Monday, October 26, 2015

Lancashire Cheese-and-Onion Pie

When I was growing up, the closest I came to a savory pie was the cheap little frozen pot pies that my mother picked up for about a quarter when they were on sale. That was a very different little beast from the sorts of pasty and pie offerings that are common in England or Australia. Pot pies are filled with frozen vegetables and thickened goop. My limited information about more advanced savory pie cuisine lead me to believe that the filling was more substantial and the flavors more developed.

My knowledge of such things is largely confined to what I learned from documentaries. In fact, the largest source of my savory pie education comes from a documentary on Victorian farm life. As part of the recreation, one of the gentlemen manning the farm constructed a pastry case and filled it with meat and spices. The historians role playing as Victorians stated that the pastry at that time was not meant to be eaten, but merely served as a way in which to cook the filling.

I imagine that pastry was not wasted in a similar fashion at all times or in all cases in British cuisine and I hoped that the recipe that I found on the Lancashire Cheese-and-Onion Pie was going to produce an edible pastry. That being said, I did note that the recipe was different from conventional pie crust. The fat to flour ratio was lower, which would likely result in a harder, tougher crust.

I followed the recipe as described on the New York Times page, except that I had no choice but to use more ice water and I used black pepper instead of white. In fact, given the amount of flour, I'd be stunned if anyone could make it work with only three tablespoons. Even with five, my pastry was cracking and separating all over the place and it was a struggle to get each piece to roll out large enough to create a top and bottom that could come together. My final result looked a bit rough because of this problem:

Despite the difficulty with the crust, the pie turned out very well. Since I opted to use cheddar cheese, it was pretty salty and I wished I'd added less salt to the onions while cooking them. That being said, I didn't use a lot and it was still very tasty. It was immensely savory and flavorful and the onions cooked down to being quite sweet and mellow.

My main worry was this was that the sparse seasoning would result in something which was lacking in flavor depth. I desperately wanted to throw some garlic into the onions, but resisted the urge in favor of something which I suspected was more authentic. Though garlic was brought to England by the Romans, it wasn't widely used in British cuisine. It turned out that the onions and cheese were more than enough complexity to provide a homey, but interesting side dish. 

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