Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Tunafish Pie

Fish is a sorely underused thing in the kitchen these days. However, it's very easy to get it wrong, and i've heard from more than one person about their bad experiences with it. Yes, it doesn't always appeal to everyone, but even those people that rarely like fish, will usually eat tuna, either in a pasta salad, or with mayonnaise in a sandwich. It is for precisely this reason that to try and ease people into eating more fish, the concept of the tunafish pie was created. It's simple to do, can be made quickly, with little to no lead time, and with only a simple set of ingredients. It can be refrigerated as well, for upto 2 days, making it the perfect student food! :D

You will need the following ingredients:

One Can of Tuna in Brine (Oil can be used, but tends to produce a greasy end-product)
115 grams (4oz) of Plain White Flour (for the pastry)
28 grams (1oz) of Plain White Flour (for the sauce)
58 grams (2oz) of Salted Butter (for the pastry)
58 grams (2oz) of Salted Butter (for the sauce)
1 cup of Semi-Skimmed Milk
58 grams (2oz) of Cheddar Cheese or other similarly hard cheese (your choice)
Pinch of Salt

Utensils needed:

One Pie Dish (8" diameter)
Small Saucepan
Chopping Board
Rolling Pin

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4 (350° Fahrenheit / 180° Celsius). First, you need to create a simple shortcrust pastry dough. This needs to be done before anything else, as once made, it needs to cool in a fridge before you roll it out. A simple rule of thumb is half fat to flour, with just enough water to bind. Too much water will cause the dough to be too thick, and end up heavy and thick, instead of thin and crisp.

Take your measured flour and butter for the pastry, and add to a food processor with the pinch of salt. Yes, you *can* do it in a bowl by hand but honestly, you should get a food processor to just make life easier in the kitchen! Blend it until you get to the crumb stage.

Once at this stage, turn the food processor back on, and while it's moving, *slowly* trickle cold water into the mix. You may need to stop the processor to make sure no flour gets left behind, but you only want *just* enough water to turn it into a dough ball. You should end up with something like this:

It's not a complete, contiguous dough ball, but you can roll this into one by hand. Empty the contents of the mixer into a bowl (i used the one on the scales), and roll into a single ball. 

Place in the fridge. Next, you want to flour the chopping board, so just take a loose few pinches of flour and sprinkle over the board and the rolling pin.

Next, you want to create the pie filling. Take your butter and flour for the sauce, and add to the saucepan.

Melt the butter and flour together until you have a paste. If it looks too thin, add a little more flour, teaspoon at a time (roux's aren't an exact science!). 

Once at the paste stage, you want to add milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly, until all the milk has been added. You should end up with a smooth, creamy sauce base, that looks something like this:

Now, this is a simple, basic sauce base, you can use this technique to make any kind of white, or cheese sauce, for any recipe at all. For our purposes of course, we're going to turn this into a cheese sauce, so add the grated cheese at this stage, and stir through until it's melted. The sauce will thicken at this stage. If you were to leave it as a cheese sauce you could thin it out with a little more milk if you preferred, but we want this to be thick, as we're going for a pie filling, after all! Open the tuna, drain off the brine (or oil, if you're using that), and add to the sauce. Stir well over the heat, but after about a minute, take it off the heat altogether, the filling is done. 

By this point, the pastry has been chilling nicely in the fridge. Not too much to turn it into a rock, but enough to make it roll nicely. Warm pastry tends not to bind very well, and gets stuck to the rolling pin. Take the dough ball, place it on the floured board, and begin rolling it flat. You want it about about 2mm thick all round. Too thin, and it'll lose it's form, too thick and you'll end up with doughy, chewy pastry.

Once rolled out, you should be encompassing almost the entire surface of the board. Take your pie tin, and grease it with a little butter on some kitchen paper, or some oil, and then sprinkle some flour into the tin, and move round the loose flour until the bottom & sides are covered as best as you can. Now comes the tricky part. You need to lift the pastry up, and hold it sort of 'draped' with one hand, as you move the tin over to the board, before lowering the pastry back down into the tin. Make sure the pastry fills all the space in the tin, poked into the corners properly. don't worry about any overlaps around the edges, it's fine - same goes for any spare pastry overhanging the side.

At this point, you can choose to add the filling OR you can do what i prefer to do with pastry cases, and blind bake it. By this, i mean you cook the pastry until the shell is hard, but not cooked all the way through. This stops the pastry from becoming too 'damp & soggy' on the bottom. It's not a dark art, like some make it out to be, it's actually pretty simple.

Trim the excess pastry from the sides with a knife, but try and leave a little overhang if you can, as when cooked, the pastry will contract slightly. Prick the base with a fork repeatedly, but prick only, don't stab it all the way through. This has the effect of preventing any air bubbles from forming. 

Take a sheet of greaseproof or wax paper cut to size, and place it in the bottom - if using wax paper, put the PAPER side down, rather than the wax side. I didn't have either, so i used the butter paper from earlier. Then, you want to use cooking beads, or dried beans/peas to weight the paper down. Again, i had to improvise here, and used Ford Zetec valve adjustment shims...they were sufficiently heavy and covered enough area :)

Put this into the oven for around 10 minutes, until the pastry has hardened. As mentioned, the pastry will have contracted. 

Finally, all you have to do now, is take the filling from the saucepan, and decant it into the case, three quarters of the way up the sides at most (you don't want to overfill it). Any excess filling can be used with the leftover pastry, make yourself a little snack parcel after you've finished cooking the pie :)

Finally, bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes. When you take it out, leave the pie to settle and cool for around 10 minutes before serving. 

Some boiled potato's, or just a salad, is a good accompaniment - enjoy!

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