With the exception of the occasional overnight monsoon, our gorgeous late summer weather continues unabated. We sneak down to the beach most afternoons, determined to make the most of the sunshine before we return to Cornwall at the beginning of next month. Nature is certainly confused – the banana trees in the marina are loaded with fruit and the Brugmansia clearly hasn’t spotted that it is winter either.
However, nights are turning colder and though we’ve yet to stack the wood burner, we’ve had to bring the duvet into service and thoughts are definitely turning away from summer salads and more towards comforting wintry food.
I was taught to make Cornish pasties by a pasty-making friend-of-a-friend when I was in Cornwall in my early 20s (thank you Wendy). I thought I had been making them ever since, but have now discovered that unless I was actually standing in Cornwall when I was rolling out the pastry (which clearly I wasn’t), then they weren’t Cornish pasties. In 2011, Cornish pasties were awarded EU ‘Protected Geographic Indication’ status, which means only those actually made in the county of Cornwall can use the name.
Of course, there are numerous other requirements, according to the Cornish Pasty Association. The meat should be beef skirt and the only other ingredients are onion, potato, a goodly helping of salt and pepper, and swede. Or should that be turnip? Having been told by our trusty building team back in Truro that it should always be turnip, never swede, I thought I’d check out what the CPA had to say about it. Not helpful at all – their recipe says ‘swede (turnip)’. Hmmmm. I am taking that to mean they consider them to be interchangeable and so shall I – sorry Geoffrey and Ian. (I might direct Geoffrey and Ian to Delia Smith’s ‘Cornish’ pasty recipe on her website, in which she includes ‘a teaspoon of mixed dried herbs’. Oh dear, even I can see that this could lead to trouble and it sounds absolutely horrible, the taste would just be so wrong – who wants oregano in their pasty? But at least it will make my swede/turnip misdemeanours look minor in comparison).
Having promised our neighbour Linda that I would bring back a swede to make pasties, I finally got around to thinking about them last weekend (swedes keep really well in the fridge, it seems). I decided that Cornish pasties were really meant for eating on the move and that a pie would be more appropriate for dinner, and would also provide a slightly more balanced filling-to-pastry ratio (though I have to admit that the crimpy bit of pastry that holds the pasty together – and which I would be foregoing here – is my favourite bit of all).
The encompassing pastry, according to the CPA, can be shortcrust, puff or rough puff, but must be savoury and sufficiently robust to stand up to being taken to sea or down a tin mine. Crikey.
I settled for shortcrust, but I used vegetable margarine instead of butter – if I had been in the UK, I may well have used lard, vegetable shortening or a combination. Butter would probably not give you a sufficiently robust pastry to work with and would also potentially be too rich. Pastry made with margarine or vegetable shortening is much easier to work with, rolls out more easily and is less likely to tear when you are putting it into your tin. Having said all that, I generally use all-butter pastry for things like sweet tarts and always for mince pies. And of course you can always use ready-made pastry from the supermarket, which is a useful time-saver, as well as being a good option for any nervous pastry-makers out there.
There was no possibility of tracking down beef skirt here, though you should be able to find it at any decent butcher in the UK. All cuts of meat here are trimmed of fat, bone and other potentially identifying markers, so buying meat is a complete lottery, which has been known to end in deep disappointment. The only exceptions are the prime cuts, so I plumped for ‘antrikot’ which is basically a boneless ribeye. Of course, skirt is a far cheaper cut and Cornish pasties are not meant to be a luxury item, but as the meat is not pre-cooked before it goes into the pie, I really didn’t want to risk buying some unidentifiable lump of flesh that would be horrible and chewy in its cooked form. Ergo my Cornish pie was probably the most expensive version on the planet.
The pie requires a long slow cook to ensure the meat is tender, and it will stay together better (and the hot filling is less likely to take off the roof of your mouth) if you let it sit for ten minutes when it comes out of the oven – just cover with a tea towel to stop it from going cold.
I made my pie in a 26cm pie dish, which gave us six quite generous portions – I decided on the dish, rather than a tart tin, because it had a rim, which makes it easier to seal the pastry, but just use whatever you have that is a similar size.
Serves 6 generously
You will need a round pie dish or tart tin, approximately 26cm in diameter, well greased
For the pastry:
250g plain flour
175g vegetable margarine (or you can use lard or vegetable shortening)
A pinch of salt
For the filling:
450g beef skirt or other tender cut (weight after trimming)
250g swede or turnip
Salt & pepper
25g butter (optional)
Follow the method for the shortcrust pastry that I have given here.
Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and leave to rest in the refrigerator for around an hour.
Once the pastry has rested, cut it in two, re-wrap one half and shape the other into a ball, then roll out on a floured surface until it is large enough to line your pie dish or tin. Press the dough gently into your lined dish and trim off any surplus dough – if your dish has a rim, trim the dough so that it is level with the outside edge of the rim, so that you have a little overhang to help seal the pie – if your tin doesn’t have a rim it is not a problem, you may just find that the top and bottom of your pie will part company slightly, but it will just look a little more rustic.
Put the dish with the rolled out pastry back into the fridge to rest while you make the filling, along with the other half of the pastry (it’s easier to handle if you keep it cold).
Peel the potatoes and swede (or turnip), cut them as though you were making chunky chips, then cut across each ‘chip’ horizontally into 2mm slices, so that you are left with thin strips. Chop the onion finely.
Make sure the meat is trimmed of any fat or gristle, then cut into very small pieces – I cut mine into thin strips, then cut across the strips so that the meat pieces were only a little larger than minced meat.
Put all of the ingredients into a large bowl, season very generously with salt and pepper, then mix well – you want to ensure that every bite has a bit of everything.
Tip the filling into the prepared dish and dot all over with the butter, if using (I forgot and the pie was still absolutely delicious, but I think a little butter would have helped to hold everything together and give just a little richness, as the meat is very lean).
Roll out the other ball of pastry until it is just a little larger than your dish and drape over the top of the pie. Gently press the pastry down on to the filling just inside the rim – this will help to ensure your pastry lid doesn’t shrink away from the side of the tin as it bakes (it may do a little, but it really doesn’t matter).
(You may have some pastry left over – even after using some trimmings for decoration, I had enough to line another 22cm tin, which is now lurking in the freezer for another day).
Brush the top of the pie with milk and decorate with the pastry trimmings if you wish – I decided on stars only because my star cutter was inexplicably lurking handily in the cutlery drawer and stars also seemed mildly appropriate, as it was Guy Fawkes (though I am now not quite sure how I connected those two things – maybe because everyone in the UK would be outside drinking hot toddy, eating parkin and looking at the stars or some such thing).
Rest the pie in the fridge while the oven heats up (you can make the pie ahead and leave it in the fridge even overnight if you wish – just cover it with cling film so that the pastry doesn’t dry out and brush it with milk again just before you bake it). You will need to think about baking the pie approximately two hours before you want to serve it.
Pre-heat the oven to 190°C, brush the top of the pie with a little more milk, then bake for 20 minutes. Turn down the temperature to 165°C and bake for a further 1.5 hours, turning the pie every half hour, so that it doesn’t catch if there are any ‘hot spots’ in your oven. The pastry shouldn’t brown too much, but if you think it is starting to catch, cover loosely with foil for the rest of the baking time. Remove the pie from the oven and rest, covered with a tea towel, for about ten minutes before cutting and serving.