Friday, November 28, 2008

Chicken, Leek and Thyme Pie

Often people talk about the satisfaction gained in making bread. I totally see where they’re coming from, but for me it is, and has always been, pie. A pie is always a surprise, even when you know what’s inside and even if you made it, because every pie is different depending on temperatures, absorbencies, natural sugar levels and lots of other science. But this is the greatest thing about pies, this unpredictability; this is what makes them magic.

One thing I (actually) do like about being Australian is our unique and central position on the international pie matrix. What do I mean, exactly? Well, from our colonisers, the English, we inherit the grand tradition of the savoury pie: flaky pastry filled often, but not always, with a rich meat stew. From other parts of Europe we claim pitas (yum) and strudels (yum) and, more recently empanadillas (and yum!). And from the magic worlds of literature, cinema and television, we (ok, I) have an (literally) unhealthy obsession with American home-style sweet pies (and brackets, evidently). I’d actually planned today to deliver a cherry pie recipe to inaugurate the season, but the early cherries I bought and baked in haste were a touch dull in the end, and it put me off. I’ll make good on the cherry pie soon.

Sweet or savoury though, it doesn’t matter; pie making from scratch gives me the ultimate sense of satisfaction. And so last week when we bought the sweetest, most delicious young leeks from the farmer’s market, I knew that this was the week of the chicken, leek and thyme pie.

When they’re not Thai green curried, or Moroccan spiced up, chicken pies are so damn country, and in the best possible way. The filling in this one is really delicate and fresh with a touch of lemon and is encased in, thanks to Angela Boggiano's Pie book, the easiest flaky pastry you’ll ever make. Although homemade pies can seem a bit of a job, you can always prepare ahead to lessen the workload come dinnertime. In fact, making your pastry in advance gives it extra time to chill and promises a flakier crust, while cooking up the filling ahead of time will only improve the complexity of the flavour. With a bit of practise, putting the pie together will only take you ten minutes, giving you ample time for a quiet sherry in your apron before everyone else in the house smells what’s going on.

Chicken, Leek and Thyme Pie
Adapted from Angela Boggiano’s Pie

Note: This recipe makes enough for one double-crust 25cm pie. The key to success is keeping everything very cold – so feel free to stick the pastry back in the freezer for a few minutes at any stage if you think it's warming up. It really does make a difference!

easy flaky pastry
200gm butter, very, very cold (nearly frozen!)
21/2 cups flour
a pinch of salt
6 or 7 tbsp iced water
1 beaten egg to glaze

pie filling
1 big chicken, about 1.5kg (preferably free-range)
1 large carrot, chopped into three
2 celery stalks, chopping into three
1 onion, peeled and halved
1 more onion, finely chopped
5 or 6 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp olive oil
knob of butter
2 leeks, white and very pale green bits finely sliced
150ml/ 2/3 cup white wine
2 tbsp flour
150ml/ 2/3 cup thin cream
finely grated zest of ½ lemon
salt and pepper

For pastry, whisk flour and salt in a large bowl to mix and aerate. Holding butter with a piece of foil or baking paper, grate into flour. Stir to combine evenly. Sprinkle in 6 tbsp of iced water and use a knife or rubber spatula to bring the dough together. Add a little more water if it needs it, but be conservative. It doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth dough, but a clumpy, crumbly mass. Tip onto a big piece of plastic wrap and shape roughly into a flat disk. Wrap and stick it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, up to 2 days, or freeze up to 3 months.

For filling, put the chicken in a large pot with carrot, celery and halved onion. Season with salt and pepper, remembering you can always add more later. Cover with water and bring to boil. Simmer for around 45 minutes, or until chicken is done. Remove chicken and set aside to cool. Continue to simmer stock for half an hour or so until it reduces by half. When chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove meat from bones, discarding skin, and shred or chop coarsely.

While your chicken is on the boil, heat oil and butter with medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the leeks and chopped onion, a sprinkle of salt and cook until softened and sticky. Turn the heat up a bit higher and add the wine. Let this simmer for a minute or so until reduced by half, and then add the flour. Stir well to combine, fry for about a minute, and then pour in the cream and about 150ml/2/3 cup of the reduced chicken stock. Strip leaves from thyme sprigs and add to leek and cream along with the chicken meat. Stir to combine well and set aside to cool. Have a taste for salt and pepper and image how good your pie will be.

Preheat oven to 200˚C. Pop a baking tray onto the middle rack to heat up. Divide your pastry into two lumps, one slightly bigger than the other and roll out the largest to line bottom of pie tin. Spoon the cooled filling into the pie and brush round the edges with beaten egg. Roll out the pastry lid and lay over filling, crimping the edges together to seal. Brush the top with beaten egg to give a good glaze and pop into the oven on the baking sheet for 35 – 40 minutes. It’s ready when the top is beautiful and golden.


  1. I love pies! They're so easy to make but they take a bit more forward planning than I seem to be comfortable with. I do love to bake them though - savoury or sweet - I'm easy to please!

    Your chicken pie looks delicious and that pastry looks wonderful. I'll be sure to try that pastry recipe as it looks very easy indeed.

    Your blog is looking great, I look forward to seeing how it develops.

  2. Linds - Thanks! The best thing about this pastry is that you can just grab the butter straight from the freezer and grate away (well, almost anyway). It consistently turns out great for me - do let me know how it goes for you if you try it!

  3. I certainly will. First I have to clear some space in my freezer to put the butter in the first place! Once I get the christmas baking out of there, we'll see how it goes.


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