First day of spring approaching? Well not if you shove your nose out of my door, it ain't. After some good feed back from last week's recipes featuring leeks, I thought I'd dig this one out. Take this pie, break the crust and you get colours of summer, succulent white chicken, pale green leeks and jewels of red pepper flecked with the dark green of the tarragon. Yet it's still a great winter warmer. Be careful with your quantities. On a cold March evening many at the table may clamour for a second helping.
A couple of preliminary points. For many, a pie is what you use to chuck in the leftovers. That can be fine, but this will take you to a higher level. Secondly, this is a crust only pie. I know that for many of you this doesn't count as a pie at all – well, frankly my dears, I don't give a damn. Puff pastry would be horribly soggy if you used it as a base with a fairly liquid filling. Finally, remember that your filling must be cooked and left to cool before you add the pastry top. Allow sufficient time.
Ingredients (serves 4 – 6)
For the pie: 4 chicken breasts; 1 onion; 2 red peppers; 4 leeks; puff pastry (ready made is fine).
For the sauce: butter, flour, milk and (optional) some chicken stock or poaching liquor from the chicken; salt, pepper and about 3 tablespoons of finely chopped tarragon; beaten egg to brush the pastry.
First, cook your chicken breasts however you want. I recommend poaching them in chicken stock. You will have lovely moist meat and you can use some of the poaching liquid for your sauce. As both the sauce and the pastry are butter based – if you have never made your own puff pastry you might be amazed how much fat it contains – I would advise against frying. Cut them into bite sized pieces. That obviously depends upon you and the size of your gob. You could make this more economically by cutting back on the chicken and cutting into smaller pieces and bulking the pie with more veg. Just don’t serve it to me, cheapskate. Chop the onion and red pepper into fairly neat small dice. Halve the leeks and slice into fine half moons. Start softening the onion and red pepper in a little butter and oil then, after a few minutes, add the leeks. Sweat until all the veg are tender. Meanwhile make a standard béchamel sauce (melt the butter and add an equal quantity of flour, mix together to form a roux, allow to cook to remove the taste of raw flour, then add the milk a little at a time, stirring constantly to make a smooth sauce. If you poached the chicken add a little of the poaching liquid. You will want approximately 300 - 400 ml of sauce, enough to bind all the ingredients without being too runny. Season the veg and the sauce with salt and pepper. Add the tarragon to the sauce. It must be fresh tarragon. Some herbs can happily be used in dried form – tarragon is not one of them. Mix the chicken, vegetables and sauce together in a pan and cook gently together for a couple of minutes so that the flavours start to mingle. Check the seasoning, then transfer the mixture to your pie dish and allow to cool. Roll out your pastry to about the thickness of a pound coin. Cover the dish with a little overlap. (Top tip: if you are making what the Americans would call a pot pie, using a cylindrical dish or good old-fashioned pudding bowl, stick a little strip of pastry moistened with water around side of the pot or bowl. Fasten your overlap to this: it makes it easier to seal.) Make a hole in the middle of the pastry to allow steam to escape. Brush with egg then cook in the centre of a hot oven (200̊ C, Mark 7) for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is piping hot.
While I usually like to serve something with a sauce that needs mopped up with mashed potato, my mash swims in butter and/or other flavoursome things. I therefore serve with plain boiled tatties and a green veg of choice, usually peas.