At this time of year, nothing beats a cosy tavern with steamed up windows, a roaring fire and hearty food. ‘Gastropubs’ have come under some justified criticism over the years: trying too hard to be restaurants and with prices to match, pricing out their former loyal clientele. Too many regular pubs meanwhile are happy to serve microwaved food or, as is the fashion nowadays, mediocre Thai cuisine.
Pub or gastropub, the most successful food offerings at a good watering hole are often the pies. With any luck there will be options: picnic pies with hot water crust pastry (Crystelle from Bake Off recently produced a good-looking curried chicken and potato terrine pie) and the likes of shepherd’s pie topped with buttery mash. But my favourite are the shortcrust or puff pastry pies: steak and kidney, chicken and mushroom, and everything in between.
It requires no great leap of the imagination to conclude that filling such a pie with curry might be rather successful too. For why not combine the joys of pub food with those of the curry house? And buttery, flaky pastry is not so different to a paratha or naan as a foil to your curry. The idea of encasing curry in carbs also has precedent: in Durban, South Africa – which as a city boasts the largest Indian population of anywhere outside of the subcontinent – they delight in a ‘Bunny Chow’ which consists of a hollowed-out loaf of white bread filled with curry.
The below recipe would work with any of your favourite curries. The only important thing to ensure is there is plenty of sauce. I have used puff pastry rather than shortcrust for maximum convenience – don’t bother making it yourself, it will taste no better than the shop-bought puff pastry sheets even if your guests don’t have the heart to tell you. And I have used coriander to garnish: I have been heckled by the estimable Spectator readership for my excessive use of this herb, which tends to divide opinion. Should you prefer, it can be left out without any great consequence.
Chicken tikka masala pie
What you need
2 inch thumb of fresh ginger
4-5 cloves of garlic
A couple of fresh red chillies (or more if you like it very hot)
2 tablespoons light olive oil (or a flavourless oil is fine)
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
½ tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon garam masala
250 ml natural yoghurt
1 tablespoon butter
2 white onions, peeled and finely sliced into half-moons.
2 tablespoons tomato purée (good quality stuff)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
600g skinless, boneless chicken thighs (or breasts if you prefer), cut into bite-sized chunks
1 small handful of cashew nuts or almonds, ground with a tiny bit of water in a little blender
100 ml double cream
320g sheet of ready-made puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
Small bunch of fresh coriander
What to do
- Peel the garlic and ginger, deseed the chillies, and chop them all up very finely (this is easiest done in a little food processor).
- Place a large pan over a medium heat and add the oil to heat up. Add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. When they start to pop, add them to the ginger/garlic/chilli mixture along with all the other spices.
- Combine half the mixture with the yoghurt and add in the chicken. Give it a good stir, cover with foil and leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or preferably overnight.
- Place the butter in a large pan (you can use the same one to save on washing up) on a low heat, add the onions and the other half of the spice mix, and cook until softened – you want to do this slowly (about 15-20 minutes) to make the onions sweet.
- Add the salt, ground nuts, tomato purée, a couple of cups of water, and the cream and simmer for 15 minutes or so.
- While simmering, place your chicken on a baking tray under the grill (at around 210°C) and cook for about 15 minutes until cooked through – you want a bit of crispiness and char ideally as that will add to the flavour.
- Add the cooked chicken to the sauce (adding a bit more water if you need – it should have a loose consistency). Check the seasoning, and add the juice of half a lime. Pour it all into a large pie dish.
- Cover the dish with pastry, pressing the edges to seal and trimming off the excess as required. Brush with beaten egg, sprinkle over the ½ teaspoon of cumin seeds and make a little incision in the centre to let the steam escape. Cook in an oven at 190°C until the pastry is golden.
- Serve with some chopped coriander sprinkled on top, and some wedges of lime alongside for people to squeeze over to taste.