The first time I made this pie, I felt as if I had been transported to a country kitchen in France. The tarragon, wine and mustard combination had me in such a blissful state, that I have since made this particular pie many, many times. Please don’t judge my mental health here, but I often have little conversations with myself about what my all-time favourite cuisine is. It’s a definite battle between French, Spanish, Moroccan, Lebanese, Japanese and Greek. Too many contenders, I know. At this stage in the life of my palette, I will say French and Spanish are tied for first place, however this could change next week. What I love most about French cuisine is the produce, as with Spanish cuisine. Roquefort cheese, foie gras, rillettes, mousse de canard, jambon… give me a plate of all or one of these with a crusty baguette and I am one happy camper. But it is also the stews and the slow-cooked combinations of such fine produce that make my mouth water. One saucy little stew that comes to mind is cassoulet, one of southern France’s food treasures and a dish that is claimed by both the folks of Toulouse and Castelnaudary. They’re both très bon, trust me! I shall post my own version in the near future.
But for Cassie, Chrissy and anyone else whose name begins with C (or doesn’t, for that matter), here is my saucy ode to the stews of France, contained within the bounds of golden, flaky pastry.
1 kg chicken thigh fillets
50 g butter
extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh or dried thyme
2 tablespoons fresh or dried tarragon
sea salt and ground black pepper
1 diced onion
2 tablespoons seeded mustard
2 tablespoons flour
150 ml dry white wine
500 ml cream
3 sheets puff pastry
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Prepare your chicken by trimming the fillets of fat and dicing them into 1.5 cm squares. It’s laborious and I absolutely hate the feel of cutting raw chicken (not to mention its smell and the sight of the fat), but it is worth using this cut, as breast fillets will be far too dry. Warm a large, heavy-based pot (again, I like my ceramic one for this) and fry the chicken in about a tablespoon of butter and a little oil. Keep the heat to medium so as not to burn the chicken. After a couple of minutes, add a tablespoon each of thyme and tarragon and season well. Cook until the chicken is just sealed. It should be white in colour and not golden. Set the chicken aside in a bowl, with all of its juices.
Prepare the leeks by cutting them into 1 cm-thick slices. Ensure that you use the white part only and that each slice is washed well. Give the pot a wipe and on a medium to high heat, add the remaining butter, onion and leek. Fry for about 8-10 minutes or until the leek is soft, translucent and coming apart. Keep stirring during this time so that the mixture doesn’t burn.
Add the mustard and stir for about a minute, then add the flour. Stir well with a wooden spoon so that the mixture becomes thick and gluggy and the flour cooks through without burning. Add the wine and from doing so, you should hear a dramatique sizzle and get a strong whiff of the Frenchy flavours I’ve been yapping about, then add the cream. You can use a bit of milk here instead of, or as part of the cream quantity required. You could also use lactose-free cream. But if you’re Frenching it up, go the full-fat cream I say! Mix well to combine all of the heavenly flavours and so that the cream heats through, then return the chicken with juices to the pot. Mix for about a minute, then have a taste. At this point I will add another tablespoon (at least!) of tarragon, seasoning and sometimes extra mustard, as I like the flavour to be quite intense.
Once you are happy with the flavour, turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool — completely, if you have time. Just before you are ready to get this baby into the oven, place a sheet of pastry onto a greased pie dish. Mine is a round, 34cm dish, but any dish of similar proportions is fine. You can also use shortcrust pastry for the base. I like to blind bake the base for about 10 minutes to ensure it doesn’t become soggy. Make sure you poke some holes into the pastry beforehand and that you have some overhang, as the pastry will shrink.
Pour the filling over the pastry base and smooth out. As you can see from my pic, there was a little too much filling with a slight explosion occurring, but this only adds to the rustic charm, I think! Place another sheet of pastry over the top of the filling and use a third sheet of pastry to cut odds and ends from, in order to cover the filling. Join the top and bottom edges of the pastry together and press together. Feel free to get a little creative here. Make a little cross in the centre of the pastry to let the steam escape. Mix the egg and milk together to make the egg wash, then paste this over the pastry. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and then bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Délicieuse!