The man whose name adorns what are arguably the best pre-prepared meals in the supermarket chillers has shared his pie tips with us, to mark British Pie Week.
We’re generally not big fans of ‘themed’ days/weeks/months dreamed up PR and marketing types. You know the sort of thing: International Left-Handers’ Day, Real Bread Week, Wear A Hat Day (that one’s coming quite soon). There’s even a ‘National Pet Month’, which is pretty rich considering most of the pets we know seem to have all 365 days of the year dedicated to them.
But we’re happy to make some exceptions. World Book Day, for example, is a terrific idea, even if it’s slightly worrying how many kids seem to dress up as film or cartoon characters rather than proper characters from real books. And the imminent Comic Relief Day has raised vast amounts for charity in the last 30-odd years.
Of all those days, weeks and months, the one we have the softest spot for is British Pie Week. Yes, it’s utterly ludicrous, gloriously inessential and undeniably preposterous. Yet at a time when so much darkness is out there in the world, something which can make us smile and give us an excuse to eat a delicious dinner feels like welcome respite.
Charlie Bigham is getting into the spirit of helping out. His range of pre-prepared dishes (‘please don’t call them ready meals’, we’ve been warned, and we can see why he might want to avoid that stigma) has long included several traditional pies. The range includes the best-selling Steak & Ale, the deliciously punchy Chicken, Ham & Leek pie and the truly magnificent Chicken & Mushroom pie (the latter two both scooped prizes at last year’s Great Taste Awards). They’ve also got a newly-launched Sharing Steak Pie, which has a very different feel and filling to the usual Steak & Ale, but we thought it was superb.
But what if you’re making your own? We’ve placed below some links to some of our favourite pie recipes from Country Life’s foodie archives over the years, but Charlie also shared some general pie tips which will apply no matter which one you decide to cook this weekend.
The ingredients have to be excellent
Don’t think you’ll get away with lower quality since it’s all being chucked in the pie anyway, Charlie says. ‘Start with the best quality ingredients you can get your hands on,’ he says. ‘It really does make all the difference.’
Go easy when you make your pastry
Obvious, perhaps, without decent pastry you might as well not bother. Making your own shortcrust is surprisingly easy. ‘The pastry is the key element to a great pie!’ says Charlie. ‘If making it from scratch, make sure not to overwork the dough as this results in a tough crust. You want it as light, flaky and buttery as possible.’
The golden, finishing touch
To make a pie that looks as good as it tastes, brush the pastry with an egg wash prior to cooking — it’ll produce an even shine and golden colour. ‘Gently scoring the pastry with a sharp knife after egg-washing also gives the pie a beautiful finish when baked,’ adds Charlie.
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