Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Rabbit (redux) Pie (whatever 'redux' means...)

As I said in my last post, the excess wild rabbit and chicken thighs that I’d bought for but been unable to cram into the pan for Becca’s mum’s birthday paella kept us going the whole of the following week.  I’d covered the paella itself, a rabbit stew/ragu and chicken thighs roasted with red peppers, which took us to the middle of the week, and again as I said, next up would be rabbit and chicken pie.

I do, I have to say, like a pie.  I like a pie in pretty much any form a pie comes, from pork to shepherd’s, via fish and even, arguably (although I do have my doubts) pizza pie.  Actually, if I’m honest, not even arguably.   While pizza and pie may be etymologically related, a pizza is plainly not a pie in any sense that matters.  The English word ‘pie’ (and I’m making a linguistic distinction here, not a culinary one), while clearly loosely defined, surely has to denote a dish in which the feature item is covered, whether that be by pastry (most commonly), potato or meringue (not that I mean to imply that potato and meringue should ever be interchangeable as pie covers…).  A pizza just doesn’t fit that definition, notwithstanding calzone, which does admittedly, superficially at least, have a lot in common with a pasty.  But is a pasty a pie?  I suppose (for some reason I can’t readily explain, somewhat grudgingly) so, although it really doesn’t feel like a pie to me, whereas, oddly, an empanada does – which just goes to show that it’s all quite arbitrary.  Which I guess, in turn, would indicate that if other people want to talk about pizza pies, than I should just shrug and let them get on with it.  Even if they are wrong.

Where was I?  Oh yes, pies.  One of the things I love most about a pie, is the transformative effect a pastry lid has on a stew.  Not in the sense of making something good out of something not, of turning base metal into gold, no, not at all.  I love a stew too, as even halfway regular readers of this blog will know.  Transformative in the sense of turning one good thing into another, entirely different and equally good thing.  And perhaps the most miraculous effect of this transformation is that it makes it not only OK, but almost obligatory to have chips with your stew.  Pie and mash is all very well, and of course, properly traditional in this part of the world (East London).  But it’s not pie and chips, is it?  And sorry, your pearly highnesses, pie and chips wins every time.

And turning a stew into a pie is so easy, it’s one of those things that every time I do it, I wonder why I don’t more often.  You can of course make your own pastry, and good on you if you do, but I don’t.  As I explained way back in the early days of writing this blog, making pastry was one of the tasks I came away from restaurant cheffing with no inclination to ever do again – or rather a positive inclination to never do again.  Much as I understand that there are people out there who find it positively therapeutic.  And much as I’m sure that the best of the pastry made by those people who make it for therapy (or just because they are more diligent cooks than me) is way better than the stuff I can buy in the shops is, I’ve also eaten enough bad home made pastry in my life to know that it’s by no means guaranteed.  And particularly when it comes to puff pastry, which is tricky as well as (very) laborious to make, the shop bought stuff is easily good enough for the benefit in saved time and effort to more than outweigh the loss of brownie points.  Even the cheaper, non butter version that Becca’s allergies insist I use.

Anyway, by all means, make your pastry, or buy it ready made.  I’ll be content just making my stew, as described briefly but in I’m sure enough detail here (if you feel the need of a more detailed stew making break down, then basically pretty much every stew will be a variation on the one described here).  Ideally, make the stew a day or two, or three as on this occasion, in advance and leave to sit in the fridge, miraculously accumulating and condensing flavour the way a stew does given time.  Over the course of the three days since I’d made it I’d also added the meat from the two roasted chicken thighs left over from dinner on one of those days, and finally a handful of batons of carrot, just blanched in rabbit stock, allowed to cool in that stock, and added to the stew stock and all.  When you’re nearly ready to put your pie together bring the stew out of the fridge in time to come back to something like room temperature in its pie dish.  Put the oven on and let it get up to temperature, around 200.  While the oven’s heating roll out your pastry (this should be done straight out of the fridge) and lay it over the stew in the pie dish.  If you like, use the pastry off cuts to make decorative chickens and bunny rabbits to stick on your pie crust, but there’s no real need.  If nobody’s allergic, brush your pastry with a glaze of beaten egg yolk, to give it colour and shine, I rub a little extra virgin olive oil into mine instead.

Bake your pie for about 40 minutes, or until the pastry’s thoroughly risen and appears to be cooked through (you can always raise it to peek underneath – an advantage of a lid only pie as opposed to a full case pie.

While the pie’s in the oven, do your chips.  I favour par-boiling, first, then frying – as described in more detail here – partly on account of not owning a deep fat fryer and having to cook them in batches, in my wok, in relatively shallow (sunflower) oil, but also on account of how the finished chips taste.  More effort, I know, but I really do think the finished result is worth it – even if you do have a deep fat fryer.

Pie and chips.  Did I mention I like a pie?  And chips?  And it was every bit as satisfying both as I’d been looking forward to, and as only something really simple can be.

And not only that, there was still enough of the stew left over at the end for one last pasta sauce the next day.  With the addition of a sliced chorizo (again left over from the weekend), some cherry tomatoes, halved, and a fistful of green olives, halved and pitted, and served with linguine it made a quite distinctively different and possibly even more delicious dinner than the rabbit ragu and penne of earlier in the week.  A fine way to bid farewell to our rabbit.

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