I was at home for Christmas at my parents in the Lakes, which is the most gorgeous place to spend any time. Family, fire, dogs, and a fridge filled with amazing food. There are also 3 kitchens – not because of greed, but because my parents run weddings at their house which is a National Trust property, and do all the catering themselves. My Dad has a utilitarian kitchen for the savoury food (which has an incredible walk-in chill room), my Mum’s is the sort of thing you’d see in House and Garden (aga and all), from where she does the canapes and puddings. Both kitchens are obviously jampacked with amazing ingredients.
In my Dad’s kitchen, to the untrained eye would be pans and pans of slightly suspect looking jellies and liquids in varying shades of brown. I know them to be carefully tended stocks from the bones of various different animals, most of which will have been reared in the Lake District and sold either by Lake District Farmers, or from Booths (the Waitrose of the north). Either way, the quality of the meat is phenomenal, and my Dad spends days, weeks, months, even years cultivating the most beautiful big pots of stock.
That means that when it comes to throwing together a leftovers pie (which is so, so much more delicious than Christmas dinner itself I think), I have pick of the stocks. I understand that not everyone has this; and I certainly don’t have it in my London flat (I mean – the bath is half the length of a normal one; there is absolutely no way I have a chill room). However, one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learnt is that stock is a continuous process. Every time you have a chicken, boil up your old chicken stock and put the new chicken bones into it, with fresh carrots, bay leaves, onions… whatever veg you have around, plus enough water to just cover it. If you can cut the bones so that you need to add less water, it’ll be even richer and more delicious. Sometimes I even just drink a mug of it. Very good for the skin, apparently. Do the same with lamb, or beef. Every single time you have a bone, boil it up again and add the bones and it will turn into the most beautiful unctuous rich delicious stock which will make every meal better, and every gravy into something magical. I’m not just using every adjective I can find – it really is that good (and easy to make something normal taste incredible).
In lieu of my having remembered to take a picture, here is a Christmassy picture. It’s Tamara Ecclestone’s Christmas card and it is glorious and hilarious in equal measure. I think she may have actually set up a fake chalet in her 57-room house just for this picture. (Sent to my Editor at The Times, not me…)
So the first thing I did, before assembling the pie, was to cut the goose carcass down into manageable size bits of bone. I put it in a pan, covered it with water, a few carrots, onions, bay leaves, some fennel fronds I think…. Basically whatever I could find. I brought it to the boil then took it out which made it much easier to pick all the remaining goose meat off the bones (with washing up gloves on so I didn’t burn my fingers) and put it aside for the pie. I then put the goose bones back into the stock, added some chicken stock I found and let it all simmer away for a few hours before straining it through a fine stock sieve (something like this http://bit.ly/204zraY).
We had goose on Christmas Day, so what I found in the kitchen was the following:
A goose carcass, still with a good 3-400g of goose left on the bone
4 chicken breasts, sliced into slivers or cubes, as you wish – I like slivers
2 fennel bulbs (chop off the fennel’s bottom, and the top legs, then chop into halves, quarters then 8ths)
Some leftover roast carrots and parsnips
Puff pastry (in a 500g block like this http://www.jusrol.co.uk/products/puff-pastry-block/)
A large amount of stock
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Leftover raw bacon, if you have it
Leftover pigs in blankets
A generous pour of double cream. Probably about 100ml but do as you wish
A large bag of leftover brussels sprouts
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Some nutmeg, freshly ground from the nut of the meg if possible
And this is what I did with it
- In a big pan, in lots of olive oil, fry up the fennel pieces on a medium heat, stirring regularly until they are translucent and starting to look like softened onions.
- When they’re nearly done, add the onions and do the same – soften them until translucent. If you have any bacon lying around, add that now for extra flavour (chopped up into little pieces), fry until the fat is going golden brown.
- When THEY are nearly done, add the chopped chicken, turn up the heat a bit to medium-high and stir through the fennel/onion/oil mix, tossing and stirring regularly for a few minutes until they are just cooked. When cooked, they will be white all the way through – no raw pink middle. After about 4-5 mins of cooking and stirring, take a larger piece out and check it. Turn the oven onto 200C.
- When you think the chicken is just done, or nearly done, crush the garlic into the pan and making sure that you stir it pretty much constantly, cook the garlic in with the fennel and onion until it smells deliciously garlicky and is going ever so slightly golden but no further.
- If you are drinking white wine, put a large splash of it in now. Stir stir stir, and let it bubble and reduce a bit. Not too much – just a minute or so.
- Add the goose meat and stir well until it’s fully heated through. Add the pigs in blankets too, either chopped up or whole, as you wish…
- Add a few ladles of the MAGIC STOCK so that the mix looks nicely juicy (strain the rest of it, leave it to cool, skim off the fat then cool the rest of it and throw away the fat). Then add a bit more, add in the leftover roast carrots and parsnips (any earlier and they’ll turn to mush) an enormous splash of double cream (I’d use 50-100ml probably) and bubble down on a medium heat for a couple of minutes to cook and reduce a bit.
- While it’s reducing, sprinkle some plain flour out onto a flat surface, chop the pastry block in half and roll it out so that it’s slightly thinner than a pound coin, picking it up off the surface or board every roll and flipping it, with more flour if you need to stop it sticking. If you don’t have a rolling pin, use a wine bottle.
- Find an egg cup.
- Check the mix – does it look nicely liquid, creamy and thick and delicious? Add an enormous pinch of maldon sea salt, lots of freshly ground pepper, some freshly grated nutmeg (or from a jar if you must). Taste it. If it’s not quite right, it probably needs more sea salt.
- Of course I expect you to be gloriously tipsy by now, because sober pies are pants, and cooking’s so much more fun with wine, especially if you’re doing something like this which is more about the assembly than bothering to weigh anything.
- Put the egg cup (or a pie funnel if you have it) in the middle of the pie dish. Put the mix around it.
- Carefully place the rolled out puff pastry over the pie. The funnel is there to let steam escape, so cut a hole in the pastry so that the pie funnel will poke out in the middle – otherwise the pastry will get soggy and floppy in the middle and not rise up like you hope it will.
- Put it in the preheated oven for 20-30 mins, checking after 20 but NO EARLIER or your pastry will be flat and sad. You want it to be puffed and golden.
- 10 mins before the pie was cooked I cut the bottoms of the sprouts off, cut them in half (raymond blanc said to me DO NOT CRISS CROSS THEM ‘ARRIET, YOU ‘AVE BETTER ZINGS TO DO LIKE DRINK WINE WIZ YOUR FAMILEE) and then heated some oil to very hot in a big frying pan, fried them up, then added some butter and fried some more, then added some Maldon sea salt at the end and they were delicious. I may have also made mashed potato, that feels like something I probably would have done…
- When the pie is puffed up and golden, take it out and serve it in the middle of the table. Delicious. Serve it with redcurrant jelly too.