This column begins with a humblebrag: this pairing was inspired by a beer and a snack that I enjoyed at Hill Farmstead Brewery in Vermont in January.
After New Year’s, my brother and I planned a beer-themed road trip through New England, and Hill Farmstead was, naturally, our first priority. And so we journeyed up on a snowy Saturday morning, up through the mountains in our sturdy pickup truck. We sampled saisons and hoppy styles and the brewery’s immaculate Marie Helles, but the beer that has lodged in my mind was a dark lager, which I drank standing on the porch, bundled in layers, watching the snow come down thick and fast.
It was one of the beer highlights of my life, and it was supplemented by the snack we had inside, the only one served in the taproom: New Zealand-style pies. I’ve never been a fan of British pies, or savoury pies in general – cue the sound of angry fingers flying across keyboards in protest – but these pies, palm-sized and hot, soft and yielding to the canines, were a different thing entirely. They were tender, near-molten, satisfying without feeling doughy. I ordered the buffalo chicken version, and its warming spice was perfect for both the snowy day and the dark lager in question.
One of the questions I get asked most about beer and food pairings is about pairing beer and spicy food. Many reach for IPAs, but bitter hop flavours and high ABVs often aggravate chilli heat. Instead, for many dishes, dark lagers – with their roasty flavours, but lighter body and refreshing character – are often a dream pairing.
That’s certainly true in this case. A collaboration between Burnt Mill and Donzoko, Dark Second features Vienna, Chit, Smoked Malt, Carafa 3, and cocoa husks. The smoke is subtle but present – the cocoa too – which lends some richness, though this 5% ABV beer still feels drinkable, with its lightly bitter finish serving as the perfect diminuendo. Not only does it cool the buffalo sauce and pick up the roast chicken’s meaty profile, but – like most dark beers – it’s also perfection with blue cheese (or, in this case, blue cheese sauce).
New Zealand-Style Buffalo Chicken Pies with Blue Cheese Sauce
Loosely adapted from Food52
Makes 12-15 pies
For the buffalo chicken pies:
1 kilo store-bought puff pastry, defrosted if frozen
Flour, for dusting
250g cream cheese, softened
175ml medium-spiced vinegar-based hot sauce (e.g. Farey’s Peckham Smoker)
450g meat of small rotisserie chicken, shredded (skin and bones discarded)
200g grated sharp cheddar
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Butter, for greasing
1 egg, beaten
For the blue cheese sauce:
155g mild blue cheese, such as Dolcelatte
100g sour cream
Juice of ½ lemon
Sea salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
1. Whether your puff pastry comes in pre-rolled sheets or in a block, roll it out so it is 1/8” thick; you may want to dust the rolling pin and dough lightly with flour to prevent it sticking. Cut the pastry into 12-15 4” rounds and 12-15 3” rounds, depending on how much available pastry you have; the larger rounds will be used for the pie bases and the smaller rounds for the lids.
2. Once cut, arrange the pastry rounds on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet (or two), sprinkle lightly with flour and chill in the fridge for roughly 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make the buffalo chicken filling. Add the cream cheese and hot sauce to a large bowl and mix until uniform. Add the chicken and the grated cheddar, and stir to mix. Season with the paprika, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. If the chicken is still warm, chill until the mixture is cool to the touch.
4. Preheat the oven to 220° Celsius (425° Fahrenheit). Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan. Remove the pastry from the fridge. Add a larger round of dough to the first muffin cup and shape it until it’s flush with the sides and bottom; there should be a small lip of dough overhanging the top. Repeat with the remaining large circles of dough (you may need to use a second muffin pan if you have more than 12 large dough rounds).
5. Pack each dough base with the chicken filling right up to the top. Meanwhile, pierce the small dough rounds several times each with a fork and cut a small X into the centre of each; this will prevent them from rising too much during baking. Top each pie with a smaller pastry round, and lightly press the edges together with your fingers. Seal each pie by pressing around the edges with a fork.
6. Brush the beaten egg over each pie top before transferring to the freezer. Leave to chill for 15 minutes.
7. Bake the pies for roughly 20–25 minutes, or until deep golden and slightly puffed-up; you may need to rotate the pan halfway through if your oven has hot spots. Remove from the oven and leave to cool before gently removing each pie from the tin (you may need a thin knife to help you free them).
8. Transfer the pies to a cooling rack. Meanwhile, make the blue cheese sauce. Add all ingredients to a medium bowl, and use a fork to mix, breaking up any large chunks of cheese. The sauce should be ready when it is not quite uniform, and there are still small cheese chunks mixed throughout.
9. Serve while the pies are still warm, with the blue cheese sauce in a small bowl on the side, ready for dunking.
Claire M Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our award-winning first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen.