I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while now. For a few years, I’ve been making savory pies for dinner. I made up a duck pie and served it to some North Texas friends, with good reviews. LawDog got a mouth full of it and blurted out, “Oh Gawd that’s good! You made this?” Dorothy Grant asked me for the recipe. Happy to oblige, I assured her that I’d write it up. Then, I sat down to my laptop to do just that, and went blank. Recipe. *tapping fingers on desk* Right. That’s one of those things that tells people the details on how to cook something. Hrrrm.
See, I’m kind of weird. I don’t really do the whole “recipe” thing. Maybe I’ll kind of “follow” a recipe once or twice to figure out how to make something, but then I wind up tailoring it to my taste for subsequent preparations. And, although my savory pies may taste like magic, there’s really nothing magical in the making. Honestly, this whole thing started when we had a bunch of green tomatoes at the end of the season. We didn’t really know what to do with them, and so they became a green tomato pie. since then, pie has become a way to deal with leftovers. It may seem a little gauche to serve your leftovers to your friends and family, but really; I will often prepare more than the three of us can eat in a sitting so I will have materials for a subsequent pie. So, rather than spelling out a recipe here, I’m going to try to explain the science behind the pies in question.
I’ve got a few old Pyrex pie plates. These things are awesome. You can make up a pie, cover it with foil and freeze it. These will go straight from the freezer into the oven without issue. They clean up easily, and store well. When your pie is in the oven, you can see the crust to monitor how done it is. If you don’t have any, you should acquire some. Look for them in junk shops and estate sales, and expect to pay between $.50 and $2.00. If you make your own pie crusts, great. I use the pre-made store bought ones. When the local grocery puts them on sale for under a buck a pair, I usually stock up and put them in the freezer.
The basics of my pies fillings are a mix of meat and starch, in the range between 50/50 to 65/35, the balance going either way, with some kind of binding agent. I have blended the filling all together in the past, but more recently have had great results with layering the starch and meat. If you can butter your Pyrex pie plate and roll out the dough, then this is a cinch. I usually do these two at a time
1 – Prepare the pie plate. Take a stick of butter and tear the paper off one end. Holding the butter stick by the wrapped end, smear it all over the inside of the pie plate until it is thoroughly coated. This does two things. It will act as a release agent so the baked pie slices come out cleanly, and it will help crisp up the crust. Roll out the pie crust and press it into the buttered plate.
2 – Starch layer – I like to use potatoes, but about anything starchy could be used here. about 1.25-pounds of plain, red, boiled and drained potatoes, mostly smashed into the bottom of the crust works great. I usually leave them lumpy, as the texture is nice in a pie, but mash them well enough to eliminate most air space. It never hurts to throw a few pats of butter on top here. You can also blend cheese or other delights into the potato layer. Alternatively, leftover french fries or tater tots are pretty wonderful for this layer. I used to hate leftover french fries until I started doing this. Now I plan to have leftover french fries. I suppose you could use rice or some other starchy agent with similar results, but I haven’t personally strayed much from potatoes on this part.
3 – Meat. This can be just about anything. I’ve used multiple types of beef (brisket, prime rib, pot roast), chicken (fried, boiled, roasted, grilled), pork (pulled, loin), and other things, such as duck and lobster. Tender slabs that are sliced lay into this layer fine. One of my more recent pies was brisket and ham on french fries, and it was amazing. In the case of chicken or duck, I like to pre cook it until it’s largely falling off the bone, and chunk the meat. If it’s leftover fried chicken, just break it up into bite-sized pieces and spread it evenly. Whatever kind of meat you have, lay it onto the starch layer, more or less evenly. Be careful with fowl, as it’s very easy to miss a few bones and have them wind up in the pie. If you have awesome friends like mine, they won’t mind the bones anyway.
4 – Binder – A lot of the time, whatever I’m putting together is chunked in such a way that I lack confidence that the structure will hold together on its own when served. some grated cheese in the mix helps, and adds wonderful flavor to boot! Indeed, a quarter pound of freshly grated parmesan or asiago mixed into the meat adds a lovely zest, and helps the meat to physically hold together. A half pound of grated Jarlsberg makes even the blandest of boiled chicken fit for a king’s appetite. Another great binding agent is egg. With crumbly meat such as pulled pork mixed with an egg or two makes for a delightfully firm slice of pie. With the duck, I spooned the duck fat (liquid freaking gold) off the water and added it to the mix as the primary binder and never looked back.
5 – Top that pie! I top my pies in several ways, depending on my current whim. The store bought crusts come two to a package. Sometimes, I top my pies with the second crust. If you do this, make sure to cut some kind of vent in the top. My mom always cut a “~” kind of mark in her pies, but you can do anything, even “IZ PAH!” as pictured above. Also, drop a few pats of butter on that top crust. When you bake it, the butter will melt into the crust and give it a lovely golden brown, crispy, awesomeness. I’ve been known to weave a bacon mat and top a pie with it. Thick sliced bacon usually comes about twelve or thirteen slices per pound, and a six by six woven bacon mat is awesome for all kinds of culinary tricks. If you cook, but you haven’t played with this, you need to get your butt in the kitchen and do it now! Grated or sliced cheese sometimes makes a good pie topper. Keep in mind that some cheeses tend to melt an get gooey and others will crisp and brown more. It can be good either way, as long as you’re mindful of the end results. Then, there are times that I’ve simply left the pie open on top, as I did with the aforementioned duck pie. That one got topped with freshly ground pepper and Himalayan pink salt.
6 – Store and/or bake. As previously mentioned, I usually make these two at a time, because that’s convenient to how my ingredients come out, most of the time. Your mileage may vary, of course. When I’ve made two, and it’s the three of us eating, I’ll foil cover one and throw it in the freezer for later consumption. The other one goes on the middle oven rack at 350-degrees. Cooking time may vary between a half hour and a full hour. Just keep in mind that pretty much everything inside the pie is pre-cooked. So basically, when the crust is golden brown, and your bacon is done, or your cheese looks the way you want it to, whatever egg is in there is finished, and you’re done. I usually put mine in for a half hour and then monitor it after that. Remember what I said about the Pyrex pie plates? This is where seeing through the pie plate comes in handy. From frozen, take the foil off the pie and put it on the middle oven rack at 450-degrees for a half hour. Then, turn the oven down to 350-degrees and bake as needed. My frozen pies typically take a total of anywhere between one and two hours to get done.
7 – Serve. From fresh or frozen, it’s best to let the pie sit outside the oven and cool for about fifteen minutes. Depending on the size of your pie and the appetite of your crew, you can slice these in quarters, sixths, eighths, or whatever. There were seven of us miscreants, and I sliced the duck pie into eights. I don’t know who got the eighth piece, but somebody went back for seconds. LOL! Season to taste. Sriracha or Louisiana hot sauce see heavy use in my household. A very ripe avacado sliced tops a savory pie nicely too. Other times, I like to eat them without further embellishment. Whatever you don’t immediately eat will store nicely for several days in the refrigerator, and makes awesome subsequent lunches. (Meta leftovers)
If there’s a wrong way to do this, I’m not sure I’ve discovered it yet. Growing up, leftovers were leftovers, and never became anything more interesting. Now, when they’re trying to push leftovers at family gatherings, I get all grabby. The vast majority of our leftovers go into fried rice or pies at this point, which are good enough that I don’t feel ashamed to offer them to friends and family. As I mentioned, I often cook intending to have leftovers for pie filling now. For instance, I roasted the aforementioned duckling until it was medium, cut off the breasts for dinner that night, and continued stewing the rest of it so I could bake it into a couple pies. I used to make leftover fried chicken into chicken salad sandwiches, but it makes amazing pie. Get creative with it!
So, Dorothy, I hope this helps. Kind of recipe but not a recipe, I guess. But yeah, pie is awesome, and more people should be having awesome pie for dinner. If I can help facilitate that, the world will be a happier place. Please do let me know what you come up with in the comment section, and have fun!