Monday 4 August 2014

Smoked Salmon and Leek Pie

There’s nothing better on a rainy afternoon than a freshly baked pie. Well, few things better.

A charming Frenchwoman I recently met threw together this pie in record time. I really wish I’d watched her do it, but thankfully its beauty is in its simplicity and I think I made a fair stab at it.

And if you’re thinking that pastry is too hard to do, stop right there. I hadn’t made pastry since secondary school, about a decade ago (yes, I was that kid who took Home Ec.), and I managed to pull it off. So you can too. Ready?

Mai bien sûr.

    Coarsely grate a lump of butter into a bowl of twice as much sieved flour, and a little salt. Mix with a knife before adding a few tablespoons of ice water and bringing it all together with your hands. Wrap in cling film and bung it in the fridge. That’s your pastry done. Trop facile.

    Sauté sliced leek in a little butter and oil. Season heavily with pepper, then add sliced mushrooms. When thoroughly softened, turn off the heat.

    In a saucepan, melt a chunk of butter to start the roux. Slowly add a few tablespoons of sieved flour, stirring into the butter a little at a time. When you’re left with a soft, mushy, yellowy ball in the saucepan, stop adding flour and softly fry for a few minutes. Now slowly add about half a litre of milk, again, stirring it in a little at a time. Stop adding milk when you’re happy with the consistency of the sauce. No longer thick, yet not watery. Grate in some cheese and it’s done. Magnifique!

    Grab the pastry from the fridge and roll it out. Drape it into a greased pie dish. Combine the leek and mushroom with the béchamel sauce (well, Mornay sauce), adding shredded smoked salmon to the mix. Fill the pastry lined pie dish with the sauce, brush any exposed pastry with beaten egg, and slide it into the oven at 170ºC for half an hour. C'est ça.

Foux du fafa?

Points for effort. But I’ve actually exhausted my 6 years of French lessons (time well spent, eh?), so I’ll stop now. Luckily, the recipe is every bit as easy without the French. It’s just… well it’s just not the same, is it? Sigh… I suppose we’ll live.

If you can call that living.


For the Pastry
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g butter
  • pinch of salt
  • ice water

For the Filling
  • 2 medium leeks
  • 100g mushrooms
  • 150g smoked salmon
  • 35g butter
  • 2-3 tbsp plain flour
  • 600ml whole milk
  • 100g mild white cheddar cheese
  • black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • olive oil

Smoked salmon is pricey, I know. But a little goes a long way.

This is technically a “filled pie”, meaning that it’s open top. You can make one large pie, using a single, fairly big dish, or you can make a bunch of smaller ones if you have appropriate containers. I had a little pastry left over after lining my main dish, so I made a cute little single serving with it, as shown in the photo. Everything is the same, but the cooking time will be 5-10 minutes less for the small ones. Now let’s make some pie!

    Start by dropping a few ice cubes into a glass of water and sticking a butter knife in it. There are two simple rules for making basic shortcrust pastry. Rule 1: Don’t get it warm. Rule 2: Don’t touch it too much with your filthy, greasy mitts. The ice cubes will help with the first, and the knife will help with the second.

    Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl and add some salt. Take your butter out of the fridge and grate it into the flour using the coarsest option on a cheese grater. This is a super neat trick, much faster than cutting it up. It also helps keep your nasty, greasy hands out of the pastry for longer. Use the iced knife to mix the butter and flour around, completely coating the butter strands.

    Spoon about 3-4 tablespoons of the ice water into the mix. You don’t need a lot of water, but it is essential. Now with your hands, roughly mush and crumble everything for literally about ten seconds. Then scoop it all together forcing it into a single ball. It should do this quite easily, leaving the bowl clean. Wrap it up in cling film and pop it in the fridge, safe from your skanky, greasy hands. Seriously, you disgust me.

    The pastry needs to sit in the fridge for about half an hour, which gives us all the time we need to make the filling. Trim and wash your leeks well, getting rid of any gritty soil caught in the upper layers. Slice them into circles, anything less than 1cm thick is fine. Heat up about a tablespoon of olive oil and a little bit of butter in a frying pan, then throw in the leek. Fry on a medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, then slice up the mushrooms and add them to the pan. Grind in a whole lot of pepper, fry softly for another 5 minutes or so, then turn the heat off and just leave them to sweat. Which sounds gross. But is totally a thing.

    Now all we need is the sauce. Melt your 35g of butter in a saucepan (you don’t have to be so precise, just in and around that much) and get ready a sieve and your bag of flour. When the butter starts to bubble, drop a tablespoon of flour into the sieve and slowly shake it into the butter, stirring with a wooden spoon. In the same way, add another tablespoon or two, stirring constantly. First, it will form a thick, yellow sauce, then it will gradually become more solid. When enough flour has been added, the mixture will look like soft, squishy lumps. This is approximately 1:1 butter and flour, and it’s called a roux. It’s the basis for a number of sauces, used as the thickening agent. Right now, it tastes godawful, because the flour isn’t cooked. Solve that problem by frying it in the saucepan over a low heat for about 5 minutes. Otherwise it would ruin the sauce.

    With the roux ready, making the béchamel (white sauce, for the uninitiated) is simply a matter of slowly adding the milk and stirring it in. At first, just add a splash. When that’s mixed, add a little more, gradually increasing the amount as you go. You don’t have to use all the milk, stop when it has the consistency of thick cream. Magically transform this béchamel sauce into a Mornay sauce by grating in some cheese and stirring until it melts. Man, the French really do have a name for everything… Sure beats “cheesy white sauce”. (I used white cheddar, cause I had it, but you can use pretty much anything)

    So now you’ve got your filling ready, it’s time to make the pie. Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Although we could probably grease the pie dish with your repulsive, oily hands, do it with butter instead. Generously dust your countertop and rolling pin with flour. Remove the pastry from the fridge and unwrap it, then get rolling. Move or flip the pastry regularly to prevent it sticking to the table, and keep dusting with more flour. When it’s big enough, lift up the flattened pastry and drape it into your dish. If you want it to look neat, you can trim off the edges. But I won’t judge you if you don’t.

     Add your fried leek and mushrooms to the sauce. Shred up the smoked salmon and add that in too, mixing everything together. Pour all of this onto the pastry, filling the pie dish. Beat an egg and brush the pastry edges with it. This will make it turn a super sexy golden colour as it cooks. Pop it in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, and you’re finished!

Easy as, well, pie. Bit of a tautology, that…

(For a quick snack while you wait, throw the leftover beaten egg into the pan you fried the vegetables in. Bish bash bosh, tasty little pre-dinner omelette!

Full disclosure, the first time I made this, I didn’t realise the pastry needed water. When I tried to roll it out, it crumbled to pieces like so many broken dreams. Undeterred, I just mushed the lumps into the pie dish and fired ahead. Still tasted delish! Moral of the story… it’s food. Don’t take it too seriously)


  1. Heeeelloo again! I made this scrumptious pie on tuesday for dinner (I made the pie dough ahead and left it in the fridge overnight which was perfect).

    I'll go full disclosure as well, so forgive me, I don't know exactly WHY but as I was assembling the pie I suddenly doubted this recipe - I panicked and added an egg to the cheesy white sauce (technical term) because I was suddenly worried it wouldn't "set" or something. Well, it turned out deeelicious (of course) and I'm sure it would've even without my second guessing (please forgive me!!) So please, I will never doubt you again! The edges of the crust were crunchy and yummy! - a definitive highlight! The bottom was a little soft, but tasted good and it wasn't really an issue.

    So thank you for this recipe as well! Will make again ^^

  2. Hey you! Adding an egg is an inspired idea, especially if you like your pie filling to be more firm. I actually did basically the same thing for a sort of fancy mac 'n' cheese the other day, just added an egg to the sauce right before serving with the pasta. It's a great way to make any creamy sauce richer.

    To solve the issue of the soft bottom (teehee), you can blind bake the pie crust for about 5-10 minutes before adding the filling. Or even just pre-heating your pie dish would make a difference! Personally, I quite like the texture difference between the edges and the underneath (as long as it's still cooked), so I didn't bother for this recipe.