The Life of Pie

Monday night was a hotbed of excitement and nerves being slightly on edge for me because I made a pie from scratch for the very first time ever! I was inspired by Elly over at The Vintage Cookbook Trials and shamelessly stole her recipe for my chicken and leek number last night.

This recipe was a collection of firsts for me. I have never poached a chicken or made pastry before, so I decided it would be a good idea to invite a friend for dinner so I could have someone to laugh with if it all went horribly wrong (or enthuse if it went well!)

I customised things slightly for several reasons. It turns out it really is easier to buy Class A drugs in Brixton than lard. I visited a variety of shops from a big branch of Tesco to the local Portuguese deli and I couldn’t rustle up any pig fat anywhere, so I broke the habit of a lifetime and resorted to margarine instead in the shape of a block of Stork. At 45p for the packet, I figured it was a risk I could afford to take! I also noted that like many vintage recipes, the pie seemed to lack flavourings, so I picked up some tarragon at the deli at add some depth.

Back home, the chicken was surprisingly easy to poach as I luckily have a large stock pot. If you don’t have such a thing, it might be worth cutting the chicken up to fit your pot before starting. I covered it with cold water, added the usual makings of a stock, brought it to the boil and then poached it for about 45 minutes. I then left it to cool in the pot which made sure it wasn’t undercooked: I was a bit unsure of the timings needed for my chicken as I forgot to look and see how much it weighed…

Once the chicken was completely cooled, I removed the skin and was pleased to see that the meat was beautifully moist and there was lots of lovely jelly round it. I also had plenty of chicken stock to put in the freezer and make several other meals from, making this a quick and economical way to cook a chook.

Now for the nerve-wracking bit: the pastry. I have never made pastry before and it is one of those foodstuffs that appears to have many rules surrounding it. It sounded easy to spoil, so I was please to see that the recipe was for remedial pastry chefs and gave approximations of what the shortcrust pastry should look and feel like while I was making it so it was easier to tell if I was doing it right….

It was surprisingly straightforward. I needed slightly more water than the recipe suggested, but other than that it came together quickly and easily. Even rolling the pastry out was a doddle even though the recipe didn’t really indicate how much pastry it would yield and I was worried momentarily that I wouldn’t have enough. This was probably because I can’t visualise amounts in ounces though.

I don’t have a pie dish (ie: one with a lip around the edge to seal the pastry to) so I used the suggested trick of making a ridge with pastry offcuts. These stuck easily with a bit of butter and made it much easier to attach the lid of the pie as I was sealing pastry to pastry rather than the less forgiving edge of the dish. A bit of egg and milk helped it stick too. I sealed as tightly as possible and then got out my Nigella cutters to decorate the pie.

40 minutes later and the pie looked triumphant. It had a glistening golden top and the pastry hadn’t buckled or warped from the heat or steam as I had feared.

Cooked to perfection!

I opted not to bother lifting up the pastry to add cream, preferring to simply serve some warmed cream at the table to pour over the served portion. The only side dish was some steamed broccoli.

The filling was perfectly cooked. The leeks still had a little bit of bite and the chicken was deliciously moist, but the ‘sauce’ was a bit more liquid than I would have liked. It could have done with being more like a roux or a sauce rather than just pure stock, especially as adding the cream made it even more runny and I was afraid the pastry was going to float away!

Aside from the fact I managed to spill the filling while serving up, the pie was otherwise perfect. Full of flavour and juicy chunks of the chicken, the filling went perfectly with the crisp light pastry and our plates were empty in next to no time. I was surprised and pleased by how easy the whole recipe was and felt that the outcome was excellent. I am tempted to seal everything I eat for the next week in pastry after this wholehearted and stress-free success!

5 replies
  1. iain
    iain says:

    The liquid thing is definitely the obstacle to a pure perfect pie. As a veggie, and pie lover, i usually fry off some veg, herbs, bit of marigold bouillon, pepper and then make a roux sauce- cheesy like, but make it much thicker than for your average cheese sauce. A few pies down the line and we have a good pie consistency. There ain’t no doubting that good pie is good for the soul!

  2. mister_north
    mister_north says:

    Mmmm, sounds and looks fantastic. I love chicken and leek, and pies too.
    Great tip about an extra pastry lip: I’ve had a problem in the past getting the pastry lid to adhere properly to my stoneware.

    PS Your pastry decorations are also great, sis!

  3. mister_north
    mister_north says:

    @iain: yes, pies need sauce or liquid, and there are few things better than an unctuous silken sauce flowing forth under a flaky pastry topping. Unfortunately I always seem to take a bite and burn the roof of my mouth with molten cheesy goodness. Think I need to be more patient and let the pie cool down first!

  4. ms_greens
    ms_greens says:

    A good way to thicken the sauce in a pie is to sprinkle the filling with a couple of teaspoons* of plain flour BEFORE adding the stock/liquid, making sure it is well distributed. While the pie bakes the sauce will thicken. Seasoning this flour will spread any powdery/flaked flavourings.
    * depending on how much liquid used; better too little than too much flour.

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