London Calling – Chicken & Leek Pie
I was never brought up on pies. The closest thing to pies in our house were the now continental favourities – spanakopita, tiropita, and a thousand other variants of filo-wrapped delights. Growing up in the land of the meat pie, these treats we consumed in clandestine corners, behind the school canteen or at friend’s birthday parties. I secretly loved these party pies, and big meat pies slathered in sweet tomato sauce, but they were a world away from everything I knew.
Looking back, I shudder to think of what goes into the mass-produced meaty centres and stiff white pastry we were eating, but I take comfort in the fact that whole generations have grown up on them too. Despite this, there is something still so comforting about a cold day when your breath catches on the air, and you’re all rugged up with a pie in your hand, piping hot filling dripping out of steamy bites.
The particular pie that inspired this remake was actually consumed at the start of summer, on a balmy evening beside the London canals. A rectangle of perfectly cooked pastry presented itself on my plate, which I broke with a satisfying shatter. Creamy filling oozed happily through the prongs of my fork, and that wonderful and reliable pairing of chicken and leek gave me the best pie experience to date.
As I munched away with a cold cider dripping beads of condensation down towards the wooden table beside me, and two wonderful dinner mates for company, it felt like home. Britain, Australia, really, we all just love a good pie at the end of the day.
Now as you can see, my pie oozed out the sides slightly and on top of the pastry, but I like to think this merely added to its deliciousness.
The aforementioned pastry was actually store bought. You can certainly go ahead and make your own shortcrust pastry, but to paraphrase Jamie Oliver – you may just have a little too much time on your hands.
Personally, I do love making things from scratch, and on a lazy weekend, there is nothing I would love more than rolling out pastry over and over again, in the kind of meditation that only cooking can bring. However, there is also a slight guilty pleasure in whacking a beautiful filling together, plopping a fine bit of bought pastry on top, and having something quite delicious and nutritious on the table in time for dinner. This was one of those days.
My only recommendation would be to read the label – a lot of commercially made pastries use vegetable oils and the like, whereas we’re after an all-butter pastry, to give us that crispy crunch and golden colour we so deserve for our pies.
For my chicken thighs, I bought these on the bone, as they’re much cheaper, and it’s really not that difficult to separate the meat from the bone – just follow along the bone, using small cuts along the way with a paring knife. You can store the bones in a container in the freezer, and add to it (cooked bones work too), until you have enough to make some basic chicken stock.
Chicken & Leek Pie
400g of chicken thighs
sea salt and pepper
one large leek, quartered and sliced
one clove of garlic, crushed
a good knob of butter
one tablespoon of parsley, chopped
one tablespoon of thyme, chopped
two-thirds of a cup milk
one cup of cream
one tablespoon of parmesan cheese, grated
one sheet of shortcrust pastry
Cut your leek lengthwise and wash well under running water, making sure you get right into the grooves to get all the cheeky hidden dirt out. Cut once more, into quarters, and slice.
Melt a knob of butter in a frypan on a medium heat, and add garlic, cooking for a couple of minutes until aromatic. Throw in your leek, put a lid on, turn the heat to low, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until nice and soft. Set aside cooked leeks in a bowl.
Chop your chicken thigh into cubes and coat in flour that has been seasoned with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Melt another knob of butter in your frying pan over a medium heat and cook the chicken pieces until lightly golden. Add cooked leeks, herbs and pepper and stir to mix. Add milk and cream, turn the heat to low and stew gently until just starting to bubble – about five minutes. Add parmesan cheese, stir, taste and add good quality sea salt to season to your liking.
Turn the heat off and leave the mixture to cool. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celcius, and if using frozen pastry, pull a sheet out of the freezer and leave to thaw for ten minutes, until pliable.
Pour mixture into a 20cm pie dish, lay your pastry sheet on top and trim to fit. Press a fork along the edge to crimp and help set the pastry in place. Cut leaf shapes out of remaining pastry and arrange in the centre of the pie. Using a sharp knife, pierce a steam hole through the middle.
In a small bowl, crack an egg and whisk lightly with a pinch of salt. Egg-wash the pie all over the crust, and cook in a hot oven for twenty five to thirty minutes until golden and filling is bubbling around the edge.
Leave to cool out of the oven for five minutes before serving.
Serve with wilted greens, mashed potato and a deliciously cold cider.