I mentioned in my last blog that I’d write up some of the meals I drooled over in the 17 months I spent living in hotels in SE Asia, with only a kettle to cook in. And at the top of the list, or thereabouts, was the good old British pie.
What would I cook first, now I had a kitchen again? Steak and kidney pudding? Chicken and mushroom? Minced beef and onion? A proper pork pie or Cornish pasty? Or how about one from The English Cookery Book by Lucie G Nicoll I’m re-reading? A curiously quirky and charmingly vague book that for the second season of the year (April, May, June - if indeed it is early summer now, and not late autumn which the weather seems to suggest) recommends May Pie - an unspecified pastry filled with stewed young onions, turnips, carrots, lettuce hearts, parsley, and green peas in gravy. Or salmon pie - which is more of a baked fish loaf than a pie - containing just milk-soaked breadcrumbs, salmon, butter, seasoning, and beaten egg.
To be honest, neither was what I was imagining in those long evenings supping iced beer while discussing the merits of meat pies with Kiwis - a people that seem to hold the crumbly, fat-soaked comfort of flesh and pastry in even higher esteem than the Bovril-swigging English football fan.
In fact, I had to go back to the first season of January, February and March (who said the seasons aren’t changing?) to get on to the good stuff like beefsteak and kidney pudding made with nothing more than rump steak, beef kidney, flour, and ‘suet paste’. Or calf’s head pie made with head stock and meat and boiled eggs. Or Fanny pie comprising beef, mutton, bacon, onion, carrot, potato and ‘rich paste’. Or how about vermicelli pie, mutton pie, or bacon and herb pie?
No, I’d make it my own way from whatever needed using up in the fridge and freezer - in this case three chicken breasts and a bag of 18-month-old frozen leeks - a concoction which with a midnight plunder of next door’s herb garden became ‘chicken and leek pie in tarragon pastry’.
And I have to say I was really chuffed with the result. It was so filled with herbs, it sort of stumbled drunkenly on the tongue in a heady bouquet, like sage derby on a few crackers. And although I’d made up the tarragon pastry on the spot, it turned out crispy, delicious and thankfully golden despite the unappetising green colour before it was cooked.
Anyway, enough talk. Here it is. It’s really worth a go - especially if, like me, you’ve been pie less in a pie-filled world for far longer than you’d care to recall.
Chicken And Leek Pie In Tarragon Pastry
For the filling:
A little butter and olive oil for frying
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, peeled, cut into four lengthways, and then diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 leeks, washed well and sliced
3 thyme sprigs, chopped
3 chicken breasts, cut into 2cm-wide cubes
1 bacon rasher, thinly sliced
1/4 nutmeg, freshly grated
salt and pepper
For the pastry:
300g plain flour
1 level tsp salt
Leaves from 3 tarragon sprigs
130ml of cold water
A greased pie dish, 8 inches wide and 2 inches deep
Melt a knob of butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan and fry the shallots for a couple of minutes until they are slightly browned. Add the leeks, garlic and celery and fry for another few minutes, stirring frequently to stop the mixture catching.
Add the bacon and chicken breast. Lower the heat, and continue cooking for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, make the pastry by putting the flour, tarragon, salt and lard in a food mixer and pulsing until it resembles greeny-grey breadcrumbs. The amount of water you add will depend on how much moisture was in the tarragon. Mine took about 130ml of water. Continue pulsing the breadcrumbs while trickling in the water. Stop when the pastry forms a ball and comes away clean from the sides of the processor. Cover with clingfilm and put in the freezer to chill.
Add 50g of flour and the freshly grated nutmeg to the pie filling and stir well for a minute over a low heat. Slowly add the milk, making sure each splash is fully blended in before adding the next one. By the end, the sauce should be the consistency of thick custard. If it’s too thick, add a little water. Continue simmering for another five minutes, stirring all the time, then take off the heat. Add the chopped thyme and season with salt and pepper.
Remove the pastry from the freezer and knead a couple of times on a lightly-floured board. Take two thirds of the ball, flatten into a disc with your hands, and roll into a circle about three inches wider than the pie dish.
Drape the pastry circle over the rolling pin, and then line the heavily-buttered pie dish. Push down gently to make sure there are no air pockets. Trim the pastry from the sides.
Roll out the excess pastry until about 5mm thick. Cut into strips. Brush the trimmed pastry edge with water and lay the strips on the rim of the pie dish and gently press together. Brush the pastry rim with water. Fill the pie with the creamy chicken and leek filling.
Roll out the remaining pastry to fit the top of the dish, and press the pastry edges together. Cut round the dish to remove the excess pastry, and then squeeze the edges together with a fork. Roll out the surplus pastry and cut into leaf designs to decorate the pie.
Brush the pastry with egg yolk. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and bake the pie for one hour, or until a beautiful golden brown colour.
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