There’s a secret thrill in finding someone’s diary, a private treasury of revelations usually not meant for prying eyes. In snooping about inside food memoirist and BBC cook Nigel Slater’s newest culinary reflections, Notes from the Larder: A Kitchen Diary (Ten Speed Press), I found one entry to be an irresistible invitation to join Slater in his “kitchen life.” His casual approach to sharing the simple, day-to-day pleasures of food in this collection of personal notes, stories, and seasonal recipes is hard to resist.
With the dog days of August gone and garden produce exploding, my kitchen is humming with pickles, jams, and sauces, but on the first day of September I decide to prepare a family-sized, deep dish delight: Chicken, Leek and Parsley Pie. Slater begins with a description of breaking open the pastry crust and “watching it shatter and crumble beneath the spoon.”
Fortunately, Slater’s “whatever works” philosophy coincides with mine. He makes good on his promise “shortcuts are fine, rule breaking is fine” because his recipe calls for a practical ready-made, all-butter puff pastry sheet.
For the pie’s contents, I use local, organic bone-in chicken pieces. Slater says nothing about seasoning it before roasting, so I resist, surmising that with stock in the sauce, seasoning to taste will follow. Roasting the chicken at a high temperature (400º) yields generous golden chunks of meat.
Leeks are in season at my local farm stand. Cooked slowly in a generous daub of butter without browning, the heat coaxes out their sweetness. Adding flour and hot stock (I use a boxed chicken stock, but Slater indicates no preference) forms the requisite sauce. Then it’s everthing into the pot: chunked chicken, a generous handful of chopped parsley, bay leaves, and (aha!) salt and pepper to taste. I want to add rosemary, ground coriander and celery seed—so I do. Slater would approve heartily, for he is “never happier” than when home cooks use his recipes as inspiration for their own versions.
Slater prefers a well-loved, chipped pie dish (an “old friend”), so I opt for Grandma Edith’s worn stoneware to keep the Slater-esque spirit going. It holds the filling nicely, and the thick rim accommodates my decorative pastry crimping. Steam slits, pastry leaf flourish, and egg wash complete the preparation before baking to a golden finish. Now for the spoon test: the crust delivers Nigel’s promised flakey shatter and crumble, and the creamy insides send up a plume of steam. The dish is solid, satisfying, and perfectly seasoned; certainly not fancy, but hardly a Plain Jane, and definitely designed for sharing.
Chicken, Leek and Parsley Pie
chicken pieces 1 3/4 (800g) pounds on the bone
butter a thick slice
plain flour 3 heaped tbsp
hot stock 2 3/4 cups (650ml)
bay leaves 3
parsley a small handful, chopped
all butter puff pastry a 13 ounce sheet
beaten egg and milk, seasoned for brushing
Set the oven at 400º (200º C). Put the chicken pieces in a roasting tin and bake for 30 minutes till golden. Remove from the oven, leave to cool a little then remove the flesh from the bones in large, bite-sized pieces and set aside.
Thinly slice the leeks, wash them thoroughly, then let them cook with the butter and about 100ml of water till soft and brightly coloured. It is essential not to let them brown, so keep a lid on them and don't have the heat too high. When they are soft, stir in the flour, leave to cook for a few minutes, then pour in the hot stock, stirring as you go. Continue to cook, letting the leek mixture simmer for 10 minutes or so till you have a thickish sauce. Add the chicken, bay leaves, parsley and salt and pepper and continue cooking for a good 5 minutes. Try not to let the chicken break up too much.
Spoon the chicken and leek filling in to a pie dish. Unroll the pastry and place it over the top of the dish, overhanging the sides. Brush the pastry with the seasoned beaten egg and milk, cut three small slits in the top to let out the steam and bake for 25 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden.