Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Mrs Coren's Chicken Pie

Even better, if possible, eaten re-heated the next day

A lot of people like to say that they don't do things by halves. "I'm an 'all-or-nothing' person" they say.

I don't know about you, but I usually take that not to mean that they're the kind of person who, once they've started the washing up, washes up until everything looks like new and then clears the draining board, dries everything up, puts it away and then wipes down all the surfaces.

Rather, I usually take it as a euphamism for them liking to get very shitfaced. More shitfaced than anyone else, in fact. Not half shitfaced, but fully shitfaced. And they end up not doing the washing up at all because they're too shitfaced, or hungover, to do a "proper" job. "I'm an all-or-nothing person," they'll say, from the sofa, a glass of Alka Seltzer dangling from a pale and trembling hand.

I'm not like that. I like doing pretty much everything by halves. I find that six or seven halves add up to some wholes. People who don't do things by halves usually end up not doing anything at all, whereas I rage through to-do lists like Tas of Tasmania, doing everything a bit rubbishly. But it gets done. In the end.

There are exceptions, of course, to my general slapdash attitude. And this chicken pie is one of them.

Most pies are a thing that you do with the leftovers from a roast. Shepherd's pie - leftover lamb; Cottage pie, leftover beef; Chicken pie - you get the idea - made to go further with pastry and vegetables. But people don't really do that anymore. They put any leftovers in sandwiches and buy ground lamb, ground beef or chicken pieces if they want to make a pie.

And if you want to make a chicken pie fast, you can. You can use breast meat and bought puff-pastry. I reckon you could  have it done, start to finish, in an hour. Maybe an hour and a half.

But I kind of think, what's the point? I find those kinds of pies a bit thin and insubstantial - the precise word is "jejune", if you're interested - you know what I mean? The breast meat is bit gritty and not right for a pie and bought puff pastry is all very well... but the point of any pie is not that it's quick, it's that it's rich, comforting and a little bit of an effort.

If you haven't got time to make a chicken pie properly, then maybe leave it until you do have some time and, instead, whip up a perfectly servicable spanish omelette, or a chorizo-and-bean stew or - hell - bacon and eggs.

This chicken pie takes a while and this recipe is very long, because you have to make the rough puff pastry, the white sauce and roast up the chicken seperately, then assemble it. But it really isn't hard and it really is worth it. If you find yourself with a slow afternoon, make some of the pastry - or the entire thing - and freeze it if you want to cut out a stage or more.

I'm using Hugh FW's rough puff pastry for this and not Delia's quick flaky pastry because I find grating frozen butter incredibly horrid.

Please don't be freaked out by the long list of ingredients - they're all very readily available.

Mrs Coren's Chicken Pie
serves 6

1 quantity of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Rough Puff Pastry (see below)
4 chicken drumsticks
4 chicken thighs
6 rashers streaky bacon
A handful of mushrooms - any you like
1 leek
2 stalks celery
1 medium onion or two small ones
3 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic
1 quantity white sauce:
(50g butter
some plain flour
600 ml milk)
salt and pepper
1 glass shitty white wine
1 beaten egg
vegetable oil - or dripping if you're feeling a bit Mrs Beeton

1 Toss your chicken pieces, peeled garlic cloves and HALF the herbs in oil, salt and pepper and then put in the oven at 180 for 1hr 10min to roast. Give them a jiggle round once or twice during cooking.

2 Make your pastry thus:

- 400g plain flour
- 200g lard, cut into 2cm x 1cm chunks
- large pinch salt
- about 200ml iced water

Sieve the flour into a bowl and sprinkle over the salt. Chuck in the lard lumps and toss until all coated with flour. Then add the iced water until you've got a firm-ish dough that's not to wet and sticky. Although if you do splosh in a bit too much water just sprinkle over some more flour to compensate.

At this stage it will look ghastly - all bits hanging off and massive lumps of lard - and flour everywhere. Don't worry, this is normal. Turn out your scraggy dough onto a floured surface and roughly shape into a fat rectangle.

With a floured rolling pin, roll the pastry away from you in one direction until you get an elongated rectangle. When the pastry is about 2cm thick, fold the furthest third towards you and the nearest edge away and over the other, like you're folding a letter.

Now turn your bundle 90 degrees to the right and roll it away from you again. You should do this a minumum of 4 times, but preferably 6 or 7. You'll find that the pastry becomes better-looking as you do this. Keep count of your turns, though, because if you over-roll the pastry it'll become tough.

Keep it well-floured. Then stick it in a freezer bag or in a bowl in clingfilm and put in the fridge for an hour.

2 Chop up your onions, leek, mushroom, bacon and celery all small-ish and fry very gently with the remaining half of the herbs in some vegetable oil or dripping for at least 15 minutes. After this time, throw in your glass of shitty wine and turn the heat up full until the wine has bubbled away - this takes about 3-4 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and set to one side.

3 Make your white sauce by melting 50g of butter in a large-ish saucepan (it needs to be large because you are going to add the chicken and vegetables to it later). Then take the pan off the heat and add enough flour to make a butter-and-flour paste. Then with the pan still off the heat, add a long sloop of milk and stir until the paste and the milk are mixed in with each other. A few tiny lumps at this stage don't matter.

Put the pan back on a medium heat and add the rest of milk. Stir or whisk until the sauce thickens but don't bring it to the boil. Once the sauce has thickened - this takes about 4-5 minutes - take the heat right down and season with salt and pepper until it tastes nice. Add cream if you want but not creme fraiche as I did the other week because it makes it go strangely sandy.

4 By this point, give or take, your pastry ought to have had enough time in the fridge and the chicken ought to have roasted up. If it's not quite ready, read Grazia for a bit. Or clean up the kitchen, if that's not the lamest suggestion I've ever made. But I've started clearing as I go, although I really despise myself for it.

When all your various bits are ready, strip the meat off the roasted-up chicken and chop up into chunks. It's your call whether you put the skin in or not - I do. Then add this and your cooked veg - fish out the bay leaves and thyme stalks - to the white sauce. Give it all a stir. Taste. Cry if it's horrible. (But it won't be.) Add more salt and pepper now if you want. If you feel like it, maybe a spoonful of Dijon mustard or some finely-chopped parsley.

Pour this mixture into whatever dish you're going to bake your pie in. Then remove the pastry from the fridge and roll it out to about 0.5-1cm thick. Or more, if you really like pastry. If you're feeling really pedantic, don't press too hard otherwise it will shrink on cooking.

Brush around the edges of  your pie dish with beaten egg to help the pastry stick and then lay the pastry on top. Trim away the excess (ball it up and put in the freezer for another project) and press down round the edges of the pie dish with the flat edge of a fork to make little lines. Brush the whole of the top with beaten egg and make a 1cm slit in the middle of the pie to let steam escape.

Put in the oven at 180C for 40 minutes. If you've rolled your pastry very thick, it will need a bit longer, maybe an hour.

After all, you're not a person who does things by halves.


  1. Sounds divine, I think that dark meat is much better than breast in a chicken pie. Presumably one could use the leftovers from a roast! And have you ever made the pastry for this with butter rather than lard (I have a lard phobia and the bf doesn't eat pig)? Sometimes I find that butter pastry in a dish like this can be just too much!

  2. WOW Esther! what an amazing chicken pie... the pastry looks incredible and I love the idea that you roast the chicken bits first, must taste very good...lucky Mr Coren... and may I just say that only you could use the word jejune in a blog post and get away with it...(one of mine and The Vikings favourite words)... it's all very Annie Hall!

  3. Dear Mrs Coren, will they also be the same people who like to say 'You know, I'm a Perfectionist', and then proceed to do absolutely nothing - because they are so uncompromising in their quest for perfection, yet so frequently let down by other people, circumstances beyond their kin, that they have given up on perfecting anything at all. I've developed an involuntary tic upon such utterances, sometimes I feel like clawing their perfect faces. But so far I've managed to restrain myself, and I just nod and smile sympathetically as they lament this particular malaise which only afflicts perfectionists like themselves. Thank you for a post which allows the venting of spleen.

    As for chicken pie - all my pies are 'intentional' pies. Not leftovers, because I agree with your point about jejune. And thigh meat. Mine is a Hugh recipe, and I love the chervil and tarragon in it (surely you must have these in your Herb Garden?) I've only ever used Jus-rol but you have inspired me to make rough-puff. Love reading your posts xxx

  4. Yeah God perfectionists can fuck off and all.

    My herb garden got swallowed up by an ill-thought-out decision to grow marrows that turned into giant triffids and strangled everything. We still can't find the cat. But next year we are doing herbs ONLY so there will be chervil and tarragon then.

    Do have a bash at the pastry if you've got nothing better on. It really works. xx

  5. Mrs Coren as in you, or an in-law of some kind?

  6. I made your lovely pie last night. I used butter as, living in Italy we don't have access to lard (only as a form of pancetta which is just a bit too lardy and not useful for making pastry). The pastry was lovely, as was the pie, thanks very much!

  7. Hi Esther

    I'm afraid I'm one of those people who always uses shop bought puff pastry, but your various posts telling me to try my own have inspired me to have a go. If I were frezzing half should which stage should I freeze at? At the resting, stick in the fridge for an hour stage?

    Thanks, Elaine x

  8. Have a go! You might only do it once, but it's quite fun.

    I'm no expert, but I'd say freeze it whenever.

    I think it's very important to show pastry who's boss and not take any shit or worry about how to treat it.

    I hope it works out! Otherwise I'll feel like a real timewaster.

  9. My grandmother was one of those people who made pies from scratch, now she says don't bother making puff pastry, when you can buy it. It is the definition of hassle.

    On another note, I've become suspicious of your selective photographic propaganda. What happened to the pastry?

  10. Well... don't make it then. I'm sure Old Ma Anonymous is quite right.

    I don't really understand your propaganda accusation: There are 3 photos of the pastry in progress and one of it cooked.

    What happened to which pastry when?

  11. Hey, is there any reason why the pie doesn't have a bottom? Had lots of pastry left over and the boy asked why not.... I thought maybe because the contents is too liquidy?

  12. Well... You can have a pastry bottom but it has a tendency to go very soggy. So a thing you're supposed todo, as i'm sure you know but others might not, is to blind bake it, which means to bake the bottom first by itself for a bit. But you need dried beans or ceramic beads for that, to hold the pastry down as it cooks, and I didn't have any - and even then I think it still can go soggy especially if, as you point out, the contents are quite liquidy.

    So that's why. Bet you wish you'd never asked. The leftover pastry will come in really handy for something else. Xx

  13. Hello

    So, it took me two weeks to get around to doing it but I finally had a go at making this pastry. I used it to top a steak and guinness pie not a chicken one but it was really the pastry part I was inspired by anyway. So, you may or may not care, but it turned out lovely. Not a waste of time at all. I was so chuffed with myself. It was delicious and it was so easy. I will never buy puff pastry again.

    Thanks lots, Elaine x

  14. Oh Elaine that's great news. Fair warms me cockles does a story like that... Xxx

  15. I made this last weekend & yes, it was fabulous!! Thank you!!
    I did use a pastry bottom & blind baked it. It didn't turn out soggy at all. I use rice for blind baking; mainly because the first time a recipe suggested it I didn't have any beans in the house. I've been reusing the rice ever since.

  16. fiona - fantastic suggestion about the rice, thank you. x

  17. I used the pastry for a turkey-(xmas leftover from freezer)-and-leek-in-white-sauce pie. I also did a top and a bottom. I didn't have any beans, and I'd never thought of rice (but will from now on). I did, however (thanks to the ever-present builders) have a ready supply of gravel in various sizes. Turns out this works just as well if you keep it off the actual pie with a couple of layers of foil !
    After 15 mins, I took the ballast off and replaced it with egg-wash (white, actually: available resources) to seal it and bunged it back in for a further 5 mins. Resultant pie wasn't soggy at all. Only slight difficulty was getting the top to glue to the (nearly cooked) bottom during the assembly process. Didn't make it taste any the worse though. Certainly worth the effort.
    p.s. We loved Giles' tweet about losing Kitty behind a cabbage on the table!

  18. Esther, just to say you inspired me to make a chicken pie for dinner. I did freeform quite a bit and poached the chicken in some bouillon with some tarragon. Didn't have a leek but used asparagus instead and some broccoli. Oh and some Ayrshire bacon. Sister came for dinner and is SUPER fussy, especially about chicken, but it was a clean plate. Pie was good! Will do your version too, though making own puff pastry a bit daunting. Thanks for great blog post.

  19. Esther, great pie! Two years late for the post, but rough puff effort is so not needed. All you need to do is cut the fat into the flour with a food processor, take a spatula, add water (slightly too much is fine), stir till over processed, add a few handfuls of flour, mix in badly, roll, bake, eat. Flaky, wonderful and perfect despite overwhelming contrary predictions while cooking. Promise.

  20. I'm very grateful for the "it will look ghastly" bit - only reason I persevered! It did look ghastly and then it looked lovely.

  21. I made this in September after I had left my job so I had time on my hands and it was brill. I also ate all the crispy skin off the chicken thighs and breasts I roasted for it which meant my husband was deprived of it but what he doesn't know won't hurt him. It was a great mid afternoon snack!

  22. I use (clean)pennies- which are pointless things but useful for blind baking.