Under parental guidance, we have been brought up inured, our indifference possibly symptomatic of the neurotoxic effects of our formative diets, to off-the-shelf, pre-prepared, convenience ingredients, just-add-water-ready mixes and quick frozen meals. "Can't cook", we enthusiastically relinquish our own skills as means to culinary sufficiency and pride ourselves in exercising our uninformed consumer choice "don't cook!".
Here in the UK there is a current TV advertising campaign announcing that "Blue (Smartie) is back". If like me you immediately rushed out in a fit of nostalgia and bought a box of this crunchy, sugar-coated, chocolate confectionery only to discover that the colour of ALL Smarties is now disappointingly wishy washy (!!!) one is forced to acknowledge the creeping suspicion as to why is it that food industry giants are now removing additives in products aimed at children in a bid, as they claim, to improve their "nutritional quality"? If these additives are non-nutritional then one can extrapolate that the only reason they are doing this is in fact to reduce the toxicity of their products. Is it just possible that those kids who started frothing at the mouth, threw themselves on the floor and gnashed at peoples' ankles at the sight of food coloured with substances derived from coal tar for instance were not just simply more badly behaved than we were?
Since it is still considered okay for these additives to be in food aimed at adults, it is time we big kids make our own unadulterated food using ingredients of integrity. No need to quit eating altogether in protest or to write to your local MP, this easy peasy, home sweet homemade chicken pie is grass roots activism at its most nutritious and delicious. Simply spend your money judiciously (food manufacturers and retailers, for all they call themselves market leaders, will bend themselves over backwards to meet customer demand), invite your mates around and tuck into some top nosh you made yourself with your own two hands.
Step 1: To Prepare the Filling: Roasting the Chicken
Free range chicken
Two large (locally farmed) onions
A third of a bottle of (responsibly farmed) white wine
To roast the chicken:
1. Wash the chicken, inside and out. Dry thoroughly.
2. Preheat the oven to 210 ÃÂ°C (Gas Mark 6).
3. Slice up the onions and place in a roasting dish.
4. Place the chicken in the roasting dish.
5. Pour the white wine over the chicken.
6. Spoon a couple of spoonfuls of wine and sliced onions into the cavity of the chicken.
7.Roast for 20 minutes at 210 ÃÂ°C (Gas Mark 6).
8. Reduce oven temperature to 180 ÃÂ°C (Gas Mark 4), spoon some juices over the chicken and continue to roast for up to 45 minutes (small chicken) or up to 70 minutes (large chicken).
You don't need to baste the roast with any extra fat or butter, roasting the chiken in the wine and its own juices will keep the meat succulent. Though a pie can't be considered diet food, it can be a healthy meal if you go easy on the amount of fat you use in the making of it. Avoid over cooking the chicken by checking on it every 5-10 minutes or so at the end of the cooking time so that you catch it when it is just cooked and juicy. This is particularly helpful if you've never roasted a chicken before as you'll see the changes in the juices each time you check. You will know when the chicken is done when the juices run clear and transparent without any hint of pink.
Step 2: To Prepare the Pastry
350g plain white (unbleached) flour used for baking cakes
175g - 200g (your choice on how much fat to use) chilled, unsalted butter made from milk from free range herds
250mls (fat free) plain yoghurt made from milk from free range herds
Cut the butter into the flour until it resembles small squares the size of Liquorice Allsorts.
Gently break the lumps of butter up further with the tips of your fingers until the lumps are the size of Skittles. DO NOT rub the butter into the flour until it resembles the consistency of Nerds. If the butter is too soft put the dish back into the fridge momentarily.
Stir in the yoghurt. The mixture will appear to be a little dry at this stage, but don't be tempted to add any extra yoghurt or other liquid.
Gently squish the mixture together until it binds, a bit like making mudpies in the sandpit. This may take a moment or two if the butter is too chilled but persist gently in pressing the mix together. Resist the urge to knead it, you are making pastry, not dough. All good things come to those who wait; the Play Doh moment comes later when you get to decorate the pie crust. You want the pastry to be beautifully marbled with lumps of butter and not a homogenous paste. This will ensure that the pie crust is light, crisp and flakey. Pop the pastry into an airtight container (make a pledge never to use plastic food wrap / cling film ever again, "cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye") and put in the fridge for an hour or so.
Step 3: Preparing the Filling: Stripping the Chicken
Strip the chicken of every scrap of edible meat.
If you have roasted an organic chicken you can collect all the skin and stripped bone in a saucepan, fill the pot up with boiling water until all the bones are just covered and simmer for 5 minutes to extract any goodness and flavour remaining. Don't boil the bones and don't simmer for too long, you are not wanting to make glue. This stock can be used in making the bechamel sauce.
Sieve the onion from the juices that have accumulated in the bottom of the roasting pan.
The onion can be used to make an onion gravy:
Mash the onions with a potato masher. Strain the juice from the pulp. Discard the pulp in the compost bin. In a frying pan place a level teaspoon of cornflour. Add a dash of the onion juice and mix until you have a smooth paste. Add the rest of the onion juice. Mix until the paste is entirely dissolved. Put the frying pan over heat and stir constantly until the gravy thickens to your required consistency.
Let the roasting juices cool. The fat from the chicken will separate out from the roasting juices.
Don't forget to pull the wishbone with a significant other.
Step 4: Preparing the Filling: Making a Bechamel Sauce
The dripping separated from the roast chicken juices
The roast chicken juices plus (free range) milk / water / stock to make 1L of liquid
60g unbleach plain flour
Salt and pepper and wholegrain mustard for seasoning
Thinly sliced pan seared mushrooms to taste
Finely chopped flat leaf parsley to taste
Put the dripping into a saucepan, mix in the flour until you have a smooth paste. Put the saucepan over a low heat and gently simmer the flour paste for a couple of minutes (this cooks the flour and improves the flavour of the bechamel sauce).
Slowly add the milk stirring continuously until the flour paste is dissolved thoroughly without forming lumps.
Now you can turn the heat up a little, stir until the sauce is really stiff and thick. Make sure you scrape the bottom of the saucepan to prevent the sauce from catching.
Season to taste (easy on the salt if you used salted butter in the pastry).
Add the mushroom and the parsley.
Step 5: Finishing Touches
Preheat the oven to Preheat the oven to 210 Â°C (Gas Mark 6) .
Place the chicken meat into a large dish, mix in the bechamel sauce.
Take a third of the chilled pastry and touching it as little as possible, roll out until it is a sheet 3-5mm thick. Cut 3cm wide strips. Put the off-cuts to one side.
Create a border around the edge of the pie dish laying the strips lapping up the walls of the pie dish - this will create a seal when the pie crust is laid on top.
Take a second third of the chilled pastry and roll it out until it is a sheet 3-5mm thick. Hold the pie dish above the sheet of pastry and trim the sheet to the size of the pie dish by eye. Bring the pie crust to the pie dish supported on the board you rolled it out on. Flip the pie crust onto the pie. Trim the edges.
Crimp the edges to seal the pie crust. Gather all the off-cuts and play to your heart's delight - if the pastry is still edible by the time you are finished secure your decoration on top of your pie crust, glaze with beaten egg and bake the pie for approximately 30 minutes or less if the filling is brown and crisp and the pie is sizzling.
The remaining third of the pastry can be frozen and used to MAKE MORE PIES. Have fun.