Top pie-making tips from Bristol's own Pieminister + 'The free ranger' recipe

Pieminister’s top tips for baking the perfect pie!

1: Start with a good casserole.

Often, the best pies are beautiful, slow-cooked, well-flavoured casseroles which are then encased in pastry. If you could serve up the filling without the pastry, you’re probably on to a winner.

2:  Use the seasons as your guide

Always use the best, sustainably sourced ingredients you can afford and find. A good start is to look at what’s in season locally. And if you eat meat, this means always buying the highest welfare that you can. (At Pieminister we only ever use free range British chicken and pork, for example). 

3: Love your leftovers!

It’s a fact: leftovers make great pies. More specifically, Sunday roast leftovers make great pies.  Check out our Leftovers Pie in our cookbook ‘A Pie for All Seasons’ for inspiration. 

4: Experience crust lust

That’s the feeling you get when you take a wonderful pie out of the oven that you prepared with pastry you made yourself. Making your own is so satisfying, quick to do and hugely delicious, so give it a go!

5: Keep cool

Pastry behaves better if it doesn’t detect worry in your hands. So, keep those hands cool. If they get warm, run them under a cold running tap then pat dry. Then take a deep breath and get back to your pie-making.

6: Get creative

Decorating your pie is a fun way to use up scraps of leftover pastry and give your pie personality!  Just don’t go over-board: too much and you’ll end up with an uncooked lid due to the double thickness of the pastry.

7: Give it a good glaze

Continuing from tip number 6, a good glaze of beaten free range egg or for plant-based pies, a non-dairy milk, will make your pie beautifully glossy. Glaze the pie all over before adding the decorations, then give them a good brush too.

8: A sprinkle of magic

Sprinkles on a pie top are really effective (that’s what we use to differentiate between our pies at Pieminister). Black cracked pepper, dried herbs, chopped nuts…they all look great sprinkled over a pie before baking.

9: Be like Ange

Ange used to work in our Bristol pie kitchens before she left us to set up a knitting shop here in Bristol. She’s a great pie maker and her tip for avoiding a soggy bottom? Cook your pie on the bottom surface inside your oven. It works a treat.

10: Cheating is ok

Having extolled the virtues of making your own pastry, we know that sometimes you just might not have the time or inclination. Luckily there are some great ready-made pastries available today. We won’t tell!

Recipe for ‘The free ranger’chicken, cider & leek pie

Serves 6
1 free-range British chicken, about 1.5kg
1 carrot, peeled and cut into quarters
2 celery sticks, cut into quarters
2 onions, cut in half
1 whole bulb of garlic, top sliced off
6 sprigs of tarragon
1 large knob of butter
3 chunky leeks, cut in half lengthwise, then sliced
200ml dry or medium cider, preferably Orchard Pig
2 tbsp plain flour
150ml single or whipping cream
grated zest of ½ lemon
3 tbsp chopped chives
1 quantity of shortcrust pastry for the base
(you’ll find the recipe on page 10 of Pieminister’s cookbook ‘A Pie for All Seasons’) or cheat with 660g of ready-made shortcrust pastry.
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten,

to glaze
1 quantity of rough puff pastry for the top (you’ll find the recipe on page 10 of Pieminister’s cookbook ‘A Pie for All Seasons’) or cheat with 375g ready-made puff pastry.
sea salt and black pepper

  1. Put the chicken in a large pot with the carrot, celery, ½ an onion, the garlic bulb, 2 of the tarragon sprigs and a little salt. Add enough water to almost cover the chicken. Cover the pan, bring to a simmer and cook very gently for about 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Leave until cool enough to handle, then remove the chicken from the pot. Strain the chicken stock into a clean pan (discard all the vegetables except the garlic) and boil until reduced by half –the flavour should become concentrated. Meanwhile, take the skin off the chicken and discard. Tear the meat into shreds.

  2. Cut the rest of the onions into medium dice. Melt the butter in a pan, add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the leeks and cook until softened. Pour in the cider and simmer until reduced by about half. Stir in the flour, cook for a few seconds, then add 400ml of the hot chicken stock, plus the cream and the lemon zest. Bring to a simmer – the mixture should have a nice, creamy pouring consistency. Add a little more of the hot stock if necessary. Chop the remaining tarragon and add to the sauce, then remove from the heat. Squeeze in the flesh from the garlic bulb and stir in the chives and chicken. Season with salt and pepper and leave to cool.

  3. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Roll out the shortcrust pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 3mm thick and use to line a large ovenproof dish, such as a baking tin or lasagne dish.

  4. Fill with the chicken mixture and then brush the pastry edges with a little beaten egg. Roll out the rough puff pastry to about 3mm thick and use to cover the pie, trimming off the excess and pressing the edges together to seal. Brush with egg glaze and make a couple of small holes in the centre of the pie to let out steam. Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown. This pie is great served with new potatoes and spring greens.
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