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Little Hallingbury chef Alistair Dibbs shares his recipe for a scotch egg pithivier



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This week I thought I would make a slight deviation from my usual format which would normally feature a homegrown vegetable as the main element of a dish.

This week I want you to attempt something a little more ambitious, featuring an egg – yes an egg – in pastry whilst also showcasing one of my favorite vegetables, the savoy cabbage.

Drum roll please… I give you the scotch egg pithivier! This is a dish that, with a bit of practise, could be a real showstopper and would make a fantastic Boxing Day main course.

Scotch egg pithivier (42985915)
Scotch egg pithivier (42985915)

First, a bit of history. Scotch eggs originated in Whitby, North Yorkshire in the late 1800s and, rather than the ubiquitous sausage meat, they were covered by a fish paste and then coated in breadcrumbs. The sausage meat replaced the fish paste much later when commercial packaging became an important factor.

The pithivier part of this dish describes its domed shape. The pithivier in its original form consisted of sweet almond paste covered in puff pastry and then baked until golden brown and came from the town of Pithiviers just south of Paris. There are many variations on the pithivier nowadays, but the best are objects of beauty with intricate decoration and delicate knife work.

The vegetable element of this week's dish comes from the savoy cabbage. This is one of my very favourite vegetables and is so underutilised.

Forget the childhood memories of cabbage boiled for hour upon hour until it turned a light grey, I cook savoy by quickly blanching it in salted water for around three minutes then finishing it in a touch of butter.

It can be seared, steamed or stir fried, but the vital point to remember is to only cook savoy cabbage briefly. It is also ideal for wrapping around slow-braised meats like pulled pork or braised beef shin or oxtail.

Here is my step-by-step guide for growing winter savoy cabbage:

Plant cabbage seeds into small trays at the end of April or the start of May and leave on a warm windowsill.

After four to six weeks the cabbages should have six true leaves, so place them outside for a few days to harden off. If the weather is warm, this will not be needed.

Plant them in their final growing position at least 30cm apart. The compost should be finely raked and not at all lumpy. Fill the hole intended for the cabbages with plenty of water just before planting as this will get them off to a good start. As the cabbage heads grow, increase the amount and frequency of watering.

They can be harvested between late October and March by cutting through the stalk just above ground level. They keep really well in the fridge.

Alistair's recipe for scotch egg pithivier

If you can, use Burford Brown eggs as the yolks are almost orange. They give the pastry a lovely golden colour as well as providing that lovely golden yolk when the pithiviers are finally cut open.

The pies are cooked in a very hot oven at 200C so that the sausage meat and pastry cooks through but the egg yolks themselves in the centre of the pie remain soft.

(Serves 4)

EQUIPMENT

Blender

Lattice roller (these can be bought on Amazon for under £10)

INGREDIENTS

For the shortcrust pastry

250g cold butter, diced

500g plain flour

2 eggs

1 egg yolk (plus 2 additional egg yolks mixed with a few drops of water for glazing)

4 tbsp cold water

10g salt

For the filling

4 large leaves of savoy cabbage

400g top-quality sausage meat

60g wholegrain mustard

½ tsp mixed spice

4 Burford Brown eggs at room temperature

METHOD

Place the butter, flour and salt in a blender. Briefly blitz it until it resembles breadcrumbs and then add the cold water, eggs and yolks and blitz again for a couple of seconds.

Once it has formed a dough, remove it from the blender and briefly knead it on your work surface. It should be very slightly wet as it will dry out a little in the fridge.

Wrap the pastry in cling film and rest it in the fridge for an hour.

Next, place the eggs in a small pan of cold water and bring them to the boil. Cook them on a rolling boil for exactly five minutes. Cool them down by running cold water into the pan and adding ice to it.

When the eggs are cold, peel them. Check they are soft by squeezing them, indicating that the yolks are soft inside, and place them in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up. It's even okay if they slightly freeze around the edge as it will make it easier to cover them with sausage meat.

Boil the cabbage leaves for 30 seconds in salted water and then refresh them in cold water before draining the leaves on a tea towel. Remove the thick cabbage stalks at the centre of the leaves by cutting them out with a knife.

Next, mix the sausage meat with the mustard and seasoning and divide it into four equal pieces. On a chopping board, flatten one of the sausage meat portions so it is about half a centimetre thick and carefully mould it around the egg, ensuring that there are no holes.

Cut a 15cm square of cling film and place the cabbage leaf on top of it. Repeat this for the remaining three eggs.

Place the egg and sausage meat ball on the cabbage leaf and, using the cling film, wrap the cabbage leaf around it tightly. Tie a knot in the cling film to keep it tight and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.

Scotch egg pithivier (42985912)
Scotch egg pithivier (42985912)

Now roll out the pastry so it is about 3mm thick and cut out eight equal-sized disks each 12cm in diameter. Keep the pastry trimmings by forming them into a ball and covering them with cling film and placing them in the fridge as you will need them for the lattice.

Place four of the disks on a baking tray and place a scotch egg ball (with the cling film removed) in the centre of each one. Brush the remaining egg yolk around the perimeter of the base pastry disk under the filling and take the other disk and place it over the filling, pressing it onto the bottom disk very firmly. Brush it all over lightly with the egg and place the pie in the freezer for 10 minutes. Repeat this process to form the remaining three pithiviers.

Next, roll out the pastry trimmings until they are about 2mm thick. Dust it with flour and roll over it with the lattice cutter. Gently tease the lattice out with your fingers to give the full lattice effect and divide it into four.

Remove the pithiviers from the freezer, brush the top layer with more egg and very carefully lay the lattice over the top of the pastry. Brush it with a little more egg and, using a skewer, make a series of holes in the pastry layer underneath the lattice.

Repeat this process with the remaining three pithiviers before placing them back in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up.

Preheat the oven to 200C and cook the pies for around 18 minutes until golden brown and check that the base is cooked through too.

Serve immediately. I love to serve them with a pickled red cabbage.



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