It’s no secret that a wholesome and hearty homemade pie is real soul food. It’s comforting and, for many of us, extremely nostalgic. What makes it so damn delicious? Is it the creamy rich filling with tender pieces of chicken all enveloped in a rich sauce, or the crispy pastry on top that often gets secretly nibbled from all the edges of the pie dish when no one is looking?
Whether you’re a pie fiend and know your way around a rolling pin, or just can’t bring yourself to think of making one yourself from scratch, we’re here to guide you through the elements that make chicken pies great.
The meat (filling)
There’s nothing worse than a filling that’s too dry, dense and solid when you serve it. Preventing this starts with the meat. It’s usually best to first gently poach your chicken in a chicken or vegetable stock. This will ensure it’s not only tender and moist (from cooking in and absorbing some of the liquid), but also more flavourful. It’s best to use thighs and legs (on the bone – as this adds an extra richness of flavour to the meat).
You don’t want a gloopy, stodgy sauce (unless that’s what you like!) and you also don’t want a sauce that’s too runny and soupy. It’s generally the sauce that makes or breaks a chicken pie. Many sauces are roux-based with the addition of warmed cream or milk. Make sure your ratio of flour to butter isn’t too high, otherwise you’ll have a super thick consistency. At the end of the day, whatever you choose comes down to personal preference of sauce thickness, but the general rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of flour to 2 tablespoons of butter and 250ml liquid. Always make sure you infuse your milk with half an onion when heating up. This is a simple and super effective way of adding even further depth to the flavour of your sauce.
Don’t forget to season your filling – both the sauce and the chicken – with salt (and pepper, if you want a bit of spice), but don’t overdo it. Your tongue is a good guide here, so taste as you go. You can also add in aromatic herbs like freshly chopped thyme, parsley and a bit of mustard for some oomph. Some people also throw in a tot of sherry! It’s all about layering flavours and allowing the ingredients to ‘collaborate’ with each other. You can also add some cooked peas or carrots to the sauce for a bit of bulk, colour and contrast in each mouthful.
What’s worse than biting into a piece of soggy, under-cooked pastry? Nothing. Puff pastry is the way to go if you want to be traditional. You want your pastry to ‘puff’ up nicely, which requires space, so don’t overcrowd the dish with too much filling. If it’s stuck to the filling, you’ll end up with soggy pastry. Don’t pierce the pastry with a fork because if air escapes, it will collapse onto the filling and lose its shape. Making your own puff pastry = expert level, but if you don’t have the patience or time, simply get the best quality ready-made puff pastry from your local supermarket.
Don’t forget the egg wash!
Glazing your pastry with a beaten egg just before baking might seem gratuitous but it makes all the difference. The addition of the egg wash results in a golden brown and shiny pastry once you remove it from the oven, making it Instagram-ready.
Happy cooking! If you take a pic of your gorgeous chicken pie, be sure to tag us @Food24_sa.