One of those sets of three flavours that complement each other perfectly: chicken, ham and leek. Seal them in pastry and bake them together and you have something truly wondrous!
Although various recipes I’ve read seem to contradict this, in my experience the best way to get a full crust pie that will sit by itself, golden brown all over and ready to slice, is to blind bake the bottom half before filling. I used a loose bottom cake tin (19 cm diameter, 3.5 cm deep) and pushed the pie out carefully after cooking.
This pie served four and only used half a poached chicken (the other half I kept for sandwiches) and a very cost-effective cooked ham hock. If you make this for two you can freeze half and then reheat from frozen, covered in foil for about an hour (pierce with skewer to check it’s piping hot all the way through). All of this makes the effort of poaching a chicken, making pastry, blind baking and everything else utterly worthwhile!
For poaching chicken: medium sized chicken (1.5 kg); green end of 1 leek; 1 onion, cut in half, 1 carrot, peeled; bay leaf. bunch of thyme, black peppercorns; 1–2 tsp each of fennel seed, coriander seed and cumin seed; couple of cloves.
For pastry: 225 g plain flour; 175 g butter; pinch of salt; cold water; 1 egg for egg wash
For pie filling: 2 small shallots, finely chopped; white part of one large leek; about 75 g of thickly cut pieces from a cooked ham hock (or you could get a raw one and cook in a similar way to the chicken, below); large knob of butter; 1 tbsp plain flour; poaching liquor from chicken; poached chicken meat; fresh parsley, chopped; white pepper; salt
First, the chicken. Place the whole chicken and all the poaching ingredients into a large pan, cover with water, and bring to the boil, skimming off any scum as it appears. Turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour.
Whilst the chicken is cooking you can make the paste for the pastry. I admit, I used Delia’s recipe for quick flaky and you can follow her method here (but remember to use the quantities shown above). Wrap the paste in cling film and put it in the fridge.
When the chicken has been cooking for about an hour (the legs should be just falling off the bird) take the chicken out of the pot, keeping the remaining liquid hot. As soon as you can handle it, start to remove as much of the meat as you can (you can of course help yourself to the oysters should you feel so inclined) and put it on a plate or into a bowl and cover. Put the carcass back into the pot, bring back up to the boil then simmer again for another hour or so.
Flour the work surface and rolling pin and roll out half of the pastry to about 3 mm thickness and place into the greased tin, pushing it into the corners, leave plenty hanging over the sides. Cover the base with greased baking paper and weigh down with baking beans. Place in the oven for about 10-15 minutes until it looks like it is just drying out. Take out the baking paper and beans and put back in the oven for another 5 minutes to just start to colour the base.
Now to make the pie filling. Strain about 500 ml of the chicken poaching liquor into a sauce pan, bring to the boil and reduce by about a third, until it has quite a strong chicken flavour.
Melt a large knob of butter in a heavy based pan. Add the shallots and soften and then the leek. Stir in 1 tbsp flour to make a coarse roux and then blend in the reduced chicken liquor. This should thicken considerably – you want it to be thick to bind the other ingredients in the pie. Stir in the pieces of ham and enough chicken meat until it looks like you have enough filling to fill your pie tin (keep the rest in the fridge for another day). Stir in the parsley and season with white pepper and salt.
Roll out the lid. Take the rest of the pastry from the fridge and roll out to about 5 mm thickness. Place to one side and fill the base of the pie. Egg wash the sealing edge of the pie case then carefully lower the lid onto the pie. Press the side of your finger down on the edge of the lid, all the way round to seal it. With a sharp knife pierce to slits in the centre of the lid. Egg wash all over then place in the oven for about an hour. It’s ready when it’s golden brown all over and a skewer pushed in through one of the slits comes out piping hot.
Use a small knife to cut away the overhanging pastry around the edge of the pie. Hold the pie tin in one gloved hand and carefully push up the base of the tin with the other. Allow the tin to drop onto your arm (careful if it’s hot) and slide the pie onto the plate. Present to your guests (or make yourself smile) and slice!