Wednesday, April 15, 2009


This recipe from Jamie magazine, which I found at A Good Appetite, is basically a deconstructed version of one of my favorite Jamie Oliver creations, Pancetta-Wrapped Chicken Breasts With Leeks and Thyme—but in pie form. How could I not love it? Especially when I had an orphaned sheet of puff pastry in my freezer and some leftover cooked chicken already in the fridge?

The filling was a cinch to make and tasted delicious, like a sophisticated version of creamed chicken. The pie-making was slightly more challenging, mainly because of my own anxiety and ineptitude. Since A is not a fan of pot pies and I am sucker for anything stuffed with something else (dumplings, ravioli, empanadas, calzones, etc.), I took a cue from A Good Appetite, which mentioned that this might make a nice filling for a homemade hot pocket, and made hand pies instead. It soon became apparent that my filling was too liquidy, no matter how much I cooked it down trying to thicken it (I didn’t have nearly 14 ounces of chicken, as it turned out, and it didn't help that in my desperate attempt to cook it down meant that the chicken chunks broke down into tender strands, so that even scooping it out with a slotted spoon didn't help much), and I had way too much of it; I was barely able to pinch the edges of the dough together without filling running out everywhere, and I had so much filling left over that if I’d had more puff pastry I could have made twice as many pies if I’d wanted to. By the time I threw the baking sheet in the oven, I was swearing up a storm and convinced that I’d ruined a perfectly good filling and doomed dinner by trying to experiment with these little pies instead of just going with the pot pie. I was sure that all the filling would drain out during baking, leaving me with a burnt mess on the pan and soggy, empty pastry shells.

But not so! There was some filling leakage, but thanks to my use of a silicone mat, it didn’t make much of a mess. The pies still baked up near-perfectly, crisp and brown with plenty of tasty filling left inside. They still looked a little homely, but we both loved them—and I ate the leftover filling for lunch the next day with a spoon, which was just as tasty as the pies had been. I’ll certainly be making these savory little morsels again, and while I’ll try to improve on my first attempt by using the correct amount of chicken and maybe having more puff pastry to make more pies with, it’s comforting to know this recipe will work even if I think I’ve effed it up.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: I did a much better job making this for the second time, with some adjustments to the recipe: I had closer to the correct amount of chicken (still more like 12 than 14 ounces), cut it into bigger chunks (1/2-inch cubes, whereas before the chicken had been more shredded), and cooked it less long. It helped that I used about 1/2 cup less broth, so the filling was much less runny. Then, remembering how much leftover filling I'd had before, I went ahead and used a whole package of puff pastry--two sheets instead of one (I still had a bit of leftover filling, but more like a spoonful than a bowlful). So I got twice as many pies for my efforts. Fewer of them leaked in the oven, and the leftovers didn't get soggy--they were nice and crisp even days later. All these changes are noted below.

1 slice bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1½ teaspoons olive oil
1½ teaspoons unsalted butter
2 large leeks, washed, trimmed, and thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
Salt and pepper to taste
14 ounces cooked chicken, cut into chunks
1 heaping tablespoon flour
1½ to 2 cups chicken broth (use less when making hand pies)
1 tablespoon creme fraiche
1 sheet puff pastry for pot pie, or 2 for hand pies
1 egg, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees if making pot pie, 400 degrees if making hand pies.

2. Over medium-high heat, add the bacon and thyme to a large skillet. Add the olive oil and butter and cook for a few minutes. Add the leeks and stir for about 3 minutes to coat everything. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Let cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.

3. Stir the chicken into the leeks. Add the flour and stir again. Pour in the broth and the creme fraiche. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil. Season again if needed.

4. If making a pot pie: Pour the filling into a large pie pan. On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry out until it is at least 1 inch bigger on all sides than your pie pan. Trim to fit over your pan with a 1-inch overhang. Carefully place over the top of the pie and press down the sides. Brush with the beaten egg. With a sharp knife, add a few slits in the top. Bake for 35–40 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

5. If making hand pies: Using a rolling pin, roll the puff pastry dough out to make it into a little bigger rectangle. Cut into four rectangles. Brush a little beaten egg onto two adjacent sides of each rectangle. Using a slotted spoon, place a heaping spoonful of the sauce into the middle of each rectangle. Fold over to make a triangle and press the edges together to seal (you may need to stretch the dough a little). Place on a baking sheet lined with a silicone pad or parchment. Brush each pie with beaten egg. Use a sharp knife to poke two slits in the top of each. Repeat with the other sheet of puff pastry and the rest of the filling (you may still have a little left over), for a total of 8 pies. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350 degrees and bake another 10–15 minutes until golden brown. Let cool a few minutes before serving, because the filling will be really hot.

Serves: 4–6 (The pot pie will serve 4; if you make hand pies, you’ll get 8, but you'll likely eat more than one pie in a sitting—we ate 1½ apiece with a side salad at dinner.)
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Better than expected, at least for the hand pies. I don’t like reheated puff pastry because it seems to get soggy and greasy, but the leftovers I ate remained crisp and nearly as tasty as the first time around. I wouldn't say they improve with age, but they hold up.

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