It was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I headed to Fortnum & Mason last weekend with Liz Knight of Forage Fine Foods to do a cookery demonstration as part of Fortnum’s Comfort Food month and Artisan Market weekend.
It was a small miracle that I actually made it to London at all because of the huge dumping of snow we had here in South Wales the night before but it was a relatively simple journey in the end, aside from the fact that I had to negotiate Paddington to Piccadilly Circus by tube, pulling an enormous cool box behind me (my heart sinking when a broken escalator meant carrying it down a staircase that was so long, I couldn’t see the bottom from the top).
A childlike grin spread across my face as Fortnum & Mason came into sight – it is such a beautiful and special place and I was absolutely bristling with pride to have been invited here to cook. This time, I wasn’t just a wide-eyed shopper.
Since most of the demo recipes required several hours of cooking, I prepared tasters of all the recipes in advance so that guests would have the opportunity to try the food whilst I was demonstrating how to cook it. This format works beautifully and its something I try to do whenever I’m giving food talks because, unlike watching a cooking demo on television and no matter how good the demonstrator is at describing how it tastes, the idea of actually eating the food while watching it being cooked really brings the whole thing to life.
The magnificent demo kitchen is on the first floor and it’s a lovely setting for cooks and guests alike because anyone coming to a demo here can actually sit down, unlike many demo venues – and a relaxed and captive audience makes for a really great cooking demonstration. As the demo got under way, curious shoppers began to cluster behind the seated audience and it was a fantastic atmosphere. We were cooking some relatively unconventional recipes with potentially challenging ingredients but I was positively surprised to see every guest tucking into ox cheek tasters with gusto.
Each of the recipes incorporated some of Liz Knight’s delectable wild ingredients and as I scattered herbs, sprinkled spices, splashed vinegar and dripped syrup into various dishes, Liz wowed the audience with details of her sensational wild concoctions.
The demo menu comprised braised pork belly flavoured with hawberry ketchup, ox cheeks with Pontack sauce, dumplings with wild herb rub, slow-cooked sweet and sour red cabbage and meringues with rose syrup and sweet rose dukkah.
Liz Knight’s glorious wild ingredients were perfect additions to the demo recipes. Pontack sauce with cider vinegar, elderberries, ginger and spices. Wild herb rub with wild thyme, English sage, fennel, marjoram, camomile, meadowsweet, clover flowers and sheep’s sorrel.
Then came the pie…
I thought it was imperative that a comfort food demo should include a pie. I had originally planned on a hot water crust layered game pie but soon realised I would have plenty of other mouth-watering pie-fillers at my disposal, namely some of the other demo recipes. Just as you can cut into a cold pork pie and find an egg in the middle, I decided to make a hot ox cheek and red cabbage pie with a wild herb dumpling in the middle. Hot water crust pastry is one of my favourites – it is mainly used for encasing heavy mixtures in cold meat pies (e.g. pork pies) but it’s also excellent for holding in meat juices in hot pies.
I made some hot water crust pastry with strong flour, beef dripping and a mixture of milk and water. I then used it to line a 10cm wide / 8cm deep pie tin, raising the pastry 5mm above the top of the tin. I put a spoonful of ox cheek casserole into the bottom of the pie tin before placing a wild herb dumpling inside, which I had pre-cooked in beef stock. Next, I spooned more of the ox cheek casserole around the dumpling until it was completely covered. I left a 2cm gap at the top, which I filled with braised red cabbage before folding the pastry edges over the filling and brushing with beaten egg. I cut out a pastry lid, placed it on top of the pie, sealed the edges and brushed the lid with egg. I then cut out a small hole in the top to allow steam to escape. I cooked it for about 30 minutes at 180C before removing it from the tin, brushing the outside with beaten egg and returning to the oven for another 10 minutes until golden brown on the outside.
The big reveal…
Did the pie work?
As well as the bigger pie with dumpling inside, I made individual hot water crust pies for passing around as tasters.
Liz and I both adored our day at Fortnum & Mason – brilliant staff, fantastic audience, unique location. All in all a seriously memorable experience.
With thanks to Emily Hughes for the demo photographs
PS. The cook, the forager and the photographer enjoyed a heavenly French Martini each in the Fountain Restaurant before heading home.
Here is the recipe for the individual pies.
HOT WATER CRUST PIES USING LEFTOVER OX CHEEK CASSEROLE
Makes 6 muffin-sized pies
For this recipe, you’ll need a non-stick, standard muffin tin and an 8cm round pastry cutter. These pies are delicious served with mashed potato and gravy.
For the filling
Cold, leftover beef or ox cheek casserole and braised red cabbage
For the pastry
- 300g strong plain white flour (plus extra for dusting)
- 130ml water & milk, in equal proportions
- 100g beef dripping, cut into chunks
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- - Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas mark 4
- - Sift the flour and salt into a bowl
- - Put the milk, water and beef dripping into a saucepan and place over a gentle heat until the fat has completely melted
- - Turn the heat up and bring just to the boil
- - Pour into the flour and mix well until the mixture starts coming together
- - Tip the dough onto a floured work surface and knead briefly
- - Take a third of the pastry, wrap in cling film then a clean tea towel and place back inside the hot, empty saucepan (to keep it warm while you work with the rest)
- - Working fairly quickly (the pastry becomes unmanageable when cold), divide the rest of the pastry into six pieces, roll each piece up and place one ball of dough into each muffin cup
- - Smooth the pastry as evenly as possible around the inside of each muffin cup with your fingers so that it comes up about ½ cm above the rim, trying not to tear it (but don’t worry because it’s very manageable and you can easily fill any holes by squishing it over the gaps)
- - Fill each pastry cup three quarters full with leftover casserole then fill to the top with braised red cabbage and push down so the pastry case is well packed
- - Fold the pastry sticking up around the edge over the filling (it will only cover the very edges of each pie)
- - Brush some beaten egg around the pastry rim
- - Roll out the remaining third of the pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut out six lids with an 8cm round pastry cutter
- - Press a lid onto each pie making sure the edges are tightly sealed, then brush the tops with beaten egg
- - Cut a small hole in the centre of each pie to allow steam to escape during cooking
- - Put in the oven and cook for 25 minutes
- - Remove from the oven, carefully remove each pie from the muffin tray and transfer them to a baking sheet
- - Return to the oven for another 10 minutes until the sides and base are crispy and golden brown then serve immediately