The basic recipe for this classic British pub food is incredibly simple — the filling is nothing more than cheddar, and onion. In traditional cheddar onion pie, onions are cooked without browning. But this recipe is more or less totally different from that. Instead, we’ve caramelised the onions to dark, sticky sweetness. It works well as a side dish, as part of a brunch spread, or as an appetiser. Whenever we make it, it’s always one of the most popular things on the table.
While this takes a little bit of time to make (the onions will probably take a couple hours so plan accordingly), it doesn’t demand much attention. So it’s perfect to include for a big meal (like a Christmas dinner). All you need to do is to cook the onions down, make a pastry crust, and then bake the pie. The crust itself, a rough puff pastry, is one of the simplest pastries you can make (and versatile). The onions need to be stirred sometimes as you cook them, but that’s about all the attention they need. Or you can just make the whole thing a day ahead, and warm it slightly before serving.
Even though the most-basic filling is completely delicious, we typically add something extra. Reducing a bottle of beer with the onions adds a nice complexity, as does adding a bit of thyme. Better still is adding a few spoons of Vegemite, for a yeasty, umami kick. And if you’ve got weird hang ups about Vegemite, get over it. That stuff is pure gold in the kitchen.
– 1 batch rough-puff pastry
– 6-10 large onions
– 1lb (400 g) cheddar cheese (coarsely grated)
– salt to taste (about 2 tsp, 10 ml)
– 1 egg yolk
– 1 tbsp (15 ml) milk
– 1tsp (5ml) nigella (optional)
– 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
– 1 bottle beer (IPA is good)
– 2 tbsp Vegemite
Prepare the pastry as directed (at least a half hour in advance). It keeps well in the fridge over night, and freezes well, too, so it’s worth doubling the recipe. Slice the onions into fairly thin rings, and prepare according to the directions for browned onions. Get them to a nice, dark brown, then add the beer, and reduce to almost dry again.
If you are using the Vegemite, add it along with the beer, and stir to make sure there are no lumps that might jump out an surprise anyone. Do not salt until the end — if you’re using Vegemite you’ll need less than usual. Taste, and adjust. Add the thyme (if using) and let the onions cool down. Mix the cheese and onion together.
Heat the oven to about 350F (180C). Grease and flour a 9 inch pie plate. Roll the dough to about 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) thickness.
Line the bottom of the pan with the crust. Fill it up with the filling, and cover the top. Rough puff pastry looks good when it’s ugly, so we usually cover the top with overlapping pieces and scraps. Put the pie in the oven.
Bake for about fifteen minutes, and then check to see if the pie needs to be rotated. Beat the egg and milk together in a small bowl with a fork or a whisk until combined. Check the pie again after another five or ten minutes — once the pie starts to brown on top, brush the top pretty liberally with the milk and egg mixture, and sprinkle with nigella seeds, if using. Finish baking when the top crust is a nice golden brown.
Let cool until safe — then serve immediately, or later.