If you’re craving comfort food, you can’t go wrong with a rich, filling pie. These classic savoury pie recipes will make grey autumn days a little brighter.
Autumn is, in theory, a nice idea. But the reality of living in the UK between September and November is that it rains at least once every 24 hours, it’s dark by the end of the working day and far too much time is spent debating whether or not to put the heating on. Add a global pandemic and anxiety-inducing local lockdowns to the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for feeling really quite bleak indeed.
But while the UK might not be renowned for its weather (or, indeed, its response to Covid-19), we are rightly admired for our pies. And at a time when we’re all looking for ways to feel comforted and sustained, you can’t go wrong with a wedge of rich, saucy meat or vegetables topped with a buttery pastry crust that’s been baked to golden-brown perfection.
“Britain is a pie country,” writes the Belgian-born, UK-based food writer Regula Ysewijn in Oats In The North, Wheat From The South, her fascinating cookbook-slash-history of British baking. “You’ll find pies in the pub, at the bakery, at the butcher, at markets, at fairs and at home.” Meat pies, in particular, were common across the whole of Europe during the Renaissance period in the 15th and 16th centuries. But, says Ysewijn, “it is in Britain that they remain firmly engraved in the identity of the cuisine and culture.”
Below, Ysewijn shares her recipes for classic chicken and mushroom pies, which she serves in individual miniature pie dishes rather than one larger dish. With a creamy, nutmeggy, herby sauce and flaky puff-pastry lid, they might just be the most comforting thing you eat all autumn. We’ve also got another traditional British meat pie recipe for you to try, courtesy of chef Calum Franklin (dubbed “the pie king” by Jamie Oliver): a beef, stilton and onion version that utilises red wine, chestnut mushrooms and thyme for a Sunday lunch-worthy feast.
Finally, vegetarians (and those who aren’t into heavy British fare) should try Maxine Clark’s Greek-inspired recipe for spinach, feta and oregano filo pie. This would go beautifully with a warm winter salad of puy lentils and roasted vegetables for a lighter, but still comforting, meal – and if you want to add a British spin, you can swap out the feta for wensleydale. Happy cooking.
Chicken and mushroom pies
Regula says: “This is an example of a savoury pie that uses just a top crust. I like these types of pies best with a puff pastry lid, but if you don’t want to make puff pastry (even though this is a really quick method), you can make shortcrust instead or use a shop-bought alternative. I won’t judge - it’s available, so why not use it now and again when you don’t have time to make pastry from scratch? You can use chicken breast to make the filling, but a whole organic chicken is cheaper.
“Chicken & mushroom pies are a firm favourite with the Brits. They’re very uncomplicated but never disappoint when made well. If pies could be hugs, then this would be it.”
For the chicken:
- 1 organic chicken
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 3 tbsp parsley, chopped
- 5 black peppercorns
For the sauce:
- 50g butter
- 6 tbsp plain flour
- 250ml full-fat milk
- 750ml chicken stock
- pinch of ground nutmeg
- sea salt and pepper
- 250g mushrooms, cut into 5mm slices
- 500–600g cooked chicken (above), cut into small chunks
- 4 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
For the quick puff pastry:
- 240g plain flour
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 240g chilled butter, diced
- 130ml ice-cold water
- flour, for dusting
- 1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp milk, for egg wash
You’ll also need
Six 16cm rectangular pie pans
Put the chicken in a large flameproof casserole dish with the vegetables, parsley and peppercorns and cover with about 1.5 litres (6 cups) of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the chicken is just cooked. Allow the chicken to cool, then remove it from the stock. Keep the stock separate for the sauce.
Put the diced butter in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Put the flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer and place in the fridge if you have space.
Take the butter from the freezer and the bowl from the fridge. Toss the butter in the flour so that the butter is coated with flour. This will prevent sticking.
Pulse the mixture twice for 1 second. Add half of the cold water and pulse three times, then add the rest of the water and pulse six times.
Dust your work surface with flour and take the dough out of the bowl. Push the dough flat with your hands but do not knead it – the small chunks of butter that are visible in the dough must be preserved and not be blended with the flour.
Dust the dough with flour and pat it flat into a square with a rolling pin. Fold the dough in three parts like a letter, pat it down lightly with the rolling pin and then fold it in three again, but in the opposite direction.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. The dough will be marbled with the butter and that is the intention. Repeat the folding and chilling step three times.
Make the roux by melting the butter in a pan. Add the flour and mix well. Cook, stirring, over low heat until the roux has the scent of biscuits. If you don’t do this, your sauce will taste like flour. Add the milk and stir off the heat.
Gently bring back to the boil while stirring so that the roux doesn’t burn. Add the stock and stir until the roux is thicker. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Add the chicken, mushrooms and tarragon and simmer for a few minutes. If your sauce becomes too thick, add more stock or milk. Allow the filling to cool before assembling the pies. You can also make the filling a day in advance.
Preheat your oven to 180°C and grease the pie pans with butter.
Roll out the pastry on a floured work surface to a thickness of 3 mm (1/8 inch). Roughly cut it into four pieces. Spoon the cooled chicken filling into the pie pans. Place a piece of pastry on top of each pie and use a sharp knife to cut off the excess. You can decorate the pies with left-over pastry. At this point you can bake the pies or freeze them to bake another time.
Brush the top of each pie with the egg wash. Bake in the middle of the oven for 40–50 minutes until the pies are golden brown.
From Oats In The North, Wheat From The South: The History Of British Baking, Savoury And Sweet by Regula Ysewijn (£25, Murdoch Books), out now
Beef, stilton and onion pie
Calum says: “This is a pie for wintry days when the roads are blocked and you are snowed in. It is rich, decadent and best followed by a nap on the couch.”
- 300g rough puff pastry (or shop-bought puff pastry)
- 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for brushing
For the filling:
- 600g beef chuck steak, cut into 4cm dice
- 100g plain flour
- 40ml vegetable oil
- 4 Spanish onions, peeled and halved but with the roots left on
- 400g chestnut mushrooms, halved
- 1 tsp table salt
- 300ml red wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 thyme sprigs
- 2 litres beef stock
- 100g stilton cheese, broken into 2cm nuggets
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
You’ll also need
pie dish (25cm long and 5cm deep)
Preheat the oven to 220°C fan/240°C/gas mark 9.
To prepare the filling, put the beef in a roasting tray, dust with the flour and toss the beef until all the flour has been absorbed by the meat. Add 20ml of the vegetable oil to the tray and toss well to make sure the meat is evenly coated. Put the tray in to the preheated oven and roast the beef for 20 minutes until browned and any juices released during cooking have evaporated.
While the beef is roasting, cut each onion half into six wedges through the root to leave petals. Put a large frying pan over a medium heat, add the remaining 20ml of vegetable oil and warm for 1 minute. Add the onions to the pan and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until the onions have started to brown.
Add the mushrooms to the pan with half the salt and continue to cook for a further 3 minutes until the mushrooms have just softened. Next, add the red wine, bay leaves and thyme and bring to a simmer.
After 20 minutes, remove the beef from the oven and check it is nicely browned. If not, return it to the oven for a further 5 minutes.
When the beef is ready, tip the onions, mushrooms, herbs and red wine into the roasting tray over the top of the meat. Put the frying pan back on the heat and pour in the beef stock – half at a time, if necessary – and bring to a simmer. Add to the tray with all the other pie filling ingredients.
At this stage, take the time to make sure the beef is not stuck to the bottom of the roasting tray: using a wooden spoon, dislodge any caramelised chunks of meat. Working carefully as the tray is hot, tightly cover the top of the tray with aluminium foil.
Return the tray to the oven and continue to cook at 220°C fan/240°C/gas mark 9 for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 160°C fan/180°C/gas mark 4 and set a timer for 1¾ hours.
While the filling is braising, prepare the pastry. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a 5mm thick circle large enough to cover the pie dish. Slide the rolled-out pastry onto the lined tray and chill in the refrigerator for at least 25 minutes. Set aside any pastry trimmings for decoration.
After the beef has been braising for 1¾ hours, remove the tray from the oven and, using a dish towel to protect your hands, carefully peel back a corner of the foil. Spoon out one chunk of beef and check to make sure it is tender. It is OK if the beef has a little bite left in it, but it should not be chewy. If necessary, pop the tray back in the oven for a further 15 minutes and check again.
When the beef is ready, carefully remove all the foil from the roasting tray. Place a colander over a large bowl and tip in the filling. Let the mixture strain for a couple of minutes, then place the contents of the colander back into the tray and spread around to cool down.
Transfer the strained liquid from the bowl to a large saucepan, bring to a simmer over a medium heat and cook until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season with the pepper and the remaining salt, adding a little at a time, stirring and tasting until it has the correct level of seasoning.
Pour the reduced liquid over the mixture in the tray and set aside to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally to speed up the process. Once the mixture is cool, transfer the filling to the pie dish and level the surface. Nudge the nuggets of stilton into the filling, distributing them evenly across the surface but avoiding the sides.
Increase the oven temperature to 200°C fan/220°C/gas mark 7.
Brush the rim of the pie dish with the egg wash, brushing about 2.5cm down the sides of the dish. Lay the pastry circle centrally across the top of the dish, allowing it to rest lightly on top of the filling. (The pastry lid should not be taut as it may droop during cooking and tear.)
Press firmly down on the pastry against the egg-brushed rim of the dish to seal all the way round. Lightly brush the pie lid with more egg wash and decorate however you prefer using the reserved pastry trimming and then brush that with egg wash. Return the pie to the refrigerator and chill for a further 20 minutes.
Place the dish on a rack in the centre of the preheated oven and bake the pie for 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and the core temperature of the filling has reached at least 70°C on a digital probe thermometer.
Alternatively, poke the tip of a knife through the pie into the middle of the filling and leave it there for a few seconds – it should be hot to the touch. Halfway through the cooking time, turn the dish around in the oven to ensure an even bake. Serve the pie simply with some boiled new potatoes and slow-roasted carrots.
From The Pie Room: 80 Achievable And Show-Stopping Pies And Sides For Pie Lovers Everywhere by Calum Franklin (£26, Bloomsbury Absolute), out now
Greek spinach, feta and oregano filo pie
Maxine says: “The first time I ate this was on holiday in Greece when I was a student. There was a little island off the coastline where we were camped and the owners of the campsite arranged a day trip to it, complete with picnic. This was one of the simple but delicious components that we unpacked, still sitting in its baking dish. It was fantastic, redolent with the aroma of dried wild oregano. Ricotta or even English wensleydale will work well if you are not partial to salty feta.”
- 2 tbsp Greek olive oil
- 1 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 450g young spinach leaves, washed
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 200g Greek feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 tsp freeze-dried oregano
- a large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 4 large sheets of thin Greek-style filo pastry (about 225g)
- 75g butter, melted
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
You’ll also need
a 25 x 20-cm/10 x 8-inch baking pan
Preheat the oven to 190ºC/Gas Mark 5.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the spring onions and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Pile in the spinach, cover with a lid and cook for 3 minutes over a high heat or until the leaves are just wilted. Tip into a sieve and press out the excess moisture. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in the eggs, feta, oregano, nutmeg, lemon zest, a little salt and plenty of pepper, mixing well.
Brush the inside of the baking pan with melted butter. Carefully brush the filo pastry sheets all over with melted butter. Lay the first sheet of pastry in the pan, pressing it into the base and up the sides. Place the second sheet on top at 90 degrees, making sure the pastry will overhang the pan. Repeat with the remaining 2 sheets of pastry.
Spoon the filling into the pastry-lined pan and level. Fold over the overlapping pastry, brushing with more butter as necessary. Brush the top with the remaining butter.
Bake in the preheated oven for 50–60 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and crisp. Remove from the oven and cover with a clean dish towel for 5 minutes to lightly soften the pastry before you mark it. With a sharp knife, mark the pie into 6 squares and leave to cool. Serve warm or cold.
Tip: For a neater look to the top of the pie, use only 3 ½ sheets of the filo pastry to line the pan, saving a half sheet to lay over the top and neaten the look. Brush with butter before baking.
From Pies, Glorious Pies: Brilliant Recipes For Mouth-Wateringly Tasty Pies by Maxine Clark (£14.99, Ryland Peters & Small), out now
Images: Regula Ysewijn; © John Carey; © Steve Painter/Ryland Peters & Small