Saturday, 13 August 2011

Leftovers, Day 2- Chicken, Bacon, Leek and Thyme Pie

Making a pie from the leftovers of a roast chicken is something I have internalised the recipe for over the years. I started, I expect, following a recipe to the letter, moving through to the odd consultation and adding my own touches, and now it is just something I do without thinking. It certainly helps that the component parts all feel very familiar to me. The first thing I ever learnt how to make was B├ęchamel sauce, adding milk whilst my Mum stirred. I also used to watch her make pastry, which is probably why I don't have a pathological fear of making it, like some perfectly competent cooks do. Yes, the ingredients have slightly changed-I don't recall her ever infusing milk to make the classic white sauce- but my 'feel' for making it all stems from her instruction.

There are many variations on the chicken pie theme. Bacon can be used or not, use mushrooms instead of leeks, or neither. Whatever you decide, remember to keep the chicken as the main character. Herb-wise, tarragon is wonderful, maybe better, than thyme. If you do decide to use tarragon, use the stalks to infuse the milk instead of the thyme. And have a light hand with the amount of chopped leaves you use, a little is wonderful, too much will overpower the dish with an unpleasant level of aniseed.

I occasionally borrow an idea from the Domestic Goddess herself, and crumble in a third of a chicken stock cube in with the flour when making the sauce, and it certainly adds to it. This time, I stirred in the (now jellied) winey-Marsala-y-chicken juices at the end, and it was the best pie yet. But I don't expect anyone to make the same meal in order to create the goods for what is a leftovers dish, even an especially delicious one.

For the milk:
2 bay leaves
1/2 onion
1 clove
1 blade mace/  nutmeg
Parsley stalks
Few Sprigs thyme
300ml full fat milk.

Put all the above except the nutmeg, if using, in a heavy based pan and bring just to the boil, then remove from the heat and leave to cool. If you are using nutmeg, grate a little over the milk and stir in before you leave it to infuse.

For the pastry:
125 grams unsalted butter, cubed
225 grams plain flour
pinch salt
1 egg yolk
a little milk, if needed.

Put the butter, flour and salt in the freezer together for 10-20 minutes, beat the egg yolk with 1 tbsp cold water and refrigerate. Put the flour, butter and salt into the processor, and pulse till you have a flaky mix. Pulse in the egg, and add the milk if you need it to bind the mix together. I keep pulsing until it looks like it is just about to form a cohesive mass before pushing it together with my palms, in order to handle it as little as possible- the less you work the dough, the better result you will get. Pat into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for at least an hour. I have made this up to a day in advance with no ill effect.

For the filling:
Cooked chicken,enough to just fill your pie dish
Bacon, pancetta or ham- enough so that is more of a seasoning, not the whole point of the dish, diced (or use lardons or ready cubed pancetta)
 1 leek thinly sliced
Thyme leaves
30 grams unsalted butter, plus a little extra for frying and greasing
15 grams plain flour
1/3 chicken stock cube, or leftover juices from cooking the chicken (optional, see above)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees centigrade, put a baking sheet in the oven to heat on the middle shelf. Butter a medium pie dish.
Strain the infused milk into a jug. Melt the butter in heavy bottomed saucepan, then stir in the flour and crumble in the stock cube, if using. Toast the flour-butter mix over the heat for a minute. Add a little of the milk to the pan, stirring. Continue to add the milk, bit by bit and stirring all the time until it is all used up and you have a creamy sauce. You may need to add a little extra milk. If you have leftover cooking juices from roasting the chicken, stir them in now. Set aside to cool.
In a frying pan, cook the bacon over a high heat, then set aside in a bowl large enough to hold all the filling. In the same pan, sweat the sliced leek in the butter till soft. About a minute before the end of cooking time, add the thyme leaves. Add this mix to the bacon, along with the chicken. Stir in your B├ęchamel sauce.

Remove the pastry from the fridge. Flour the surface where you are going to roll it out. Roll out 2/3rds of your pastry to fit the base and sides of the pie dish, with a little overhang. Line the dish with the sheet of pastry, and spoon in the filling. Brush the edges of the base part of the pastry where the lid will meet. Roll out the remaining third, and cover the filling. Press the edges together. Put a few slits in the lid with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. You can use any excess pastry for decoration, if that's your sort of thing. Brush the top with more beaten egg, and bake for about 25-30 minutes, till golden brown.

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