Today the weather is lurching sporadically from bright shafts of sunlight, fighting its way through a heavily clouded day to a sudden gloomy overcast. It’s left me with somewhat of a lacklustre in the kitchen and I just can’t seem to put my finger on what to cook. Standing in front of the fridge trying to find inspiration amongst the jostling fridge dwellers, confused between the cherry red feta stuffed peppadew peppers fighting their way for attention amongst huge heads of broccoli and thick fat paprika fire hot chorizo. I need comfort food today, no bells and whistles – just a dish to settle the general undecided mood. Do you feel like this sometimes?
Then I spot a bowl of last night’s chicken stroganoff and next to it a medley of mixed vegetables, the peas and the bright golden nuggets of sweet corn tumbled together in a happy mayhem. That’s it!!! Easy, peasy creamy chicken pies! Rolling out the puff pastry on my marble slab, I find myself suddenly flooded with memories of living in England. How strange isn’t it, as I roll out the pastry, gently swirling flour into the air to settle like the first snow dust, that a simple task as making a humble chicken pie might take me in swift mind flight back to the blustery streets of my old hometown of Nottingham. It’s funny that you can leave a place far behind, but, for me especially, the scents and smells of foods eaten there, somehow seep into the memory finding a permanent home and, momentarily, they awaken again as the mind shifts, reminding you of a time long long past.
Pies. Good old hearty English Pies. I remember my first experience on my first day on campus at my University Cafe. Who forgets their first student meal?? Standing in the queue, I watched the cooks as they started their ritual evening, loud, banter performance. Dinner ladies, yelling out orders in accents I soon became accustomed to, heartily dishing out ladles of boiled, and they were not steamed, but flat out, boiled peas along with hastily served limp, boiled, yes boiled again, carrots, desperately hanging on for life. Hefty, beefy cooks poured out huge stock pans, of thick glossy steaming onion gravy and stirred vats of startlingly yellow lava like , bubbling custard. It’s quite an assault on the senses for a 17 year old, with these huge industrial kitchens, pulsing with an engine-like rhythm, the cooks yelling out as if in full rehearsal of receiving a new batch of international students. ‘One or two luv?’ ……..’This is like, beef, yeh, right, iz that awwwright fer y’ luv ??’ Recalling those days, chuckling as I remember my complete naive 17 year old self standing there, sometimes I didn’t have a flipping clue of what I was eating!
I must admit, one thing the Cooks did get right, was bloody good Chicken Pie. When you’re a student all the way from Africa, stuck in the middle of a dismal English winter, desperately missing mum’s bloody good Lamb Curry, let me tell you a piping hot pie somehow helps that hour pass!
As the years passed, my university days turned into a flurry of working days and although my culinary exposure certainly improved dramatically, I’m the first to admit that I never quite forgot the comfort a good pie can bring on a rainy day. Pies, the whole lot of them, from the hugely popular Cornish to the humble Cheese and Onion, along with a ‘builder-style’ cup of tea, in my mind, is pure English soul food, along with an excellent fish and chips from your favourite local chippie! It may not be gourmet, but you haven’t lived if you haven’t had a really good helping of piping hot Chips, Cheese and Beans with a topping of Mayo from your local kebab shop! Of course all this, with a Donner Kebab!!!
So there you have it! I know how to turn out some serious gourmet platings when I need to, but my kids will always know comfort food and it’s especially important when you know they really need it.. It’s where the heart of good cooking lies! Great good isn’t always about poshing it up, it’s about creating the right type of food for the right occasion and a rainy or morose day calls for pies! So whip out your aprons and put the kettle on, we’re going to make some serious Pie!
Hearty Hefty Chicken Pub Grub Style Pies
So these are exactly as the title describes, hearty, door wedge size proper English Pies. Admittedly, there is no tradition per say linked to this recipe, but they simply remind me of homely, comfort pub grub and are an everyday pie-on-the-go type. Rustic and flavoursome, my whole family are addicted to these!
Makes approx. 4 large individual pies
- 250gms of smoked streaky bacon. (Smoked is really essential in this dish as it lends to the depth of flavours), cut into small pieces
- 2 cups of finely chopped button mushrooms
- 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
- 1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped.
- Oil for shallow frying
- 2 ½ chicken breasts, chopped into small pie filling size pieces, dry patted with a clean towel.
- 4 heaped tbs plain flour
- 1 tsp finely minced garlic
- 1 cup of double cream
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning
- ¾ tsp Spanish paprika
- Approx 300gms readymade puff pastry, thawed
- 2 whole eggs, beaten
- Heat the oil in a wide saucepan until hot but not smoking.
- Add the bacon and fry on a medium heat until cooked through and just beginning to crisp.
- Drain out on a kitchen towel to remove the excess oil.
- In the same pan, add another glug or two of oil and add the onion and garlic.
- After 3 -4 minutes of frying add the chopped mushrooms.
- Season generously with salt and pepper. As they soften, after about five minutes of frying, remove and set aside.
- Now prepare your chicken. Gently toss the chicken pieces in the plain flour, some salt and black pepper. The idea is to dust them with the seasoned flour so they have an even coating. My trick for this is to place the chicken pieces in a colander and sprinkle the dust over, toss and sprinkle again, shaking the colander to remove excess flour.
- Heat up 2 tbs of oil in a wide frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, but not smoking add the chicken and let these pieces start to sizzle before you shake them about in the pan. Try not to stir, but shake the pan instead, allowing the flour to seal the chicken. After 3-4 minutes, turn the pieces over and continue frying until they have reached a golden colour. This should not take more than 6-7 minutes. You want to just barely cook the chicken as the pieces will continue cooking in the pie filling.
- Now add the fried bacon, the mushroom mixture, the parsley, the Spanish paprika and season with salt and black pepper, taking care as you have already seasoned the chicken, so go carefully. Stir this all well together.
- Now lower the heat and add the cream. Let this mixture cook for a further 4-5 minutes until slightly thickened. Set aside to cool completely.
- Heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade.
- When the mixture has cooled, you are now ready to prepare the pies. Roll out the puff pastry on a cold surface, such as a marble or granite surface. Separate into 4 balls and roll out 6 inch diameter circle, one for each person. As you roll each circle, keep the remaining balls in the fridge to stay cool.
- Place around two tablespoons of filling along the centre line and into one half of the circle, stopping ¼ inch from the edge.
- Fold over the other half of the pastry to create a semi circle. Press down lightly with your fingers to seal the pastry and then, taking a fork, lightly press the sealed edge down creating a simple pattern.
- Working quickly, finish all four pies.
- Brush each with the beaten egg mixture and place on a non stick baking tray.
- Bake in the oven until golden brown, approximately 12 -15 minutes.
- Serve piping hot straight from the oven, with proper English mustard and tomato ketchup – delish!!