The 'South Africa' in the title is there because this really is our moment, isn't it? A frenzied excitement and an outpouring of national pride is the best way to describe the atmosphere in our country over the past few days, and I am loving every minute of it!
I've made dozens of chicken pies, of various sorts, over the years, but I've often found that they don't have the full-bodied chicken taste I expect from a good pie. The reason? Simmering whole chickens in water doesn't produce - in a short time at least- a stock of sufficient intensity and flavour. So, after some experimenting, I've come up with this method: the chickens are roasted, at a moderate temperature, in a shallow bath of water and wine, with the usual flavourings. Once the cooked chicken has been stripped off, the bones and skin are returned to the bath, and cooked briskly on the stove-top to concentrate the flavour and produce a small amount of really chickeny stock. This is a long recipe, which takes time, but I reckon the effort is worth it.
I use bought puff pastry for this pie because I honestly can't be fagged to make my own, but it would be superb with a really good home-made pastry. The ready-made sort we get here in South Africa (Heinz's Today Ready-Rolled Puff Pastry) is not great - it tends to crack as you unroll it, and it doesn't have much puff in it. But it's convenient.
This pie, like all stews, tastes better the day after it's made. Use a large pie dish, or make individual pies, as you please. The ham is entirely optional: if you use it, use a good-quality smoked ham, and ask your deli to cut off a chunk, so you can cube it it yourself. Other good additions to this pie are little nuggets of fried pork- sausage meat (squeeze the filling from pork sausages, roll into balls and brown in oil), frozen peas, and hard-boiled eggs.
I-Love-You Chicken Pie from South Africa
For the chicken and stock:
2 whole free-range chickens
2 carrots, thickly sliced
a stick of celery, sliced
6 parsley stalks (reserve the leaves)
2 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
a large, unskinned onion, quartered
a large sprig of thyme
2 cloves garlic, peeled
4 cups (1 litre) water
1½ cups (375 ml) white wine
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
For the sauce and pie:
4 Tbsp (90 ml/90g) butter
100 ml flour
1½ cups (375 ml) milk
¼ tsp (1.25 ml) freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp (10 ml) Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp (15 ml) brandy
5 Tbsp (75 ml) cream
4 Tbsp (60 ml) chopped fresh parsley
a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt and milled black pepper
250 g cooked, smoked ham, cubed
a sheet of prepared puff pastry
an egg, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Place the chickens in a large, deep metal roasting pan. Add the carrots, celery, parsley, peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves, onion, thyme and salt. Squeeze the lemon over the chickens, then push the squeezed-out halves, together with the garlic cloves, into their cavities. Pour the water and wine into the pan. Place in the oven and roast, uncovered, for an hour and twenty minutes, or until the chickens are cooked through.
Remove the chickens from the pan, first tipping them neck-side down to drain any juices back into the pan. Discard the lemon halves. Allow the chickens to cool for 20 minutes. Remove the flesh from the bones, and tear it into strips the size of your little finger. Put all the skin and bones back in the roasting tin. Place the tin over a moderate flame and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Strain the liquid into a jug and place in the fridge to cool. Remove any fat from the top of the stock and measure out two cups (500 ml). (You can skip this step, but the stock will be fatty. If you're in a hurry, skim the fat off the hot stock with a spoon. Alternatively, you can use one of these brilliant fat-separating jugs). Set aside.
In the meantime, make a white sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a high heat. When the butter stops foaming, tip in the flour and stir vigorously to make a paste. Allow to bubble for a minute or two, but do not allow to brown. Now tip in all the milk and, using a balloon whisk, stir wildly to disperse any lumps. Continue stirring constantly until the mixture becomes smooth and very thick. Now beat in the reserved two cups of stock. When the sauce comes to the boil, turn down the heat and allow to bubble gently for three minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the nutmeg, mustard, brandy, cream, parsley and a spritz of lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the surface of the sauce with clingfilm and allow to cool to lukewarm.
Mix the sauce with the chicken strips and cubed ham, and place the mixture in a pie dish about the same size as your sheet of pastry. Very lightly roll out the pastry on a floured surface (don't stretch it or enlarge it by more than about a centimetre on all sides). Place the pastry on top of the filling, and cut away any excess. Seal the edges by pressing lightly with your fingers. Decorate the pie by crimping the edges and using any trimmings to make leafy decorations. Cut a 1-cm slit in the middle of the pastry. Brush the pie all over with the beaten egg. At this point, you can place the pie in the fridge to bake later, or the next day.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Bake the pie, in the middle of the oven, for 30 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and golden,and the filling is bubbling (reduce the cooking time if you are making individual pies).
Serves 8. Print Friendly