“We must have pie”: Paula’s perfect pastry tips for perfect pies

Remember the good old days when you were able to walk into a restaurant, without a mask, order from a menu and have food served to you?

And no need to do the dishes afterwards. Going out for dinner is something we all took for granted and it’s the thing I miss the most about pre-lockdown life.

A consolation is the arrival of cookbooks from restaurants on my bucket list. The latest is “The Pie Room” by Calum Franklin of the Rosewood Hotel in London. The building dates back to 1912 and has a huge basement that’s mainly used for storage.

Head Chef, Calum discovered an equipment store and found a selection of antique pie tins. He set about trialling pie recipes and after about a year, he and his kitchen team had perfected a series of recipes to showcase the beautiful copper tins. His pie book was released late last year and is full of intricately decorated and mouthwatering looking dishes.

The most important part of any pie is the pastry and making your own ensures that there are no nasty additives. Ready made puff pastry is mainly vegan which means it doesn’t have the vital ingredient of butter.

Another nearly forgotten ingredient for perfect pastry is lard, and in particular leaf lard. This lard is the soft fat from around the pig’s kidneys and loins. It’s delicate and doesn’t have a “porky” taste, making it perfect for pastry. Leaf lard from rare breed pigs is prized and quite hard to source.

Seaview Farms in Portrush rear rare breed pigs at their farm situated close to the coast. The pigs are fed a diet of specially grown crops like rape, mustard, turnip and kale. The meat from the pigs is a rich red, as pork really should be, with a good layer of fat. They recently added leaf lard to their repertoire. This ingredient has suddenly become “on trend” but in reality it’s always been a treasured product for good cooks.

When you melt leaf lard, it’s clear and unadulterated in the pan. Much better to consume this than any chemical filled artificial trans fat like margarine. It’s completely pure and we should trust this naturally occurring fat rather than something developed in a lab and manufactured in a factory.

My recipe this week is for a steak and ale pie. The best savoury pie should have a crisp shortcrust bottom, not too wet pastry and a flaky pastry top.

There’s a bit of work in this recipe but well worth it. A good pie should be surrounded by pastry – it should never be stew topped with a pre-baked pastry top.

Until the restaurants open again comfort yourself with bringing this pie to the table with some creamy mash and buttery greens. The playwright David Mamet said “We must have pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” I couldn’t agree more.

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