The combination of pie, mash and liquor is a London institution, and yet I had somehow managed to avoid it until only a month ago. Now I find myself obsessed.
To explain, I must relate The Tale of Three Cook(e)s.
Cook #1: F. Cooke
This is where it all began for me, and to give credit where it is due, this is where it should all begin for any aspiring pie, mash and liquor connoisseur. F. Cooke is a legend.
Cooke has been serving pie, mash and liquor (not to mention jellied eels) since 1862. Given their 150+ year history, there can be nothing that F. Cooke doesn’t know about pie, mash and liquor.
The branch I visited was at 150 Hoxton Street, Shoreditch.
I took my place, queueing at the counter. The choice was straightforward:
“Large or small, love.”
A first-timer, I was understandably nervous, I opted for small.
Plate, pie, mash, so far so ordinary. The liquor was a green sauce, ladled out in very generous quantity, which oozed into every crevice of the pastry and potato. I paid my money; I took my seat.
I was clearly a novice in a roomful of regulars. Was it my imagination, or was there a collective sharp intake of breath from the room as I took my first mouthful? I had already decided that love it or hate it, I was going to clear my plate down to the very last scrapings. There was sawdust on the floor. I have always associated sawdust with blood. I had no intention that the blood on the sawdust was going to be mine (nb. I’ve learned that the sawdust is a traditional method of stopping the floors becoming slippery from eel bones). There was vinegar on the table. Was I meant to add that too? In for a penny, in for a pound.
In actual fact, I had nothing to fear. I loved it! The pie; the mash; the liquor. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the taste of the liquor. I thought it might be watercress. I later learned it was parsley.
I left the East End, wiser and fuller.
Rating: 10 out of 10 for authenticity.
Cook #2: Cooks
It was a couple of weeks later, and still occasionally reflecting on my visit to F. Cooke, when in Sainsbury’s, I spotted another pie bearing the name Cooks.
This one was in the freezer section: Cooks Pie and Mash, with herb liquor. The box stated that the company behind the pies had been a family business since 1946. Not as long as F. Cooke, but 70+ years of pie-making is not to be sneezed at.
I bought a frozen pie.
Back home, and it couldn’t have been simpler to cook. Take it out of its packaging, pierce the cellophane wrapping, bung it in the oven. In less than three quarters of an hour, it was steaming hot on my plate.
And what was it like? Well, it was not quite so scary as the traditional pie and mash, nor was it quite so big, but it was perfectly tasty and, for a modestly-priced ready-meal, it made a decent supper. I won’t perhaps remember it as fondly as my trip to the East End, but would I buy it again? Quite likely.
Rating: 10 out of 10 for convenience.
Cook #3: Home Cook
I was on a roll now. I’d eaten the real deal; I’d eaten the boxed reproduction; all that was left was to see if I could produce a passable imitation of the same meal from scratch myself.
Now, I am no expert cook. More than that, when it comes to pastry, I am a positively lousy cook. So, pie, mash and liquor presented a sizeable challenge.
My first mistake was leaving my pastry for too long in the fridge: about five hours too long. When I came to roll it out, it was rock hard and as unmoveable as a tired dog. Nevertheless, I was not going to be deterred at the first hurdle. Several minutes of sustained pressure with my rolling pin and plenty of elbow grease later, and I had a reasonably flat pastry base.
Now, for my pie filling, I confess, I went a bit off-piste. Principally, because one of my supper companions is a vegetarian. So, instead of using finest Scottish beef for my pie filling, I used Quorn instead.
The mash presented no problem, but the liquor? Where to start? In the end, I kept it simple: I mixed a knob of butter with some cornflour into a paste, added a small clove of mashed-up garlic; then I poured in some chicken stock (cube, not the real thing) and then plenty of finely chopped parsley. It was with some relief, that I saw the sauce adopt a fairly spectacular green colour. Stir, stir, stir, and the meal was ready.
The verdict: Even if I do say so myself, it was pretty damn good. It was not like the traditional pie and mash; it was not even like the frozen ready-meal pie and mash, but it went down a storm.
Rating: 10 out of 10 for achievement.
© The Mudskipper