Pie & Mash shops are traditional eateries for the working class in large cities, especially London, and near industrial areas. They came into being when street vendors of eel stew and pies started to open shops in the middle of the 19th century, the so-called Eel and Pie Houses. Today these Pie & Mash shops are still the places where you can eat a hot dish for less than four pounds, such as hot eels, jellied eels or a pie with mashed potatoes and liquor – a hot parsley sauce. These eateries are important for nearly all layers of the London community: old people carry piles of pie and mash out in their trolley for a whole week and taxi and truck drivers park in front to get a quick pie before their next shift. Young mothers with children gather on the benches, students and even men in tailored suits all know how to appreciate a meal in the Pie & Mash shop. Just like the traditional Belgian and Dutch cafe, this is the only place in London where young and old, poor and prosperous meet, and maybe even share a table if it’s busy.
Two Pie & Mash shops are protected because of their valuable interior, but shops are closing everywhere because of an increase in rent that affects not only these small businesses, but also the working people who have to move further and further outside London in order to be able to afford housing. But it also seems that the middle-class Londoner would rather go to a new hip spot than hold on to an old-fashioned institution.
A pie from a Pie & Mash shop should traditionally consist of two different types of dough: the top of the pie is made from suet pastry, and the bottom from hot water crust or shortcrust pastry, or a combination of one of those pastries mixed with the surplus of the suet pastry from the top. The filling consists of what used to be the cheapest minced meat – mutton or lamb. Nowadays it is usually beef for the traditional version, but some shops also have pies with chicken, fruit and even a vegetarian version.
I can’t do a trip to London without visiting a Pie & Mash shop. My favourite one is M. Manze on Tower Bridge Road in London, which was established in 1902. With a large spoon, the ladies of the shop spread mashed potatoes on one side of your plate. The pot with mash is so large that you could hide a small child in it, and it is constantly steaming. The pie is placed next to the mash and the ladies always insist you have liquor, ‘because it’s too dry otherwise, love’. Who am I to say differently? It is pleasantly busy and although this is not a culinary highlight, I love it and can’t resist looking at people from behind my pie and mash with jellied eels on the side and a cup of builder’s tea. It’s as if time has stood still. Nowhere else can you see the real London like in a Pie & Mash shop.
Make the shortcrust pastry by combining the flour, salt, butter and lard in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse for 8 seconds or until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the water and pulse again until the dough forms a ball in the bowl. Remove from the bowl and knead briefly. Wrap the pastry in plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Make the suet pastry by rubbing the flour, baking powder, salt, butter and shredded suet together with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the water and knead until the dough comes together. Wrap the pastry in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator while you make the filling.
Make the filling by frying the onion until it has caramelised. Add the meat and brown, then add the tomato paste and briefly fry it with the meat. Deglaze with the broth, season with salt and pepper and add the brown sugar for colour. Briefly simmer, stirring, but don’t let the moisture evaporate. Let the mixture cool in the pan while still very wet.
Roll out the shortcrust pastry on a floured work surface until 3 mm (⅛ inch) thick. Roughly cut the pastry into six pieces. Gently lift each piece of pastry over a pie pan and let it sink into the base. Let the excess dough hang over the edges to help attach the pastry lid. Use a piece of excess dough to press the edges into the tins. Brush the pastry bases with the egg wash, then spoon in the filling, using about 100 g (3½ oz) of the filling for each pie.
Roll out the suet pastry to the same thickness as the shortcrust pastry, and also cut it into six pieces. Place a piece of pastry on top of each pie and use a sharp knife to cut the excess pastry from the base and top. Squeeze the edges together so that the pies do not open during baking. You can embellish the pies with left-over pastry, but traditionally these pies are left plain.
Brush the top of each pie with the egg wash.
You can freeze the pies before baking and then simply bake them from frozen.
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