A Distressing Failure – Chicken and Leek Pie with Sage Pastry

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A hot, steamy pie.  Not a typical meal for a June evening, but England’s skies are not the brightest this month. May was a wash out too, more like November. I felt the need for a comforting and hearty meal, and was excited to make the fabulously fresh pie I had in mind. Unfortunately the result was, in a cruel mirror image of the skies, a miserable, soggy splat. And I ended up in a messy heap too.

Pies are not something I have much experience with. I love eating them (nothing beats a good steak and ale pie from the pub) but my mother never made them and I don’t have fond childhood memories of the family coming together to tuck into a delightfully homemade pie. I think I have only made one in my time. So why I thought I could make a pie no problem I have no idea! 

After my recipe idea struck me, I rushed to the supermarket in a breathless frenzy – I get like that when I have a ‘good idea’ – having done no research yet confidently envisaging my show-stopping end product. I happily bought my ingredients and I even bought a new pie dish to make it really special. I did already have a pie dish, but it was straight-edged and oblong and the fabulousness of my pie demanded pretty, round and fluted. Here is the crux of my mistake: the dish I bought was ceramic, whereas the one I already had was metal and so would of course conduct the heat so much better.

Back at home, it all started off so well. I picked some sage from my bountiful herb garden, made my pastry and allowed it to rest in the fridge. I poached my chicken breasts to achieve the most tender fowl. I sautéed onions and leeks until perfectly al dente. Crucially, I thought, I remembered to allow my filling to cool. Lining and chilling my new pie dish was a breeze and with a flourish of egg wash, into the oven went my hopes and dreams.

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25 minutes later, with some creamy mash and spring greens ready to go, I cut into my lovely brown pie… And promptly threw a strop. “It was a disaster! Such a waste of money! Why was I such a TERRIBLE COOK????!!!! Why did I think I could do it???”. My poor husband, having just come through the door from a long day of cricket umpiring, didn’t know what had hit him!

I was right though, the pie was pretty terrible. The base was completely soggy, there was far too much liquid in the filling, and the fact it looked lovely and crisp from the top just made it even more disappointing! The pie wouldn’t slice and I ended up serving pie-lid topped with wet filling and soggy bottom.

But it’s OK. I’ve had a few days to recover from the trauma and am now able to talk about it. I have realised that it’s OK to have kitchen failures. The reason I wanted to start a blog and expand my cooking knowledge in the first place was to reduce disasters such as these in the long run, learn from any disasters that do happen, and in turn reduce the frequency of food-related mental breakdowns. I need to learn that it is no big deal if things go wrong! Dishes can’t be perfect all the time and I repeat, Harriet, it is OK if things go wrong, as long as you learn from your mistakes.

I am going to make this pie again because the filling tasted great, really Spring-y and bright, and the pastry lid was lovely with that hint of sage. Since I am morally opposed to a ‘pie’ with no pastry bottom (i.e. a stew with a lid), I need to master this non-soggy-bottom lark. When I next make this pie I will:
– have less moisture in the filling! Thicken the sauce with flour
– use a metal pie dish to avoid soggy bottom
– brush the inside of the bottom crust with cooled melted butter before filling and chilling the pie. I got this tip from this brilliant resource.
– place the metal pie tin on the bottom of the oven or a preheated baking tray to help the bottom pastry cook properly.

I am now left with my ceramic pie dish and am not sure what it was made for, if it doesn’t conduct heat well. It seems awfully deep to use for tarts, but maybe I will try it. Blind baking is surely the only way to achieve a crisp bottom when using a ceramic dish? And I don’t think a pastry top will adhere to a blind-baked base. Well, if all else fails, I can use it for crumbles.

What a saga! Looking back I am glad I gambolled into this pie with the blinkered fearlessness that I did. I have certainly learnt some lessons, the most worthwhile one probably being to do your research before trying the recipe, not the other way around… I am looking forward to creating a well-slicing Chicken and Leek Pie with Sage Pastry in the future, and sharing the recipe with you. Onwards and upwards!




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