By Irina Nakon and Craig Wright
Having heard back in March that Stirling’s own Hugh Black & Sons butcher’s shop on Port Street won the 2018 diamond Scottish Craft Butchers award for their chicken and smoked ham pie, we felt it was imperative to produce our own taste-test judgement of the finest that Hugh Black & Sons has to offer.
The ‘we’ refers to our intrepid, eclectic duo of yours truly and Brig sports editor Craig Wright, who has agreed to be my local guide in the cultural aspects of pies, their tradition, significance and their (apparent) importance in the Scottish sports scene.
Having tried several generic pub pies during my time in Scotland, I have to say I was quite tentative and apprehensive about what an award-winning pie would taste like, and my expectations were quite low. Craig, on the other hand, is an aficionado, nay – a connoisseur, so naturally his expectations were significantly higher as we made our way to the butcher shop on the sunniest of May days.
We made our selections – Craig choosing a Scotch pie and Scotch egg, and me opting for the aforementioned chicken and ham pie, and a mini pork pie – and made our way to a quiet bench next to the fountain for our impromptu picnic.
Read on to see how the items fared as we outline our individual opinions in this collaborative review.
Pies. They’re a pretty integral part of Scottish culture. Up there with tablet, shortbread and Irn Bru in the hall of fame of our culinary delights – feel free to suggest your own additions to this esteemed supergroup – the humble pie is a staple of not only the gastronomic world, but an integral part of the Scottish sporting world too.
There’s a special place in the hearts of Scotland’s hardy sporting supporters when, on a night in deepest darkest December where the thermometer is playing with the point of freezing like it’s a skipping rope, that first bite into the warm pastry sends hot grease running down your arm and fills your mouth with that distinctive peppery goodness of the – probably unidentifiable – filling.
It might not sound particularly appealing, but it’s one of the most satisfying feelings in the worlds of both sport and food. In my honest and unbiased opinion, of course.
As someone who’s been to their fair share of sporting occasions, I’m relatively well-versed in pies. I’ve had some outstanding pies – I’ll name check both Kilmarnock FC’s Rugby Park and Scotstoun, the home of the Glasgow Warriors here – and some of a distinctively average vintage. When the top of your pie comes off in one fell swoop, though, you deserve all the criticism coming your way…
Thankfully, no such fate befell me when I took my first bite into Hugh Black & Sons’ pie. In fact, I’ve got nothing but positive notes to relay on that front. The pastry was the perfect consistency – hard enough to hold its structure with ease, yet soft enough to eat without having to fight too much – whilst the filling more than hit the spot. I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of filling too – always a positive in my book.
The only improvement I’d make is, in fact, a fairly straightforward one. With nowhere to heat the pie, I was, for the first time, left to consume a cold Scotch pie. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just not quite the same. It does, however, give me a reason to go back again…
Whilst purchasing my pie, my attention was also grabbed by a pretty robust-looking Scotch egg. Described by the smiling attendant behind the counter as “like a hand grenade” – purely in size, he hastened to add, not in terms of its explosive capabilities – I felt it only right to try one of the newest products in the butcher’s cabinet.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to the standard of the pie. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it – on the contrary, it was a pretty decent Scotch egg, and was a very valuable part of my lunch. There was just a tad too much in the way of sausage meat. By the time you got through to the eponymous egg, your jaws were looking for a bit of a rest. The egg itself was perfectly cooked, though, so all’s well that ends well.
Chicken and Smoked Ham Pie
After a wee crash course in all things pie provided by Craig, I knew a bit more about what elements make a good pie. And following both technicalities and flavour, this chicken and smoked ham savoury was, no doubt, a very good pie. Shaped as a perfect parcel, its puff pastry shell did not give way after the first bite, and was the perfect thickness to complement its contents.
The filling was a welcome burst of colour and flavour – having tried multiple pies where the ingredients of the filling were greyish and bleak both to the eye and to the palate, it was refreshing to see the bright red of the ham and the golden tint of the chicken, both of which were also clearly very fresh and perfectly seasoned. The filling was put together in a delicious sauce, without a trace of mayonnaise I’m happy to add. The sauce was a creamy béchamel-type, light and with a tinge of garlic and cheese, and brought all the flavours of the filling together very well.
I agree with Craig, though, that the only thing that these pies need is to be hot. Admittedly, on a gorgeous summer day like this one, you could be chewing on a rubber boot and you’d still have a great time, but a pie of this calibre deserves to be eaten only fresh out of the oven, maybe with a side of mash and a cider.
Nonetheless, I personally believe that the chicken and ham earned its award, and we both agreed that if we’re this happy with our pies even when they’re cold, then they must be excellent – but eating them hot would probably have doubled the effect.
Mini Pork Pie
In retrospect, I should have eaten this one first, because I think anything I would have tried after the chicken and ham would have been a let-down. In its own way, this cute little guy was great – it had a different type of crust, which I preferred to the puff pastry of the other pie, and a pork patty which was fresh and well-seasoned.
The patty was cooked perfectly and had some fragrant herby and spicy flavours, too. The only thing I didn’t particularly enjoy was that there was too much filling for such a thin crust, but that’s a personal preference. Overall, another great savoury pie, but it stands nowhere near the flavours and texture of the chicken and ham one.
So, the verdict? We were very satisfied with our choices, minus the fact that pies in general, and these ones in particular, should not be consumed cold al fresco. I can definitely imagine how appetising these pies will be, while piping hot, on a bleak day in the winter months, or during a rainy sporting event, however.
We finished our little foodie outing with a merry bonus of dessert from Hamilton’s Cheesecakes, which rounded off an altogether grand meal. So get yourself over to Hugh Black & Sons for a genuinely good pie, now officially approved and recommended by both locals and foreigners, and make a delicious meal of it, fresh out of your own oven.