The idea of Chicken Pie has been on my mind for a while. It started when Lucy posted this photo of a gorgeous pie – complete with beautifully puffed pastry and bespeckled ceramic bird – her planned Christmas lunch all the way back in December 2013. Then two years later my sister gave me the most adorable little pie funnel: a blackbird with a bright yellow beak. It simply begged to be baked in a pie, but you know, I like to take my own sweet time with some things.
Lucy’s image was compelling because it conjured memories of the chicken pies I ate with Colin many years ago; caught up in what passed for love, sweet young things that we were. For a while we had the habit of piling into Colin’s first car (a Mark V Cortina) and driving to the coast to buy pies from Cable Bay dairy. Colin favoured smoked fish pies but I always bought the outstanding chicken pies, with their velvety cheese sauce and tender chunks of meat. We ate them out of white paper bags, sitting in the car overlooking the beach with the sound of seagulls swirling. Maybe it was the first, tantalising glimpse of adulthood that made them taste so good, but they are still the best pies that I’ve ever eaten.
So many recipes for Chicken Pie have been considered and discarded. Carrots and peas have no place in the chicken pie of my dreams, shortcrust pastry would be wrong (and so sad) here, and what is this obsession with “lightening” everything? It’s a PIE! Give me all the butter and cream, make my pastry flakey and golden, let it be luscious and comforting and just once let me re-live my youth! Finally, and with great relief, I spotted a recipe for Ultimate Chicken Pie in a recent Jamie Oliver magazine. It involved a spectacularly decadent sauce and homemade puff pastry(!), which I had never made before. Here was a chance to relive my teenage pie memories and learn a new skill! Tingles. All. Over.
The Easter four-day weekend was the chosen scene for my labour of love, and (spoiler alert) what a labour it turned out to be. It was so time-consuming, tedious and frustrating that I’m still saying to people, “I’m glad that I had the experience“, just to make myself feel better about losing two days of my life to this pie. What follows is less of a recipe and more a demonstration of how stubborn and stupid I can be when I set my mind to something. It’s about recording what happened for the sake of prosperity, because I am never, ever making this pie again.
Masochist's Chicken Pie
1 rose-tinted memory of Chicken Pie
1 recipe for Ultimate Chicken Pie
16 cups of single-mindedness
1 neighbour to lend you the flour that you forgot to buy
1 friend to help roll the pastry
2 days free of commitments
3 bottles of wine
Coffee, strong and bottomless
To serve: a plate, fork and a couch (you’ll be too tired to set the table, let alone make a salad)
Start by luring friends to your house with the exciting promise of homemade chicken pie for dinner. This is going to be epic!
First, poach a whole chicken in a deep saucepan, surrounded by chopped celery, onion, carrots, leek, garlic, thyme and peppercorns, and covered in cold water. Bring to the boil slowly, over a low heat. After simmering for 40 minutes, switch off the heat and let the contents cool in the liquid for as long as you can bear it, or for a minimum of 2 hours. Remove the vegetables and throw them out. Remove the cooked chicken to a plate, separate the flesh from the bones and discard the skin. Place the bones back into the cooled stock and simmer for another hour. Remove the bones and discard. Strain the stock into a clean saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer until the liquid has reduced to 750ml, which takes, yes, another gloriously long hour. Leave to cool.
Realise that even though six hours have passed, you’ve only made one full component of the pie (cooked chicken) and one part component (the stock for the sauce). Feel overwhelmed. Sit outside with your friends and have a glass of wine (ok, it’s probably your third by now if you’re being honest).
If you’re clever (and you know that you can be), you will have saved some time by making the pastry while you prepared the stock. First beg 250g flour from your neighbour and then mix this with finely grated parmesan (50g), 1 tsp mustard powder, salt and pepper. Pastry has an obscene amount of unsalted butter in it (150g), which makes your heart sing. You cube the chilled butter, rub it into the flour a little, then use a knife to mix in 125ml cold water and 1 tsp apple cider vinegar. The recipe says “don’t over-mix”, and you don’t (winning!). You gather the lumpy pastry into a ball and chill it for 30 minutes. With the help of your friend, you roll and fold and roll and fold and chill for 30 minutes…and then repeat twice more. Thank goodness for the alarm feature on your phone, because two bottles of wine are gone and this pastry is some technical shit. You guys need to be kept in line.
Eventually, the pastry is done and the stock is done, but everyone got sick of waiting and ate bits of this and that hours ago. No-one wants pie, which is just as well because there’s still the sauce and the leeks to cook and it’s all getting a bit much. Let’s just go to bed and think about it tomorrow.
The next day dawns and we are going to get this pie cooked! Open the fridge and check on the pastry. It has completely dried out and cracked (you should have wrapped it in plastic). Consider using it anyway; consider hard. Try to roll it out. It’s a lump of concrete and in the bin it goes.
Make the pastry again. Don’t think about it.
It’s not the right flour this time. Don’t think about it!
It’s time to make the sauce. Get your stock out of the fridge and notice that it’s become a quivering jelly. Feel a twinge of accomplishment for the first time since you started this damn pie. Feel that twinge disappear as you get the tarragon and realise that you’ve bought the wrong kind (it’s the coarse Russian rather than the delicate French variety). Chop that shit anyway (2 Tbsp) and set to the side. Finely grate 150g gruyère (which is really quite a lot and finely grating takes three times as long as regular grating, so yes, you’ve just lost another 10 minutes that you can never get back).
Make the sauce by melting 50g butter in a saucepan then stirring in 50g flour until it bubbles. Spoon the jellied stock little by little into the butter and flour, whisking briskly and admiring the smooth glossiness of the sauce. When all the stock is added, stir in 2 Tbsp dijon mustard, 150g crème fraîche, that big mound of grated gruyère and the chopped tarragon. Season with salt and pepper. Taste. It’s good enough to pour all over your lover’s body just so you can lick it off.
Leave the sauce to cool down, and while you’re there, swear repeatedly at the author of this recipe because there is SO MUCH cooling and resting and half the time involved is waiting for things to sort themselves out just so that you can move on. Go to a yoga class to de-stress. Come home and make a strong coffee to give yourself the strength to carry on. You’re on the home stretch; let’s do this.
The fresh batch of pastry still needs to be rolled and folded two more times and in between it’s time to cook the leeks. Wash and trim 2 leeks and cut into 1 cm slices. Cook in boiling salted water for 6 minutes until tender. Drain and spread on a clean tea towel to absorb excess moisture and (you guessed it) cool to room temperature.
Does the pastry need rolling and chilling again? Yes. Do you need a glass of wine now? Yes, and yes, you’ve earned it.
Shred the cold chicken, marvelling at how juicy it is. Put the chicken into the cooled sauce along with the leeks. Mix together gently and voluptuously.
It is time to assemble the pie, but you’re not excited anymore: you’re a mindless automaton. Put the pie flute into the pie dish and spoon the filling around the little bird. Roll out the pastry and cut a circle that is 4cm bigger than your 24cm pie dish. Cut a small circle in the centre so your little bird can breathe. Take the scraps of left over pastry, cut them into 1cm wide strips and glue these with water all around the circumference of the pie dish – a seemingly pointless step, but of course you do it (you’ve got that good-girl complex going on). Transfer the pie lid to the pan, and smoosh the edges together to make a seal. Use any further leftover scraps to make decorations. This bit is supposed to be fun and creative, but your eyes are glazing over. You form a few crappy leaves and slap them on. Part of you is thinking, why leaves on chicken pie? Why not a little pastry chicken? Oh, too much reality maybe? Just stop. Have some more wine.
The pie is assembled, but don’t get too excited. It needs to be brushed with a beaten egg and chilled in the fridge for 20 minutes. While that’s happening, heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F and start to clean up. You’ve used every single pan and spoon in your kitchen, so this is going to take a while…la la la la…
Bake the pie for 40 minutes, except of course your pie needs much longer (nearly double) to cook the pastry properly. You’re worried that the top of the pastry might burn so you fuss around with an aluminium foil tent (more faffing, but this is not the time to give up).
It’s done, or done enough. Take the pie out. Your husband immediately wants to ruin the beautiful veneer of your pie by tearing off a chunk of pastry. You get it; it does look delicious, but that is NOT HAPPENING and hasn’t he noticed what you’ve been through? Give him “the look” (the testicle-shrivelling death-stare) until he backs down.
The verdict: it’s not even close to your memory of ultimate chicken pie. Sure, it’s pretty f-ing good, but not “two days of pain” good. You’re over it. You eat, with abandon, knowing that you’ll never, ever taste this pie again.
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I notice that for any cooking “project” I go through the same range of emotions. Your recount of making the pot pie is hilarious!
Luckily most of my food projects go much more smoothly than this pie, but yes, these emotions aren’t entirely new!
I too make an awesome 2 day chicken pot pie, OK maybe it’s 3 days. It takes time…the first day is vegetable prep, the second is the meat, broth and pastry prep, while the third is rolling the pastry and combining all the prep into a heavily herbed roux and baking. It is raved about by those that taste it but it is a labor of love for sure. When I undertake the chore I make 8 pies at a time, no point in going through all that for less. They freeze vacuum sealed for 3 months very well. Stay the course, you can do it again.
Wow I am impressed! Is your recipe on your blog? I would love to try it…wait, what am I saying! Three days?! I’m such a sucker for phrases like “labour of love” and “raved about”! Seriously though, I would love to have a look at your recipe. It seems like hardly anyone cooks like this now. Your eight pies at a time too is a good one too. I don’t have freezer space for that many but I could manage three. Thanks for commenting!
The recipe is a family secret, sorry. It is very similar to what you made. We add a variety of herbs we dry and render our own pork lard for the pastry(rhubarb pie recipe on the blog), so it gets pretty special. We enjoy left over filling (it happens) over fries with ketchup. Fries with the works(hamburger, peas and gravy) is an Island thing(PEI) and we up the game just for ourselves. From scratch is always better.
That is some serious commitment right there! I can only dream of how amazing your pie must be. Thanks for the inspiration 😊
i’m so sorry that your experience wasn’t so fun, but this looks so beautiful and tempting. i have a soft spot for meals like this. i am so thankful that my husband is usually the pie-roller and i have him manage those parts of the recipe. i hope you had a good easter holiday otherwise!
I did, thanks Lan! Splitting up the workload for complicated recipes sounds ideal and you are lucky indeed with your pie-rolling husband. Unfortunately for me, Colin and I aren’t great at sharing kitchen space and we both like to be boss. We have ruined things trying to cook together! Despite this, I suspect that we do have a great co-cooking style in there somewhere. Thankfully, our marriage is a long one. We’re working on it 😉
LOL, my god this is hilarious. You should submit to the New Yorker! -Kat
hehe thanks Kat 🙂
Ha Ha..this is the post ever Chez..time for G + T I remember that luscious tonic recipe of yours and you were so serene sounding in that post..you sound a little demented in this one if you don’t mind me saying ha ha….and who would have guessed it was a Jamie O recipe even his 30 min recipes take so much longer he needs a talking too about the real world..lol…
I think that I need to be more honest with my writing, as I’m probably more demented than serene most of the time! And yes, this is hardly a recipe for real people. I knew it would be a lot of work but I really had no idea that it would be as bad as this. Once I had started I felt compelled to keep going…and the bit that nearly killed me was actually the egg wash right at the end. By then I was so over it that having to beat an egg to brush on the pastry had me nearly trembling with rage. Oh dear, I think I might have a touch of PTSD!!
Ha Ha I totally agree some of these ewcipes are so not in the real world..I gave up years ago making my own puff pastry I buy ready made every time 🙂
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Oh dear! Oh dear! Oh dear!
So glad you have blown the concept of perfection out of the window Chez! Did me good for one. And many others by the look of it. Youth was then. This is now. A very good read. Thanks for turning your suffering to good use!
You’re very welcome Philippa 🙂 I only had a few photos to choose from (I just couldn’t cope with taking photos on top of everything else) but it was a story that needed to be told!
I am making a scene, laughing so hard at 6:38 a.m. Kudos to you for sticking with the recipe … I would have called it quits after realizing I had to make the puff pastry again! I know it was more trouble than it was worth, but it sounds delicious!
The day I re-made the pastry was a public holiday otherwise I probably would have been tempted to drive to the supermarket to buy the pastry! Anyway, it really was delicious Susan, and since all our friends were long gone and there was just Colin and I, we actually ate this pie for three days straight! So that was some consolation for all the work.
HANDS DOWN, the best description of chicken pie pain. oy. you may not have loved every minute of the process, but man, girl you can write! i remember making puff pastry once – the same food writer had, in previous pages, spoken of the difficult (ahem) task of soaking beans for 24hours before cooking them, thus i assumed that puff pastry would be a doddle…farking hell.
yay pie bird! congrats on the effort. vats of wine ahoy – a must! x
Haha so glad that you found the post Lucy! Food writers have a lot to answer for, don’t they? I can’t believe that this recipe was published with no warning other than “poaching a chicken to make the stock for this pie might take a little time but it’s well worth the effort”. Poaching the chicken? Probably the easiest step in the whole pie! I’m glad you enjoyed reading the post…and let me tell you, there would have been much more swearing in it if it wasn’t for the fact that my Mum reads my blog 😉
I loved this post – especially the ingredient list 🙂 and well, I loved it all. It does look like a lovely pie, but I don’t think I am ready to make puff pastry yet, not if it takes this long …. we would probably starve. I do really like poaching chicken though. MY PhD supervisor’s wife made a wonderful poached chicken. You bring a suitably sized pan of water to the boil -(before bringing it to the boil put the chicken in to check there is sufficient water to cover the chicken – then take it out again). Once the water is boiling add chicken, cover with a lid and let simmer for 10 minutes then turn off the heat and leave for 24 hours where it is. The next day you have perfect poached chicken and a lovely light stock. I was highly sceptical the first time I tried it, but it works perfectly.
I feel bad for putting you off puff pastry Claire! I don’t think it would have been so painful for me if I wasn’t juggling so many other components of the pie at the time. And I bet I would be faster next time too…if I ever go there again! The thought of buying pre-made, good quality pastry is very, very tempting. Thanks for sharing the poached chicken method. After my pie experience, this kind of hands-off cooking is very appealing!
Bugger the pie recipe, great piece of writing …
Thanks Sandra, it was my attempt to find the silver lining! And despite what I say in the post, I keep thinking about giving the pastry another go. It didn’t puff as much as expected and that bothers me…
The best puff has pure butter laminated in layers between the buttery pastry. Check out Maggie Beer’s Sour cream rough puff, it’s totally delicious and yum or failing that Careme make beautiful frozen pastry available at West End Stores, Standard Market, New Farm Deli
Thanks for the tips Sandra, I’ll look out for these brands. A few people did question my decision to try making my own since (as you clearly know) it is possible to buy pure butter puff. I guess now I appreciate the work involved and will feel extra grateful when I hand over a few dollars for a packet of perfect pastry 😊
Still laughing Chez! Cruel I know. But if you hadn’t experienced this anguish the rest of us wouldn’t have this post to lighten up our day. Once the memory fades you will race gung ho into your next culinary adventure, so start planning you next ‘long weekend’ challenge. Maybe by then your Power will have kicked in. Something charred perhaps. (Apologies to Ms Alderman)
Now that you mention it, I did dust off the BBQ recently – not long after I finished The Power. Coincidence? Maybe not! With regard to culinary adventures, this experience hasn’t deterred me at all, so you can expect more stories of either wild success or ridiculous failure in the future 🙂
You’ve made my day, Chez. Hope you cc’d to Jamie Oliver!
Thanks Viv! I will share this on Instagram later and will definitely tag Jamie. It’s a long shot, but he is responsible for this so I would like to try and bring it to his attention. Whatever happened to 15 minute meals?!