Photo by Tamara West
A well-flavoured stock, good seasoning and large shreds of chicken make a truly good pie filling. Top it with a good quality store-bought pastry made with butter.
- Give the chicken a quick rinse under the cold tap then place in a large saucepan with the onion, carrot, celery, herbs and peppercorns. Cover with cold water, place on lid and bring just up to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer with lid slightly open for 40-45 minutes.
- Remove the chicken from the saucepan. Return chicken stock to the heat and reduce to 500ml, adding the sherry just before the end of reduction. Strain stock and discard vegetables and herbs. If necessary, skim off any fat that has collected on the top. Return reduced stock to the saucepan and keep hot.
- In a medium-sized heavy-based saucepan, melt 25g of the measured butter. Add the bacon and cook until just beginning to colour then transfer bacon to a plate. Add the leeks and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes until very soft. Remove to the bacon plate.
- Add the remaining butter to the sauce pan and allow to melt. Stir in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes until a straw colour. Slowly stir in the hot stock and cook until thickened. Stir in the cream, lemon zest and sweet marjoram. (The sauce should have a syrupy consistency, one that coats the back of a wooden spoon.) Stir in the reserved bacon and leeks.
- Shred the chicken by pulling the meat apart using your hands. Stir into the sauce and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set filling aside to cool.
- Heat the oven to 200C. To prevent the pie sagging, place a pie bird or up-turned ceramic egg cup or in the middle of a large deep ovenproof pie dish (about 30cm), and pile in the filling. Run a little cold water around the edge of the pie dish. Cut pastry strips to fit around the edge then brush pastry with a little of the beaten egg. Place the 250g pastry on top and trim the edges. Use your thumb to seal pastry, then take a sharp knife and make horizontal cuts around the edges. (This helps the pastry to rise in layers.) Brush the top with the beaten egg and make 2-3 slits in the pastry with the sharp knife to allow steam to escape during baking.
- If you wish, roll pastry trimmings a little thinner and cut out 3 or so pastry leaves, brush with beaten egg and place on top of the pie for decoration. (I use a large bay leaf as a template.)
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is well browned, crisp and the filling hot.