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Saturday 16 April 2011

Sainsbury's Classic Chicken & Gravy Shortcrust Pastry Pie

This little fellow is, at once, further proof that the flavour of Higgidy's seeded shortcrust pastry has forever spoiled for me any other kind of pastry, and that the pastry ain't everything.

Aside from a small green flash bearing the legend 'Improved recipe', Sainsbury's have precious little to say for their own product here. All they say by way of description is "made with succulent British chicken", but everyone knows that chicken is a really bland meat, and it's the gravy that'll have all the flavour, right?

Well, let's just see about that.

Yes, the pastry is very plain... but it's buttery, not too dry, and not excessively thick. What really sets this pie apart from the usual own-brand basic product is that the pastry pie case is actually full. Normally, there will be a not insignificant gap between the top of the filling and the top of the pie, but Sainsburys win their first emphatic tick in the 'plus' column by filling to the brim.

Then, while one might argue that the ratio of chicken to gravy seems to indicate a chicken deficiency in the pie, I was quite honestly stunned by the quality of the meat. I used to steer clear of pies because I always managed to pick the one with the bone fragments or gristle or enormous great lumps of fat, but this one is boosting my confidence in the whole concept that is 'meat pie'. The chunks are fairly small, and literally drowning in gravy (they reckon it's '47% British Chicken'... but I'd like to know how they reach that figure), but the chicken is every bit as succulent as the blurb suggests and - here's the big surprise - actually seems to have a flavour of its own, beyond the gravy.

And the gravy? Well, many a time, I've added pepper to a pie filling because the gravy is quite bland... but this one has a strong enough flavour in its own right, and a quick glance at the ingredients sheds some light on this phenomenon: they've really gone to town on the gravy. Not only does it use 'roast chicken stock' (which, in and of itself has a decent enough list of ingredients) but it's supplemented with additional onion, tomato purée and several herbs. This is a gravy with bite. Subtle, but it's there... a very distinct tang to every mouthful.

I wasn't expecting much from this pie - I picked it up because I was curious and it was cheap, then left it in my fridge till its Best Before date - so it was good to be so pleasantly surprised. Since they can be frozen, there's a good chance I'll stock up on these. They take 25 minutes to cook from the fridge, or 45 minutes from the freezer, and they're small enough that they do need some accompaniment (I went with mixed veg, but the gravy is plentiful enough that one might enjoy dipping in with chips or roast potatoes), but they're good for a snack lunch or as the centerpiece of a more elaborate dinner.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Inna Bun: Waitrose Sweet Cured Smoked Back Bacon with Black Treacle

Mmmm. Bacon.

I'm not sure what's happened to treacle recently, but the photo on the pack looks more like dark maple syrup than the opaque, glossy black ooze that was treacle in my youth... And, actually, that seems to hold true for whatever it was they used on this bacon. I picked it up recently on a whim, rather than just stocking up on 'plain old' bacon, because it sounded weird but potentially very tasty.

Waitrose describe it as "hand cured, coverd in black treacle (really, Waitrose? Really?) and beech smoked for a wonderfully sweet, smoky flavour. Prime British pork from outdoor bred pigs", but I have to admit there wasn't a great deal of smokiness or treacly flavour in evidence once it had been under the grill for a while. By the look of the pan afterward, most of the treacle was secreted out along with some of the fat as it cooked. Still, the end result is undeniably tasty. It's nowhere near as salty as some kinds of bacon, and I suppose there was a slight sweet tang to it.

I'm struggling to think how this could be served, except by itself. Just about any kind of sauce or accompaniment would drown out the bacon's own flavour. Serving it as part of an English Breakfast would probably be a huge mistake (that said, scrambled eggs alone might just make a decent partner on the plate), and it's almost certainly not a form of bacon you could wrap around a chicken breast.

Then again... That actually might be worth a try.

In any event, I just grilled all six rashers in one hit, and split the result between two buns because it had been sitting in my fridge for a good few weeks, and had just hit is Best Before date. Quality-wise, it's pretty excellent, and it has a good, distinctive and smooth flavour. As a quick, lunchtime bun-filler, this worked our very nicely.

I'll probably only buy something this extravagant again once I've figured out what I can do with it other than slap it into a bun, but that's something to look forward to.