out but keep the soaking water. Chop the chuck steak into large chunks.

Heat the oven to 160C/ 140C fan/ gas 3.

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large casserole dish then brown the meat really well, in batches, then set aside. Add the onions and carrots to the pan, adding a drizzle more oil, then cook on a low heat for 5 mins until coloured and just starting to soften. Chop the soaked mushrooms small, then add and cook for a minute more, then scatter over the sugar and flour, stirring until the flour turns brown. Tip the meat and the released juices back into the pan and give it all a good stir. Pour over the ale and stock, and strain the mushroom soaking liquid through muslin or a J cloth into the broth, this will catch any grit released from the dried mushrooms. Season lightly, add the bouquet garni and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and place in the oven for about 2 hrs, until the meat is really tender.

Chuck steak contains a lot of connective tissue, including collagen, which partially melts during cooking, thickening the broth as it does so. It will be tough and chewy for a long time but eventually, when the connective tissue has all broken down, it will be melt-in-the-mouth tender.

While the stew is cooking, heat 1 tbsp more oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon lardons for 3 minutes until starting to brown, then turn the heat to high, add the mushrooms and cook for another 4 minutes until golden. Remove from the heat and, when the stew is cooked, stir them through it.

Remove the bouquet garni and leave everything to cool completely. You can make this up to 2 days before you eat it and keep it in the fridge for the flavours to mingle and improve.

Cube the butter and lard and add to a food processor with the flour and mustard powder, and a generous pinch of sea salt. Pulse until completely combined, then gradually add up to 200ml of ice-cold water, pulsing it to make a soft dough. Tip it out onto a lightly-floured surface and bring the dough together with your hands, being careful not to over-knead it, then wrap it in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 1 hr. The pastry can also be made up to 2 days ahead.

When you make the pie, heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4 and place a flat baking tray in the oven.

Heavily grease a large pie dish and dust it well with flour. Cut a third off the pastry and set aside. Roll out the remainder of the pastry to a size that will easily line the pie dish with a little overhang, then line the dish. Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork then put the lined pie dish in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is dry and biscuity. This will give you a lovely crunchy base to the pie.

Turn the oven up to 220C/200C fan/gas 7 .  Add the cold stew to the dish using a slotted spoon. leaving the vast majority of the gravy behind, you don’t want too much gravy in the pie. The filling should be slightly higher than the rim of the dish. Add sufficient gravy to cover the bottom of the dish, and keep everything moist while the pie cooks. Put the rest of the gravy aside for now.

Roll out the remaining pastry so it is just big enough to cover the dish. Brush the edges of the pastry in the dish with beaten egg, then cover with the pastry lid. Trim the edges, crimp the pastry, then re-roll your trimmings to make a decoration if you wish.

Brush the top with egg and make a few little slits in the centre of the pie, place back on to the hot baking tray and bake for 40 mins until golden. After twenty minutes re-brush the top of the pie with whatever beaten egg is left, this will make the top deeply golden.

Leave the pie to rest for 10 mins.  Meanwhile, heat up the remaining gravy and serve in a jug alongside piles of buttery mashed potato and vegetables of your choice.

Apple Pie

I hadn’t made a standard apple pie in years, until this afternoon. I guess I’ve been so busy jazzing it up with blackberries, swapping apples for pears, and generally messing around with it that I forgot just how delicious a simply-made, straightforward apple pie can be.

This one ticks all the boxes: a simple, sweet pastry; a luscious, jammy interior and just the right mix of firm and melting apples. It’s easy to make, is great for introducing children to the delights of baking, and it tastes really, really lovely.

This is delicious served with cream or custard… mmm, custard, there’s something else I haven’t made in a long time.

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RECIPE serves 6 

For the filling:

3 Bramley cooking apples

4 eating apples (I like to use Braeburn)

3 tablespoons light muscovado sugar

the zest and juice of a lemon

1 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp cinnamon

a handful of raisins or sultanas

a splash of water

For the pastry:

225g plain flour

140g fridge-cold butter, cubed

85g caster sugar

the finely-grated zest of a lemon

a pinch of salt

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp cold water

Plus:

1 egg, beaten, for egg-washing the pastry


METHOD

First, make the filling. Do this first because it needs time to cool completely before putting under pastry.

Peel and core the apples, then cut the Bramleys into large chunks, and the eating apples into eighths. Toss the apples in a large pan with all the other filling ingredients and cook gently under a lid for ten minutes until the eating apples are just softening – the cooking apples may already be mushy. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.

While the filling is cooling, make the pastry. Put the flour, butter, caster sugar, lemon zest and salt in a food processor and pulse briefly until it resembles breadcrumbs, then add the egg yolks and water and pulse again to bring the mixture together. Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface and mould into a ball. Try not to handle the pastry too much or it will become tough as the gluten in the flour becomes activated. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.

Butter an 8 inch metal pie dish, take 2/3 of the pastry and roll it out on a lightly floured surface until it is 5mm thick. Line the inside of the pie dish with the pastry.

Tip the cooled filling into the pie dish, then egg-wash the edges of the pastry. Roll out the remaining pastry until it is just big enough to form a lid, drape over the top and pinch the pastry together. Trim off any excess and use it to patch any tears in the pastry – it doesn’t matter if the pastry doesn’t look perfect, apple pies are at their best when they are rustic.

Egg wash the top of the pie, cut a couple of slits in the top and bake in the centre of the oven for around 50 minutes. Remove when the filling is perfectly soft and the pastry is golden brown.

If you wish, you can dust the hot pastry with a little caster sugar.

Chicken and Sweet Leek Pie

There are times when only a pie will do…

Family gatherings are when this crowd-pleaser normally comes out, the filling can be made the day before so you can spend your time with your family, rather than closeted away in the kitchen.

This delight comes courtesy of Jamie Oliver, the not-so-secret ingredient being the balls of sausage meat. The burst of savoury flavour as you hit one of those little delights is just one of the things that makes this a real treat to eat.

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RECIPE serves 6-8

a good lug of olive oil

50g unsalted butter

1kg boneless chicken thighs, chopped into medium chunks

2 medium leeks, sliced into 1cm rounds

2 medium carrots, thinly sliced

3 sticks of celery, finely sliced

2 tsp dried thyme

2 tbsp plain flour

125ml dry vermouth

250ml whole milk

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

250g pork sausages

500g all-butter puff pastry

1 egg, beaten


METHOD

In a large casserole dish over a medium high heat, add the olive oil and butter and, when melted, add the chopped chicken. Brown for a few minutes, then add the leeks, carrots, celery and thyme. Cook, uncovered, on the hob at a gentle heat for fifteen minutes.

Turn the heat up to high, then add the plain flour and stir into the liquid that has been released. Keep on stirring for a few minutes until it is all cooked in, then add the vermouth and cook for a couple of minutes more.

Now add the milk and a wineglass (125ml) of water, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook gently for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and cook uncovered for ten minutes more. The sauce should be thick and creamy.

Squeeze the sausage meat out of the skins and roll into small balls. Brown the balls in a separate frying pan with a little oil, then add to the chicken mixture. Now transfer all of the mixture into an appropriately-sized pie dish, check the seasoning and allow to cool completely. If the mixture is still warm when you apply the pastry, the heat will melt the butter in the pastry and it will be ruined.

When you are ready to cook the pie, heat the oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7.

Roll the pastry out to approximately 5mm thickness, to a size and shape that will comfortably drape over the edge of the pie dish with minimal wastage.

Brush the edges of the pie dish with the beaten egg, then drape the pastry over it, sealing the edges firmly with your fingers. Trim off any excess pastry. There is no need to cut any holes in the pastry for steam to escape – remember, the filling is cold at this point.

Wash the top of the pie with beaten egg, and decorate the pie with the pastry trimmings, any way you like.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and risen, and the pie is piping hot.

I like to serve this with piles of buttery mash, and peas.