You know those promises you make at the end of an evening: you’ve all had slightly more wine than necessary and you very enthusiastically set plans in order that you fully intend to keep, but which somehow magically evaporate during the night? Well, the pie challenge wasn’t one of them.
Over a sober brunch we agreed with our friends Anna and Charlie that we should do a pie exchange; we had little idea how serious this promise was on their part until this week. Seriously, perhaps we should have all cut our fingers and mixed the blood on it – that is, if it wasn’t really gross.
Only a present like the one they gave us for our wedding could have had the BSG and me leaping up and down on the sofa. Five (yes five, just about a whole section in itself) books on every aspect of pie eating, culture and making, and a couple of pie dishes; yes, Anna meant business: it was time to get practising. So, in honour of Dad and Ari, finally landed from NYC after two days of failed attempts due to airport freeze lockdowns, I thought I’d just knock up a pie…
Well, you don’t just ‘knock up a pie’. Well, at least not the chicken, leek and tarragon pie I selected from the book called Pie (why on earth not?) by Angela Boggiano; I chose it because the picture made me want to breach the golden crust and dive right in.
First, you’ve got to poach a whole chicken with stock veg and fresh tarragon sprigs, removing the bird after its Jacuzzi simmer and reserving the stock, which you then reduce by half. (I should think that handy leftovers from a roast chicken would be as effective here, unless you have an entire afternoon you want sucking up.)
Meanwhile, sauté 2 finely sliced leeks and half an onion in oil and butter until softened, adding ¼ pint white wine and simmering to reduce by half. Add single cream and aforementioned stock in increments of a similar volume, the zest of half a lemon and some chopped tarragon. Combine with the chicken meat* and season with salt and pepper, and set aside to cool.
There are so many rules about pastry floating about that I am sure I broke dozens, but I made my rich short-crust pastry in my food processor, thus avoiding any clammy-hand-heat (a chance would have been a fine thing during the Arctic, pre-Crimbo blast). It was an utter pleasure to stand observing as the machine worked its magic and the dough was the texture of a damp builder’s sand as I gathered it into a ball. After chilling it in the fridge in clingfilm I rolled it flat between sheets of greaseproof paper (a valuable tip indeed) and draped and pressed it into the perfect pie dish. Adding the now-cooled filling, I sealed and crimped (squished) the edges together, brushing the top with beaten egg.
After 35 minutes on a preheated baking tray in the oven at 180 degrees, the pie came out crisp and golden all over, the pastry cooked perfectly (the wonder of the pie dish). The inside was velvety unctuousness, punctuated by lemon and tarragon exclamation marks.
It was almost as easy as pie…time is really what’s required here. Pies are just perfect for these winter days and I can’t wait to make more of them.
*I have to say that I stripped the bird with my bare hands once it had cooled; a bit savage maybe, but far more effective at extracting every morsel than any tool – not to mention way more fun.