My gran – in the way of so many women of her generation I suppose – was a kitchen whizz on the quiet. Dress a 300kg carcass in under an hour? No problem. Whip up a four-tier wedding cake with marzipan and delicate OTT floral sugarwork by Monday? Sure sweetie. I wish I had learnt more from her while I could. But at 18 I sadly didn’t have a brain.
I think of many dishes when I think of her. Like roast leg of lamb on Sundays – with rice AND potatoes. Because banting was decades off. And always, always chicken pie. Because only one protein on the table, just would not do. And chicken was a vegetable anyway.
Thinking back, the chicken pie was a heck of a performance. Whole farm chicken, roasted low and slow for what seemed like hours until it fell off the bone. Home-made stock and feather-light home-made pastry. She made it seem like a breeze.
While I love making her recipe from time to time, my world is a very different one from hers on the farm forty years ago. So I’ve come up with a shortcut, cheat’s route for a pie that tastes almost as good as hers, but can be made midweek. There are no fancy extras like leeks and mushrooms, gran would not approve. It’s just good chicken, good stock and good store-bought pastry – naturally flavoured with cloves, as any self-respecting old-fashioned SA farm chicken pie should be. Almost as good as hers. Almost.
All you need is…
8 plump free-range chicken thighs (10 if they’re small)
4 tbs canola or sunflower oil
1½ cups water
1 sachet chicken stock concentrate ( I used the Roast Chicken Stock Concentrate from Woolies. You can also use Ina Paarman’s or Nomu’s awesome Chicken Fond)
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ cup fresh cream
1 tbs salted butter, room temperature
2 tbs plain cake flour
1 packet all butter puff pastry (do not skimp on this, it must be proper butter puff – Woolies stocks it)
1 egg, whisked
Remove the chicken skin – it just adds extra fat you don’t need. Lightly salt the chicken pieces and fry them in a thick-bottomed pan in the cooking oil over a high heat until they’re gorgeously caramelised. You want them really golden brown as this creates huge flavour. (TIP: do not try to fry them all at once, they will steam instead of fry.) Remove chicken pieces and set aside as they brown. Once all the pieces are done, deglaze the pan with the water. Stir the bottom of the pan to loosen all those lovely caramelised bits. Add the chicken back to the pan along with the sachet of stock concentrate, pepper and cloves. Cover and cook over a lowish heat for 25-30 minutes until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken once done and set aside.
If you cooked your meat over a low enough heat, you should still have 1½ cups of stock left in the pan. If not, top it up with water to get the required amount of liquid and add the cream. Fish the cloves out of the stock. Make a basic roux by kneading together the butter and flour (you’ll get a play-dough like consistency). Put the stock back on the heat and add a tablespoon of the roux to the sauce at a time, whisking until incorporated before you add the next bit. Once all the roux is in, boil the sauce whilst whisking until thickened – it takes about 5 minutes. Remove from heat once done.
Use two forks to pull the meat off the bones and flake it. Add the flaked chicken to the sauce and stir through. Taste for salt and add more if needed. (You always need more than you think, after all, salt is flavour!)
Place mixture in a pie dish and cover with puff pastry. Crimp the edges onto the pie rim so you end up with a neat chicken pie. Paint the dough with the egg, make a small slit in the middle of the pie (so steam can escape) and into the oven it goes at a 180 degrees Celsius for 30-40 minutes until golden brown. You can make one large chicken pie, or four very generous individual pies. Serve with peas.