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A big, informal pie, one with an unfussy crust and a richly flavoured filling, is always a crowd pleaser. The crunch of a spoon breaking through pastry, a veil of steam briefly shrouding the pie before revealing a creamy centre is not only satisfying to watch, but also to hear. A spoonful of chicken and leeks topped with a jaunty piece of crust is a welcome addition to any buffet plate. Which the 14 people who snuggled into my kitchen on a crisp Autumn afternoon to share an Easter feast will attest to.
Easter is a gloriously lazy holiday. It’s a four-day weekend of chilly mornings, cups of tea and gently spiced hot cross buns fresh from the oven. Pottering around the house is encouraged, as are long lunches with family and friends.
In the spirit of laziness (and family) I hosted a pot-luck Easter. Mismatched chairs encircled two tables that ran down the centre of the kitchen. Odd crockery was filled with a colourful mix of warm salads and roasted vegetables from the oven that was doing a good job of keeping us warm.
My offering to the buffet was a creamy chicken and leek pie. This recipe is more complex than I usually share, but a special occasion deserves some effort. The result is simple, fulfilling fare that is easily shared and definitely enjoyed.
Chicken and leeks are an old married couple, happily sharing each other’s company forever. In this pie they reside in a thick sauce that gives the pie a decadently rich feel. Poaching the chicken in stock results in beautifully moist, tender chunks that complement the delicate creaminess of the sauce. Alternatively you could use roasted thigh joints which add depth to the filling, especially if you add the roasting juices to the sauce.
You could, of course, make your own pastry. I opted for a good quality, all-butter puff pastry from the supermarket, which served perfectly well. Thyme, tarragon and mustard add flavour to the filling, bay would also go nicely, as would a handful of pitted prunes if you’re feeling particularly Welsh.
This pie gets better when reheated, so if you have leftovers, consider yourself lucky and enjoy the second round with glee.
Chicken and Leek Pie
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 600g chicken breast fillets or tenderloins
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 40g/1.4oz butter
- 1 large leek, sliced thinly
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- 1 tablespoon tarragon
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- ½ cup milk (+ 1 tablespooon)
- 1 cup cream
- Salt and pepper
- 1 sheet puff pastry
- 1 egg yolk
To prepare the chicken:
In a medium saucepan bring stock to the boil. Add the chicken and return to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes (or until chicken is cooked).
Remove from heat and leave chicken to stand in stock for another 10 minutes then chop into chunks. Keep 1/3 cup of the poaching liquid, and keep the remainder for another meal of soup or risotto.
To prepare the filling:
Heat oil and butter in medium saucepan and cook leek and onion, stirring, until they soften.
Stir in the mustard then the flour and cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Gradually stir in reserved poaching liquid, milk and cream and cook, stirring, until mixture boils and thickens. You know it’s ready when you scrape your spoon along the bottom of the pan and the mixture doesn’t immediately fill the space made by the spoon.
Stir in chicken, thyme and tarragon. Season to taste and let cool for 10 minutes.
To assemble the pie:
Pre-heat oven to 190C/375F.
Spoon the chicken mixture into a 6 cup / 1 ½ quart baking dish.
Roll out a sheet of puff pastry and drape it over the pie, pressing it against the rim to seal. Cut slits in the pastry so the steam can escape.
Mix the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of milk in a small bowl and brush the egg mixture over the pie to help produce a golden crust. Sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds for garnish if you like.
Set the pie on a heavy baking sheet and place in the oven for 50 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before serving.