Monday, 5 November 2012

Chicken and vegetable pie

Own up - who doesn't love pie? I do. I was invited to a pie-tasting event the other week. I hadn't eaten pie of any sort for some time and as I tucked in to a truly delicious peppered steak pasty I realised I hadn't made pie at home since, ooh I don't know when.

Homemade pie is definitely a bit of work and for one person, even more so. But once in a while it's worth making the effort, because it will feed you several times over and if you have leftovers it's a good way to use them up. Have one portion hot and enjoy the rest for packed lunches (although it reheats well too).

As it happens, I'd just been given a very large (2kg) organic chicken. I roasted it for a weekend supper then spent the next day pulling the rest of the meat off the carcass, which I turned into stock the bones. I also had a leek that was on the verge of going slightly limp. Pie sprang to mind - chicken and leek are made for each other.

What you need:
Half a leftover roast chicken - 1 breast, 1 leg
A small leek, diced
1 carrot, diced
Handful of frozen peas
Seasoning
250g shortcrust pastry
Bechamel sauce
1 egg

What to do:
Make the pastry first. Rub 110g butter into 225g of plain flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add a tablespoon of cold water and, using one hand, work it in to a dough. Add more cold water bit by bit if you need it. The pastry should be stiff, not sticky. Wrap it in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.

Make the filling. Sweat the leek in some butter until it starts to soften. Add the carrot and continue to cook gently. Throw in the peas. Cut the cooked chicken into bite-sized chunks and add to the veg. Stir well and season lightly. Set aside to cool.

Make the bechamel. Melt 50g butter in a pan on a low heat and add a tablespoon of plain flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to get rid of any lumps. Add 300ml milk a tablespoonful at a time, beating furiously each time to prevent lumps. Turn up the heat and keep stirring as it thickens.Turn the heat down again when it starts to bubble and cook it for a few minutes more (this is to cook the flour as it's not nice raw). Pour into the chicken and veg and mix well.

Heat the oven to 200C and grease a 20cm pie dish.

Take the pastry out of the fridge and cut it in half. Sprinkle a little flour over the worktop and roll out half the pastry into a circle until it's about 1mm thick and about 1.5cm bigger than the pie tin. Line the pie tin across the base and up the sides, making sure you have an overhang. Tip in the filling, spreading it evenly across the dish. Roll out the rest of the pastry to make the lid. Make an eggwash by beating a small egg in a mug. With a pastry brush, smear a little eggwash round the edge of the pie, roll the lid on top and crimp the edges together. Brush the rest of the eggwash across the pie lid and then cut 2-3 slits in it. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is golden and crispy.

Cook's tips: 
Pastry: the trick to good pastry is keeping everything cold. Use butter straight from the fridge (rubbing in is easier if you cut it into cubes) and keep your hands cold. I wash mine under the cold tap at this stage and also when rolling out. Chilling the pastry before rolling is essential - it stops it shrinking from the sides of the dish as it bakes. No rolling pin? Improvise - last night's wine bottle (a trick I learned in my student days) will be fine. Of course, if you're feeling lazy, there's nothing wrong with using bought shortcrust pastry. You can even buy it in ready-rolled sheets now.

You shouldn't have any leftover pastry from this quantity and a 20cm dish, but if you do use it to make jam tarts. Or a mini pasty if you have leftover filling too.

Bechamel: Yes, you can buy it in a jar but homemade doesn't take very long and it has only 3 ingredients, which is a lot fewer than the readymade version. Quite a few well-known chefs advocate putting the butter, milk and flour together in the pan at the very start and whisking everything furiously as it comes to the boil. Done properly, it should be lump-free.

The filling: Most cooked leftover meat will lend itself well to pie filling. Add some chopped bacon if you don't have quite enough meat. For the veg, mushrooms also have an affinity with chicken but you could use anything - sweetcorn, chopped onion, diced peppers, broad beans... If you have some fresh herbs, a little thyme, tarragon or parsley will lift the filling.

Preparing leeks: the quickest, easiest way to dice a leek is a complete no-brainer when you know how - it's just not immediately obvious to non-chefs. I spent years slicing leeks into rounds then cutting those into quarters before a chef taught me differently. Pull off the outer leaves and trim off the top. Leave the root intact. Put the leek on a chopping board and slice it vertically from root to tip, turning it to make a fresh cut every 1/2cm. Then slice it horizontally and it will fall into dice. Wash well in a colander to get rid of any grit.