podcast I regularly listen to were discussing a hilarious, Mary Shelley-style mock of stargazy pie involving frankfurters and blueberries, and while I could picture exactly where they were headed I'd never before heard of, let alone eaten, stargazy pie. Time to remedy that...Like most bakes it started in a fairly roundabout way. Some chaps on a
Stargazy pie is a traditional Cornish dish that originated from the port of Mousehole, a small fishing village on the shores of Mount's Bay. Legend has it that back in the 16th century during a particularly stormy winter and with the village on the verge of starvation, fisherman Tom Bawcock braved the treacherous seas and, against all odds, returned with a catch sufficient to feed the entire village. Grateful and (presumably immensely) relieved, the townsfolk threw everything into one enormous pie, which was baked with the heads protruding (hence the "star gazing") to prove that there were indeed fish inside. Ever since, each December the villagers of Mousehole gather together to celebrate Tom Bawcock's Eve, parading and then feasting upon a huge stargazy pie in his honour.
Many variations of the recipe exist which, at it's heart, includes whole sardines/pilchards, egg, bacon, sometimes potatoes, and a white, milk-based sauce all melded together under a crispy shortcrust lid. The positioning of the fish is said to improve the pie's flavour as it allows oils released during cooking to drain back into the filling, although I suspect the main purpose is one of dramatic effect (and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that).
STARGAZY PIE (Adapted from Saveur)
For the crust:
- 300 g plain flour
- 100 g butter, cold & diced
- 1 egg
For the filling:
- 6-8 slices smoked streaky bacon, diced
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 120 ml chicken stock
- 80 g crème fraîche
- 1 Tbsp mild English mustard
- 2 Tbsp parsley, finely chopped
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1 egg, beaten
- 8 fresh sardines, gutted and cleaned, heads attached
- 3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
To make the pastry, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre of your mixture, add the beaten egg and use a knife to bring everything together until it just forms a dough (you may need to add a little chilled water if the mixture is too crumbly). Press into a disc, wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before using.
For the filling, fry the bacon for 5-7 minutes, until slightly crisp. Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon and use the reserved bacon fat to cook the onion until golden. Take the pan from the heat and whisk in the stock, crème fraîche, mustard, lemon juice, parsley and egg. Season with salt and freshly-ground white pepper and set aside.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and grease a 23-cm pie dish. Roll two-thirds of the pastry until 3-mm thick and use it to line the pie dish. Arrange the sardines in a clock-like pattern and then pour over the filling. Top with the reserved bacon and hard-boiled eggs. Roll the remaining pastry into a circle 3-mm thick and cut eight slits ~3-cm from the edge. Place the pastry on top of the pie and pull the heads of the sardines through the slits. Crimp the edges, brush with egg-wash and cut 2-3 vents in the centre, to allow steam to escape. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes, until the pastry is golden and filling bubbling. Serve alongside a big bowl of streamed greens.