A British newspaper recently published a sympathetic, even enthusiastic profile of Irish cookery guru Darina Allen, but whoever wrote the headline needs a good slap.
It described her as “the chef you’ve never heard of”.
Oh really? Famous chefs fly in from all over the world to guest star at her Ballymaloe cookery school in the West of Ireland, she’s written reams of books, won heaps of prizes and she’s a household name in her native country.
The article also described her as Ireland’s answer to Delia Smith. Well, they’re both famous enough to be known only by their first names but much as I respect Delia, I think Darina knocks spots off her.
I’ll probably have to go into hiding now I’ve said that, Delia lives a few miles up the road from me. But really, Darina is one of my cookery heroines.
All this is a preface to sharing my favourite new game pie recipe. I say pie, but you can skip the pastry lid and just serve it as a stew.
And if you don’t have any pigeon you could make it with beef alone, although I think you’d be missing out.
I know some people are nervous about eating game, probably because they’ve heard all those stories about hanging pheasants until they’re so ripe the tail feathers pull out, but this is a good dish for game first-timers. It’s full-flavoured but not “gamey”.
The recipe comes from Darina’s Allen’s cookbook, Ballymaloe Cookery Course, and I use it here with her permission.
She makes her own home-made tomato puree and puff pastry. I use home-made shortcrust or sometimes cheat and use bought puff and ready-made tomato puree. It’s still a fantastic dish.
Beef and Pigeon Pie
Ingredients for pie filling:
4-6 pigeon breasts
Their weight in lean stewing beef
Half their weight in streaky bacon
Bacon fat or olive oil for frying
8 baby carrots or sticks of carrot
10-12 button onions
1 clove garlic
1-2 tspn plain flour
230 ml red wine
230 ml good stock
150 ml of tomato puree, home-made or made from tinned puree or paste thinned down with extra stock (don’t use 150ml of commercial tomato puree without watering it down or its flavour will dominate the finished dish)
Roux or cornflour to thicken (optional)
2 tspn fresh thyme and parsley, chopped
225g Mushrooms a la Creme (see below)
A pack of puff pastry
Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2-3
Remove the rind from the bacon, cut into lardons about 2.5 cm (1″) wide and cut the beef and pigeon into similar sizes.
Heat some bacon fat or olive oil in a pan and fry the bacon until crisp and golden. Remove to a 2.3 litre (4 pint) casserole.
Add the beef and pigeon a little at a time to the frying pan and toss until the meat changes colour. Add to the bacon in the casserole.
Turn the onions and carrots and crushed garlic in the fat and add them to the casserole.
Stir the flour into the fat, cook for a minute or two then stir or whisk in the stock, wine and tomato puree.
Bring to the boil and thicken, if necessary, with roux (equal parts of butter and plain flour: melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally) or with cornflour mixed with a little water.
Pour over the meat and veg in the casserole, season with salt and pepper and add the thyme and parsley.
Bring back to the boil, cover and cook for 1-2 hours, depending on the age of the pigeons. When it is cooked add the Mushrooms a la Creme.
Allow it to get cold. The flavour will improve overnight. You can eat it at this point as a stew or put the cold filling into a pie dish, cover with a puff pastry lid, decorate with the pastry trimmings and brush with egg wash.
Bake it for 10 minutes at 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8 then for about 20 minutes at 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.
Ingredients for Mushrooms a la Creme:
75g onion, finely chopped
225g mushrooms, sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Squeeze of lemon juice
125 ml cream
Freshly chopped parsley
1/2 tbsp freshly chopped chives (optional)
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams.
Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat gently for 5-10 minutes until the onions are soft but not coloured.
Cook the mushrooms in a separate pan, in batches, and season each batch with salt and pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice.
Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, add the cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes until it thickens.
Taste and correct the seasoning then add the herbs.
This keeps well in the fridge for 4-5 days, freezes perfectly and, thinned down with a little more cream or stock, makes a lovely sauce as well as a great addition to stews and pies.