Saturday, 10 March 2012

Blue Monk pie

It's been National Pie Week and hard to avoid it when all the food magazines are plugging it everywhere. Not that I mind - I'm rather partial to pie, as it happens. I even belonged to Manchester's short-lived but no less legendary Pie Mob, which was a bit like flashmob except instead of doing something arty we'd organise a spontaneous lunch meet and descend en masse to a nice pub for a proper pie and a pint. But I digress. I'm not a fan of official "weeks" of any sort. If anything, they make me want to run screaming in the other direction and do the total opposite. So if I'm told to bake pies or save the whale, I don't.

But then, on a whim, I entered a competition on Facebook to create a pie recipe using one of Butler's cheeses.* You didn't actually have to cook it, just come up with an idea. I duly came up with a pie I was pretty sure had yet to be created and, blow me, but I won.

The prize was a gift pack of three of Butler's cheeses, but before they'd even arrived friends were asking me for the recipe - for this pie I hadn't yet made, only dreamed up. As I'd won, I thought it'd be churlish not to actually make the pie and I was keen to see if it would actually work.

So here it is - this is the exact recipe I used, in what was basically an experiment. To my delight it worked beautifully and tasted pretty good too. It makes enough for two pies.

The pie's name is courtesy of my expat friend Martin Cleaver, who suggested I should cook this while listening to Thelonius Monk's cool jazz. I don't have any of the great man's music, but the name's certainly appropriate!

What you need:
Half a wedge of Blacksticks Blue (about 75g)
80g samphire
300g monkfish
1 pint bechamel sauce
250g ready-made puff pastry
A little melted butter or eggwash

What to do:
Make the bechamel sauce, cut the Blacksticks Blue into cubes, add it to the sauce and stir through until it has melted and the bechamel has turned pale orange. Season to taste. Wash the samphire thoroughly under cold running water then steam for about 3 minutes. Poach the monkfish gently in a little water or milk until it just starts to flake. Set it aside to cool and flake it into bite-sized chunks.

Assemble the pie in two individual ceramic pie dishes. Make a layer of sauce, sprinkle over some samphire, add a layer of monkfish, another layer of samphire and finish with a layer of sauce.

Cut the puff pastry in half and roll out each piece to about 2mm thick and slightly bigger than the pie dish. Tuck a pastry lid over the top of each pie and cut a couple of slits to let the steam out while cooking. Brush each lid with a little melted butter or eggwash.

Bake in a hot oven (220C) for about 25 minutes until the pastry is risen and golden.

Cook's tips:
Samphire is very salty so it needs a thorough wash. I soaked mine 2-3 times in a bowl of cold water, rinsing well each time. Go easy on the salt in the bechamel because of this - you'll probably need less than you think.

The bechamel recipe I've linked to is not one I use but it's a fairly foolproof one if you've never made a white sauce before (just leave out the parsley). I don't drink milk so I make my own bechamel with soya milk and I've got pretty good at judging the proportions of fat and flour over the years without weighing them. Don't make the sauce too runny, it should be thick enough to just drop off the wooden spoon. If it's too thick, just thin it with a little more milk. 

If you can't find monkfish, any other dense meaty white fish can be substituted. It just needs to have enough flavour to stand up to the cheese and samphire.

* Disclosure: I have, of course, used Blacksticks Blue in recipes on here before but I've also been the recipient of Butler's products to try in my day job as a journalist, which I've also mentioned on here. I eat their cheeses because I genuinely love them, not because I'm being paid to write about them.

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