Traveling the world through cuisine

A good pie makes for a great game day

In the city of Chicago, the arrival of March usually bodes the excitement of St. Patrick’s Day. Whether you are into Irish culture and cuisine, or just want to binge drink to your heart’s content, there is usually something for everyone. For me, I like the holiday as a time to continue my study of the cuisines of the United Kingdom. To continue disparaging the myths that UK cuisine is all bland and horrid.

This year’s curiosity has taken me to England’s northern neighbor, Scotland. Known for golf, scotch whiskey, and William Wallace, it's cuisine is the real differentiator from the rest of the UK. A wealth of seafood is a huge part of Scotland’s culinary culture, but a temperate climate and an abundance of indigenous game species gives their people a variety of choices at the dinner table.

Scottish dishes can vary from the rather “interesting”, like Haggis (sheep’s stomach stuffed with a ground mixture of its heart, liver, and lungs), to the rather familiar such as roasted meats, smoked fish, potatoes, puddings, and scones. A common theme of scotch cuisine is simplicity and dedication to local seasonings, as many devout will avoid spices imported from abroad.

To the Football Field

The story of the dish I have for you today actually began with the British show Paul Hollywood's Pies and Puds. I was originally curious about British meat pies, when I encountered a video clip of Hollywood discussing and making what is known as a Scotch Pie. My interest grew mainly out of the small size and shape of these meaty little beauties. I had grown up knowing pies only as shorter, wider, and plate-like, but these made me think of a thick, golden-brown hockey puck.

The Scotch Pie is one of the national treasures of Scottish street food, as they’re sometimes known as shell pies, due to their firm crust, or football pies, mainly due to how popular they are at local football (aka soccer) games. I had actually encountered them once at a local Irish festival, but they seemingly had a soft crust, which didn’t capture what I’ve seen as the pure tradition.

In Chicago, the ideal source for a quality pie is local baker Pleasant House Bakery, where their trademark Royal Pies are divine. In Scotland, both butchers and bakers all over pride themselves on their pies, with a World Championship competition held every year.

Wherever you might obtain a Scotch Pie, they are truly ideal as a hand-held street food. Even better at a stadium for a game with a touch of brown sauce and a good beer.

Making them at home

If you’re looking to take the plunge and make your own Scotch Pies, the best place to start would be the crust. A hot water pastry is traditionally used in making these pies, as the makeup of flour, lard, and hot water will create an easy-shapeable crust that will harden as it cools.

I think the biggest challenge in the crust is in how you will shape it. The pro’s have machines that will stamp and shape their crusts perfectly, or they at least have pans meant for the task. For the enthusiast at home, I wouldn’t recommend investing in specialized gear unless you plan on making these pies regularly. Many will use the bottom of a jar to shape their crusts, or even round forms. I actually took advantage of empty cans from Aldi’s canned chicken, as they were the ideal size.

Patience is also vital to getting the crust right. Scottish baker J.B. Christie will put the crusts through what he calls “curing”, which is leaving them in the refrigerator for three days before using them. A big reason for the wait is the cooling process will solidify the lard and dry out the crust itself, thus making it ideal for hand-held eating. Using the pastry fresh will cause the pie to collapse as you prepare.

Now I will caveat all this “process” and state that while a traditional crust is perfect for hand-held eating, it can become a bit daunting if you’re more wanting to serve these pies with a fork and knife. I actually liked the idea of using puff pastry in these cases. It saves a lot of time and will yield a decent pie. It’s entirely up to you though.

When it comes down to the filing, the original custom was to use a heavily-spiced mutton, but in these modern times, ground beef or lamb will be perfectly fine. Most experts would take their recipes to the grave, but I’ll share how I did my Scotch Pies, based on recipes I researched.

Scotch Pie

Scotch Pie

Ingredients

For the crust (makes 4 pies)

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/4 cup of lard
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • Extra flour for rolling and kneading

For the filling

  • 1 lb of ground meat
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp of thyme
  • 1 tsp of sage
  • 1/2 tsp of allspice

For the tops (makes 4 tops)

  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 tbsp of lard
  • 1/8 tsp of salt
  • Extra flour for rolling and kneading

For the egg wash

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp of milk

Instructions

Making the crust

  • Place the water and lard into a small saucepan and heat it on the stove until the lard liquifies into the water.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the flour with the salt, creating a small valley for the liquid to go.
  • Pour the lard/water mixture into the flour, and stir with a spoon or spatula until the liquid is mixed fully into the dry ingredients.
  • When you can handle the mixture with your hands, continue kneading with your hands until the dough fully forms.
  • Sprinkle some flour on a clean surface, and place your dough ball onto it.
  • Divide the dough into four pieces, and sprinkle some flour on them before rolling.
  • Using a rolling pin, roll each piece evenly until it's roughly 1/4" thick.
  • Carefully place the flattened dough into your form, making sure it shapes fully the way you desire.
  • Store your finished crusts into the refrigerator for at least four hours. Overnight is better.

Making the pies

  • Turn your oven on to 350°.
  • In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the meat with the seasonings.
  • Remove your crusts from the refrigerator and free them of any forms or shapes you might have used in creating them.
  • Fill the crusts about 80% with the meat filling. Set the pies aside.
  • Using the same process you did in making the crusts, create the dough for the tops using the ingredients listed.
  • After rolling the dough to 1/4" thickness, cut circles using the forms you used in making the crusts.
  • Place the tops on your pies, pressing the edges into the sides to close up the pie.
  • Using a knife, cut a small hole in the top for steam release.
  • Set up your pies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • In a small bowl, beat the egg with milk for the egg wash, then brush it on each pie.
  • Bake the pies in the oven for 35-45 minutes.
  • Allow pies to cool slightly before serving.

Quick Notes

Don't be in a hurry to handle the dough with your hands. The goal should be to keep mixing with a spoon or spatula until it cools enough not to burn your skin. You want the dough to stay warm and flexible, but not hot enough to hurt you.

If your dough seems sticky and wet, add a little more flour. If it seems too dry and and won't come together as one, then add a little water. This is not exact science, thus you need to rely on your own judgement.

When it comes to forms, it's entirely up to you on what you desire. Some will use small pans or larger pastry circles. Others like to flip a jar and use the bottom. I actually used empty cans from canned chicken, as they were the perfect size.

The reason we leave the crusts in the refrigerator is to allow the lard to cool and thus harden the crust a bit. Going at it fresh will create pies that might fall apart more easily. However, if you wish to bypass the cooling time, then at least seek out small pans you can bake the pies in from start to finish.

The tops do not need to be cooled the way they crusts were because we need them to be flexible so they can stretch and cover the pie.

The rationale for not filling the pies all the way is to have that small space on top to hold side ingredients such as potatoes, gravy, an egg, etc.

Variations

I used the term "meat" in the ingredients, which means this is open to your personal taste. Mutton is the more classic ingredient, but ground beef or lamb are what you'll find in most modern Scotch Pies.

Lard is an ideal fat for a hot water pastry, but you can also use butter or margarine. I would not try oil. You need a fat that will solidify when cold.

If you would rather not play with hot water pastry and are planning on eating these pies with a fork and knife, consider using store-bought puff pastry sheets. You'll get a light flaky crust that will do nicely.

Serving Suggestions

One big tradition in serving Scotch Pies is with a hot cup of Bovril, which is a salty meat extract diluted with hot water. For those not in the mood, a good beer will do nicely. Scotch Pies are wonderful with chips (fries), mushy peas, beans, or mashed potatoes. Beef gravy or brown sauce are also wonderful accompaniments.

Now a traditional Scotch Pie is all about ground meat and spices, but you’re not limited to just that filling. The UK has had a long tradition of small pies of many flavors, much like how the Greeks will do the same with phyllo.

When I crafted the crusts for traditional Scotch Pies, I made extras so I could try other ideas based on classic dishes found in the region. So I made a vegetable pie based on a Lord Woolton pie, and even a steak and ale pie. I’ll share those with you another time, but right now I have a chicken and mushroom pie that turned out wonderfully. Think of a British ideology on the chicken pot pie.

Chicken and Mushroom Pie

Chicken and Mushroom Pie

Ingredients

For the crust (makes 4 pies)

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/4 cup of lard
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • Extra flour for rolling and kneading

For the filling

  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 4-6 mushrooms, diced
  • 1/2 tsp of thyme
  • 1/2 tsp of tarragon
  • 1 tsp of parsley
  • 2 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the tops (makes 4 tops)

  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 tbsp of lard
  • 1/8 tsp of salt
  • Extra flour for rolling and kneading

For the egg wash

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp of milk

Instructions

Making the crust

  • Place the water and lard into a small saucepan and heat it on the stove until the lard liquifies into the water.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the flour with the salt, creating a small valley for the liquid to go.
  • Pour the lard/water mixture into the flour, and stir with a spoon or spatula until the liquid is mixed fully into the dry ingredients.
  • When you can handle the mixture with your hands, continue kneading with your hands until the dough fully forms.
  • Sprinkle some flour on a clean surface, and place your dough ball onto it.
  • Divide the dough into four pieces, and sprinkle some flour on them before rolling.
  • Using a rolling pin, roll each piece evenly until it's roughly 1/4" thick.
  • Carefully place the flattened dough into your form, making sure it shapes fully the way you desire.
  • Store your finished crusts into the refrigerator for at least four hours. Overnight is better.

Preparing the filling

  • In a deep sauté pan, heat up the olive oil on medium-high.
  • When the oil is hot, place the onion and garlic into the pan and sauté until the onion is soft and the garlic fragrant.
  • Add in the chicken and continue sauteeing.
  • When the chicken is halfway cooked, mix in the carrots.
  • Continue cooking for 3-5 minutes, then add in the mushroom.
  • Season the mixture with thyme, tarragon, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.
  • Cook the mixture for a few more minutes until the mushrooms break down.
  • Pour in the water and gently mix it all up.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for ten more minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool for 30-40 minutes before continuing.

Making the pies

  • Turn your oven on to 350°.
  • Remove your crusts from the refrigerator and free them of any forms or shapes you might have used in creating them.
  • Fill the crusts about 80% with the filling. Set the pies aside.
  • Using the same process you did in making the crusts, create the dough for the tops using the ingredients listed.
  • After rolling the dough to 1/4" thickness, cut circles using the forms you used in making the crusts.
  • Place the tops on your pies, pressing the edges into the sides to close up the pie.
  • Using a knife, cut a small hole in the top for steam release.
  • Set up your pies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • In a small bowl, beat the egg with milk for the egg wash, then brush it on each pie.
  • Bake the pies in the oven for 35-45 minutes.
  • Allow pies to cool slightly before serving.

Quick Notes

Don't be in a hurry to handle the dough with your hands. The goal should be to keep mixing with a spoon or spatula until it cools enough not to burn your skin. You want the dough to stay warm and flexible, but not hot enough to hurt you.

If your dough seems sticky and wet, add a little more flour. If it seems too dry and and won't come together as one, then add a little water. This is not exact science, thus you need to rely on your own judgement.

When it comes to forms, it's entirely up to you on what you desire. Some will use small pans or larger pastry circles. Others like to flip a jar and use the bottom. I actually used empty cans from canned chicken, as they were the perfect size.

The reason we leave the crusts in the refrigerator is to allow the lard to cool and thus harden the crust a bit. Going at it fresh will create pies that might fall apart more easily. However, if you wish to bypass the cooling time, then at least seek out small pans you can bake the pies in from start to finish.

Don't worry if your filling isn't fully cooked in the sauté pan. The baking time in the oven will finish it all.

The tops do not need to be cooled the way they crusts were because we need them to be flexible so they can stretch and cover the pie.

Variations

Lard is an ideal fat for a hot water pastry, but you can also use butter or margarine. I would not try oil. You need a fat that will solidify when cold.

If you would rather not play with hot water pastry and are planning on eating these pies with a fork and knife, consider using store-bought puff pastry sheets. You'll get a light flaky crust that will do nicely.

Tags: Scottish, pie, chicken, beef, English, Irish

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