‘Your pasty can be whatever you want it to be’. They’re the inspirational words ringing in my ear as I cack-handedly try to crimp my Cornish pasty perfectly.
No, I haven’t turned into Delia Smith on my days off, but I did decide on our latest trip to Cornwall that perhaps it would as much fun trying to make some food as just eating it. I’d heard about the Philleigh Way Cookery School on previous trips and since we were staying just 10 minutes from it in the Roseland Peninsula, thought it was high time we visited.
Our trip didn’t coincide with any of their planned classes (which you can find here) but owner Rupert kindly agreed to put on a class for us and our friends, even allowing our pooches to wait outside while we got all gourmet inside the kitchen.
We started with a bit of history – the fact that Cornish pasties were originally miners’ food, designed to be packed with everything you need for a meal in an easy handheld format. According to the Cornish Pasty Association, at least 120 million pasties are sold each year, so it’s clearly not had its day as a popular meal.
Rupert also reminds us that the idea of encasing meat and veg in some kind of pastry or casing isn’t unique to Cornish pasties, with all sort of equivalents or variations across the world from empanadas to gyozas. It makes sense – everything in one place, easy to eat, hearty and filling. No wonder we love ’em.
So how to make them? I’ll give you a little synopsis but if you can’t be bothered to read it, skim to the bottom of this post and I’ve made you a little video showing you all the steps of our lesson. Don’t say I never do anything for you, hey?
We start with pastry – not my strong point at all despite many attempts. The key is lard, Rupert tells us, both for the taste and the texture. His ratios are half fat to flour, and his handy tip is to remember that with any kind of cooking you can always add more, but you can’t take away. Wise words I reckon (especially to the girl who once over-zealously put so much peanut butter into a satay sauce that it turned into congealed peanut concrete and had to be thrown away).
Once we’ve rubbed the fat and flour into breadcrumbs and added water to form it into the pastry dough, it is rolled into a ball and put in the fridge to chill it while we prepare our veg.
We start with potatoes (pick ones that hold their shape), onion and swede (which the Cornish actually call turnip apparently). The onion is finely shopped and the rest of the veg is ‘chipped’ rather than diced. This way the randomly-shaped pieces are easier to stack up and pack, with the gravy from the meat able to permeate through the gaps.
That’s his reason for voting for chipping. For me, whose knife skills are worse than Theresa May’s dancing, it’s great because I don’t find myself judged for a lack of precision or sizing in my chunks of veg,
For the meat, we use skirt or chuck steak – something with a good fat content – and slice it into strips that can be piled high on top of the veg. Then it’s a case of rolling out our pastry and cutting it into circles.
The veg is carefully stacked in a thick line from 9 to 3 on a clock face, with various sized of potato and swede piled up on each other before the onion then finally the meat laid on top. As I watch Mr M season each layer with generous amounts of salt and pepper I’m convinced he’s gone overboard but it turns out he’ll have the last laugh with that one.
I season as I finish instead, putting what I think is a generous amount on top of my pile of meat and veg. The takeaway lesson from this? It’s really hard to over-season a Cornish pasty and however much salt and pepper you think you’ve whacked in it, it probably isn’t quite enough. Again, Rupert’s voice is there, reminding that your pasty can be whatever you want it to be – peppery and full of heat, milder, and as big or small as you like.
Now for the tough bit. Rupert does that annoying thing of making something rather daunting look as easy as pie then somehow we all have to copy. Put basically, you egg wash the edge, flip over the top so you’re folding it like a calzone, then go about crimping the edge for that trademark pasty look.
There’s definitely an art to it. And the way you do it dictates whether you produce a ‘cock’ pasty (made by a left-hander) or a ‘hen’ pasty (produced by someone who’s right-handed). I’d love to tell you which one I did but I still have no idea. I’m not sure my crimp even worked as it was meant to, but it kept the thing together, looked pretty and hey, ‘your pasty can be whatever you want it to be’, right?
Egg wash on top, steam hole in the back, and into the oven they go for a good hour – enough time to cook the veg and the steak, make sure plenty of gravy oozes through it, and turns the pastry golden brown.
Since we’re in a cookery school, the obvious way to kill the time is to watch Rupert whip up some scones that are possibly the nicest scones I’ve tried in my life. We’ve since tried to recreate them at home, to no avail, but won’t give up until we can produce the dreaminess we tasted that day while the smell of fresh Cornish pasties made us watch the clock like a bunch of millennials waiting for Glastonbury tickets to go on sale.
They come out in a moment of glory. Any pastry faux pas is forgotten, the chipping seems a distant memory and the crimps look good no matter what. They’re glorious golden half moons that seem so much more appealing when made by your own fair hand.
We’re eager to dive straight but are forced to wait by the fact they’re as hot as Hades, but fairly soon are carrying out our own taste test. As predicted Jamie’s are far better than mine, thanks mainly to the generous seasoning. Despite that, all of our creations are great and I’m left rather proud that we’ve made such masterpieces.
We leave Philleigh Way with enough pasties to keep us going for several days, plus some leftover veg that it turns out is the perfect base for a sauce to go with some fresh fish we’ve bought. A morning’s entertainment, a load of food, and some new cooking knowledge to take away with us.
If you’re down in the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall and fancy doing something a bit different, I can thoroughly recommend a trip to Philleigh Way. Rupert is a great host – not just a skilled chef but someone who can teach it too and really bring to life the joy of food, making it fun as well as producing great-tasting dishes. And for me that’s what it’s all about.
DISCLOSURE: We paid for our course at the Philleigh Way Cookery School.