Mrs Patchett’s Chicken and Leek Pies. Won’t meant much to most people, in fact if you’re not from Sydney it won’t mean anything at all. Even if you are, you probably don’t remember the name. But I do. I fell in love with those little pies. You could buy them from the local deli and every now and again mum and dad used to buy them as treats. I’d sneak them when they weren’t looking, I’d ask for them for dinner. They came in a little individual size which I used to have as treat on Saturdays after playing three games of rugby. In short Mrs Patchett’s Chicken and Leek pies were symbols of my childhood and the bar which I needed to beat if I ever were to post a recipe. The other day, I think I did just that.
In secret, I’ve been slowly perfecting various elements of the chicken and leek pie for years. The first stage were the leeks, the recipe for which I first cooked at university. In the pies of my childhood, the leeks were sweet and tender without being at all mushy and I needed exactly that. There’s another dish eaten in Italy of fresh pappardelle pasta with buttery leek sauce. It’s divine and served as the inspiration for the base of my chicken and leek pie. In Italy, the offcuts of the cured ham leg would be used to cover the leeks as they cook, preventing the moisture from escaping whilst delicately flavouring the leeks. The ham itself would be discarded and after copious amounts of pepper were added the leeks would be tossed with some pappardelle – divine. Now, offcuts of ham are hard to come by and it’s a darn shame to waste good ham so I just use a cartouche – it’s a little circle of greaseproof paper and here’s a video of a fellow Australian making one. The trick is simply a decent knob of butter, a low heat and plenty of salt and black pepper. I’ll forgive you if you stop after the leeks and just toss them on some pasta!
The one gripe I always had with good old Mrs Patchett’s Chicken and Leek pies was that the filling was a little thick and stodgy. You almost didn’t notice whilst you were eating it (though you did a little) but after you’d finished a wonderful, creamy chicken and leek pie you were darn sure you’d eaten one. The reason, was the flour in the sauce. I’ve written about why I don’t like flour in pie gravies before – in fact my oxtail pies don’t have even a spoonful of flour or cornflour in the filling. They use Agar instead. Agar is very easy to find – you can buy it most supermarkets in the UK and you can even order it online from Amazon. Just remember, use less of the powered form than the flakes, one tablespoon of flakes is equivalent to one teaspoon of powder – here’s a helpful guide. This gravy is made from white chicken stock and cream with loads of added flavourings (like mustard, our old friend black pepper and a tiny touch of cayenne pepper) which gets set solid with agar in the fridge and then blended until it’s thick, unctuous and so good you can almost taste the chicken and leek pie already.
A few secret ingredients are added – shiitake mushrooms cooked with a dash of Worcestershire sauce provide a meaty, umami laden punch that pushes this over the edge. And a few absolute no-nos are completely verboten. No peas or bacon were harmed in the making of this chicken and leek pie. Now, I don’t have anything against them, in fact a chicken, leek, bacon and pea pie is a wonderful thing – but it just doesn’t scream childhood to me (truthfully shiitake mushrooms don’t either but then we’re all allowed to grow up just a little). I also must admit that I cheat a little and serve the pie with either a pea purée or a side of mushy peas.
After that, the only ingredients left to get just right are the pastry and the main event, the chicken itself. I tried a bunch of different pastries, shortcrust, hot water, american pie crust and many many others. In the end, I found both shortcrust and hot water were excellent and I think I’d go with hot water, but if you wanted to use store bought shortcrust no-one would judge. The only hard and fast rules are no soggy bottoms and it’s not a pie if it’s just a stew with a lid. I can’t say this clearly enough, don’t just throw the filling in a dish and cover it with some puff pastry – you’ll make me very sad. Pies, like all great things, have bottoms. I did try a bunch of different flavourings in the pastry as well – ranging from tarragon to the ultimate winner – black pepper. That’s right, even more pepper goes in, because after all this isn’t a shy pie, this is an ultimate chicken and leek pie.
So, the chicken – many questions and many, many tests. As with all parts of the pie, the first question is “What would Mrs Patchett do?”. Well, a Mrs Patchett’s Chicken and Leek pie is stuffed full of shredded chicken breast. This is fine, but ends up with a slightly dry meat which leans heavily on the creamy sauce to stay feeling moist. This can be improved by poaching the breast rather than roasting or searing it but that does introduce rather a lot of work and the results weren’t as good as when I used chicken thighs. For the truly ultimate chicken and leek pie, the skinless and boneless chicken thighs should be braised in the oven with white chicken stock for 30-40 minutes and then shredded – however, if you don’t feel a need to pay homage to Mrs Patchett, chopping them in a rough dice and searing in a pan over high heat gives pretty good results. I like to remove the skin and make chicken crackling and remove the bone myself, but you can just as easily buy skinless, boneless chicken thighs from almost all major supermarkets.
Finally, as an ultimate chicken and leek pie, it should stand tall and proud – so I’ve stopped making pies in tart tins or pie dishes and started realising that a pie with more filling is just better – and cake tins should really be re-branded, pie tins.
Ultimate Chicken and Leek Pie
Makes one large pie in a 9″ cake tin. It can be stored in the fridge for a few days before baking in the oven so can be done ahead. It is also far too delicious cold – there’s a chance you’ll eat all the leftovers for breakfast – I won’t judge or tell anyone!
For the Leeks
- 5 large leeks cut into thin slices
- 1 large knob of butter (~25g)
For the chicken and mushrooms
- 12 chicken thighs, skin and bone removed
- 500ml chicken stock (only necessary if braising and shredding – for a simpler version simply dice the chicken)
- 400g shiitake mushrooms sliced
- A glug of worcestershier sauce
For the creamy sauce
- 200ml double cream
- 200ml chicken stock (you can use the stock from braising the chicken)
- Optional: 250ml white wine reduced to a syrup consistency
- 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons Agar flakes (or 2 teaspoons agar powder)
For the pastry
- 500 g flour
- 200 ml water
- 120 g butter
- 70 g lard
- 1 level teaspoon salt
- 1 level teaspoon black pepper
- 1 egg yolk (for an eggwash)
- We will first cook the chicken.Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Season with salt and place the chicken thighs in a dutch oven or saucepan with a lid and cover with chicken stock (if not enough then top up with water). Bring to a simmer with the lid on and place in the oven for 40 minutes. Allow the chicken to cool in the liquid for 15-20 minutes before removing from the stock and shredding with two forks. Add a little of the cooking stock to the shredded meat and adjust the seasoning. Reserve. (For a quicker method with only marginally less good results, dice the chicken into medium sized pieces, season with salt and brown in a very hot pan – you don’t need to cook all the way through as baking the pie will finish it off).
- Place a large pan on a low heat and add the butter for the leeks. Once melted, add the sliced leeks and stir to coat. Add a good pinch of salt and more black pepper than you expect and cover with a cartouche (a circle of greaseproof paper – here’s a video to show you how). Cook until the leeks are soft and buttery – approximately 30 minutes. Add to the chicken.
- Place a pan over high heat and add some olive oil. Add the shiitake mushrooms and season with salt. Make sure the pan is large enough so the mushrooms can brown and not stew in their own juices. Brown all over and add the Worcestershire sauce. Remove from the heat and ad to the chicken and leek mixture.
- Place the cream, stock and reduced wine (if using) in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Add the agar and whisk to combine. Simmer for 4-5 minutes until all the agar is dissolved. Place in the fridge until set and then blend thoroughly. Add the mustards, cayenne pepper and season with salt and pepper. Combine with the chicken mixture in the fridge – it can stay there for a few days quite happily.
- Make the hot water pastry – here’s a very good guide and the recipe I use (I’ve also copied it below ). Alternatively, you can use shortcrust pastry that you either made yourself or store bought.
- Roll two thirds of the pastry to approximately 5mm thick and line a 9″ cake tin. Fill with the mixture and the roll the remaining pastry to form a lid. I like to leave a little lip around the outside and decorate the top with some cutout shapes of pastry. The pie can stay like this for a few days covered in the fridge before baking.
- Brush with egg yolk and place in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 30-40 minutes until deeply golden and cooked through. I served it with chicken crackling, olive oil mash and pea purée.
For the pastry
- Place the flour and pepper into a large bowl and set aside.
- Place the water, butter, lard and salt into a saucepan and heat over a medium heat, stirring as the fat melts. Once it comes to the boil, take the pan off the heat and pour it the bowl with the flour.
- Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until all the ingredients are combined. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave to rest and cool for 1 hour.
- After 1 hour, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and flatten into a rectangle.
- Fold the dough into thirds by taking one side of the dough into the centre and pressing down with your fingers.
- Then lift up the other side of the dough and bring it over the top. Press down again with your fingers.
- Flatten the dough out again into a rough rectangle and repeat the same process once more.
- Flatten the dough into a rectangle and place onto a baking tray. Cover it with clingfilm and rest until you need it (at least 30 minutes but up to a few days).