Whether you want to try your hand at Apple Pie or Chicken Fat and Pea Pie, How to Build a Better Pie (Quarry Books, 2012) by Millicent Souris provides the tips for flaky crusts, toppers and all things in between. Learn the skills, practice the techniques, master the recipes and build yourself a better pie. The following recipe is excerpted from Chapter 6, “Savory Pies, Meat Pies, Pot Pies, Oh, My!”
How to Build a Better Pie Recipes:
When I think of lamb I think of three women: my Yia Yia Arete Souris, who emigrated to the U.S. from Greece and opened a bar and restaurant when Prohibition ended; Paula Wolfert, whose cookbooks on Mediterranean food have greatly influenced my life; and Tamara Reynolds, a friend who can roast a lamb leg like an old Greek lady.
Paula Wolfert’s cookbooks offer incredible insight to how people really eat. She always goes straight to the source in her travels: the home kitchen. My Yia Yia used to cook Greek food all day long at her bar. Never an Easter passed without the requisite lamb with mint jelly. No one in my world recently has made more lamb that I know of than Tamara Reynolds. She made up a rub for her lamb leg that uses pomegranate molasses and Aleppo pepper. I also use sumac in the braise. Aleppo has a bit of heat and fruit to it while sumac is a bit acidic. Both are wondrous.
How to Braise Lamb
Braising the Lamb
lamb neck or shoulder (2.5 or 3 pounds) (1 or 1.5 kg)
2 tablespoons (28 ml) olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon (7 g) sumac
3 tablespoons (60 g) pomegranate molasses
5 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large onion, medium dice
fennel tops without the fronds, medium dice
3 stalks celery, medium dice
2 carrots, medium dice
2 cups (480 g) canned tomatoes, crushed with your hands
2 cups (475 ml) stock
2 cups (475 ml) red wine
bunch of parsley
2 cups (500 g) dried beans soaked overnight
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
Pot for braising
stockpot or Dutch oven
How to Braise Lamb
Bring your lamb up to room temperature, probably out of the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes. Heat the olive oil in the Dutch oven over a medium-high flame. Season the lamb liberally with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, sumac, and pomegranate molasses. When the olive oil starts to smoke a bit, or the flick of flour dances in it, place the lamb in the pot. Turn the lamb once this part of it is browned, about 3 minutes. Continue to brown the lamb on all sides and ends. The flame should be still medium high or a touch more, but if it’s cranked the oil will most likely burn. Take the lamb out. If it smells burned, carefully pour it out into a glass measuring cup, wipe it clean, put the Dutch oven back on the burner, and add more oil.
Toss the smashed garlic cloves in and stir a bit. When the garlic becomes fragrant, add the onions and let them hang together for a few minutes. Then add the rest of the vegetables. Don’t burn the garlic. It’s not okay. There are worse things in this world, they are: famine, poverty, politicians, burned garlic. Vigilance is key.
Sauté the braise vegetables until fragrant. Add the crushed tomatoes, stock, and wine. Let it all mingle for a minute and then add the lamb. Cover with a lid and keep over medium-low heat for 5 hours, or until the meat easily pulls off the bone. Pull the lamb out, let cool, and pick the bones. Strain the braising liquid out. Take a wooden spoon or spatula and press all the liquid out of the braising solids. There is a lot of flavor in these vegetables—don’t let it all end up in the bin.
Cool the liquid and take off the fat on top of it. Discard the fat. There is a reason why you don’t really hear a lot about lamb fat. It is not a delicious fat.
This yields about 3 cups (675 g) of meat. Pour some braising liquid over it so it doesn’t dry out.
While you are braising the lamb, cook some chickpeas. They’re a great addition to this pie as a starch. Feel free to use canned chickpeas. I am touched by the difference when dried chickpeas are used, so for me it’s worth it to use them. Anytime you buy dried beans you have to sort through them for rocks and bad beans. Nothing ruins a meal faster than biting down on a rock.
Dried beans are really hard. It’s best to soak them overnight. Put them in a stockpot and fill it with water. Cover and leave out overnight. The beans absorb a lot of water and will cook faster and better for soaking. Drain and rinse the beans with cool water, put in a clean stockpot, and cover with cool water, about 5 inches (13 cm) above the beans. Smash a few gloves of garlic and put 1/4 cup (60 ml) of olive oil in the water. Bring up to a boil over a high flame, skim the scum, and let it continue to simmer. Add more water if necessary. Do not salt the water until the end or the beans will never really give. For beans to be their best they need to be creamy. Check the beans. When they are soft, add salt for flavor. Turn off and let sit in the liquid.
Putting the Lamb Pie Together
All of these ingredients together make sense in a loose Mediterranean way, a variation on a tagine with lamb, tomatoes, olives, chickpeas, and fennel. Harmony in a pie crust. When you use such richly braised meat, it’s great to end with something fresh, and nothing says fresh like lemon zest and mint.
Lamb Neck Pie Recipe
Basic Pie Crust, chilled
3 tablespoons (42 g) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons (24 g) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups (595 ml) lamb braising liquid
1 cup (235 ml) chickpea cooking liquid
1/2 cup (120 ml) red wine (optional)
1 white onion, medium dice
2 tablespoons (28 ml) olive oil
2 heads of fennel
1/2 cup (50 g) large green olives, pitted
3 cups (675 g) pulled braised lamb
3 cups (492 g) cooked chickpeas
2 teaspoons (12 g) kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon (6 g) Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon (6 g) freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated cinnamon
zest and juice of 1 lemon
bunch of mint
deep 9 1/2-inch (24 cm) glass pie plate or 9-inch (23 cm) cast-iron pan
pie bird (optional)
Melt the butter in your Dutch oven over medium heat and add the flour. Whisk together and let the flour cook out a bit, about 5 minutes. Add in a stream the braising liquid, whisking the whole time, and then add the chickpea liquid. Add the 1/2 cup (120 ml) of red wine if you want. The sauce will thicken quickly. It is the ideal viscosity when it coats the spoon or spatula. Turn the sauce off.
Cut and peel the onion. Heat 2 tablespoons (28 ml) of olive oil in a sauté pan and sauté the onion until fragrant and translucent. Cut your fennel heads in half, core them, and then slice along the grain in strips no thicker than 1/4 inch (6 mm). Add to the pan and toss. Cook for a few minutes so the fennel gives a bit and loses its crunch. Take the olives and smash them with the side of your knife. Pull them away from their pits.
Mix together the lamb, chickpeas, onions, olives, and fennel with the sauce and season. Taste. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper, Aleppo pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Taste again. Season as necessary.
You can make 1 whole pie, use a cast iron, or make individual pot pies. To make individual pot pies you can use ramekins, ovenproof bowls, or tiny cast irons. You have a choice here.
Constructing the Lamb Pie
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C, gas mark 7).
Roll out your chilled bottom crust to 1/8-inch (3 mm) thick. It should be about 13 inches (33 cm) in diameter. Place in your pie plate or cast iron. Trim the edges so there is no more than 1/4 inch (6 mm) of overhang. Lift and crimp the overhang along the rim of the pie pan. Chill bottom crust in the refrigerator or freezer.
Chop up a bunch of parsley leaves and mix it in the chilled filling. Pull out the chilled top crust from the refrigerator and roll out in the same manner and thickness. Get the pie plate or cast iron out of the refrigerator. If using a pie bird, place it, beak up, in the middle of the bottom crust and spoon the filling in around it. If not using a pie bird, put the filling in the crust. Place the filled pie pan adjacent to the top crust and treat it the same way, quickly flip it in half, and lift on top of the pie. Lift the other half over the pie. If there is a pie bird, just punch its beak through the top crust to vent. Lift the edges of the top crust up so the crust sits on top of the filling, not just stretched across it.
Trim the edges to be flush with the bottom crust and crimp them together. Cut slits in the top crust even if you do use a pie bird, brush the top crust with the wash, and sprinkle it with sea salt. Bake the pie at 425°F (220°C, gas mark 7) until the crust is golden brown. Pull and cool for at least half an hour. Finish with chopped mint.
Yield: 1 pie (8 servings)
Reprinted with permission from How to Build a Better Pie, by Millicent Souris, published by Quarry Books, 2012.