Itâ€™s Christmas Eve.
Iâ€™m in Wigan celebrating a double whammy with my family. That joyful Christmas hunkering down feeling; the shops are shut, thereâ€™s nothing else to do but sit and wait for morning. Also, my grandparentsâ€™ wedding anniversary. They have been married for 71 years.
Thatâ€™s a lot.
On their 70th anniversary, a reporter from the local paper came to interview them.
â€œWhatâ€™s the secret of a happy marriage?â€ he asked.
My grandfather looked at him as though heâ€™d asked him to wrestle in jelly or adopt a baby shark.
â€œThere isnâ€™t a secret,â€ he said.
Pie is probably not the key to a lifetime of couple-ness, but in my grandparentsâ€™ case, it probably didnâ€™t hurt.
They planned their wedding to give them leave over Christmas, so that they could go to Blackpool for a honeymoon, and then it was back to life in Wigan, which is when Grandma discovered that she had a problem; she had moved straight from her Motherâ€™s house to her own, and had never cooked anything before. She asked the lady on the sewing machine next to her what she should make for dinner.
â€œPieâ€ came the reply.
So thatâ€™s what they ate, in the dishes they were given as a wedding present and still use now.
When my Grandmother met Jon for the first time she was impressed by how tall he was and how kind he seemed. â€œI like that one,â€ she told me. â€œYou should make him a pie.â€
My chicken pot pies differ from my Grandma’s. A tea-total Methodist, she never uses wine or vermouth to deglaze her pan. She wouldnâ€™t use cream either â€“ sheâ€™d use a lot more butter. But the technique is the same. And since the advent of really good shop-bought puff pastry, sheâ€™s used that to top her pies, and so, consequently do I.
This is a warming comfortingly cosy dinner for a cold winterâ€™s night; the best kind of hunkering down by the fire with carols on the radio food.
Chicken pot pie (serves 4 â€“ 6 depending on the size of your pie pots)8 – 10 chicken thigh pieces (skinned and boned) 4 strips of bacon 2 carrots 1 stick of celery 2 onions 1 clove of garlic Â½ cup flour 4 tbsp butter Â½ cup of white wine 2 cups chicken stock Â½ cup cream 1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon Salt and pepper 2 sheets of puff pastry â€“ enough to cover 4 pie dishes â€“ if your dishes are shallow and flat you may need more
- Pre-heat the oven to 350, and take the pastry out of the freezer to thaw on the counter top
- Dice the onion, celery, carrot and bacon then fry in a tbsp of oil until the onions begin to soften and the bacon starts to crisp up
- Meanwhile, chop the chicken into bite sized chunks and toss with the flour and some salt and pepper
- Add to the frying pan with the butter (tip the flour thatâ€™s left not adhering to the chicken in too). Cook for a few minutes until the chicken starts to color slightly. (Youâ€™re making a very casual roux here with the butter and flour thatâ€™s going to thicken the sauce)
- Grate in the clove of garlic (or mince finely) and cook for a minute
- Tip in the wine and scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan
- Add the stock and let the mixture cook for a few minutes until beginning to thicken slightly
- Add the cream and the tarragon then take off the heat
- Cut out lids from the puff pastry by laying the pot on the pastry and drawing a circle about 1 inch bigger around it.Â Use the leftovers to cut out 2cm thick long strips.
- From here on in itâ€™s an assembly job; divide the mixture between the pie pots (about Â¾ full)
- Dibble some water around the dish rims then press the strips of pastry around them
- Dibble the pastry with a little bit of water, and put the lids on top pressing down with the tines of a fork to seal
- Poke three holes in the pie lid to let out steam, and season the lid with salt and pepper
- Bake for 20 minutes
If you can make that you can make this:
- Add frozen pearl onions and peas just before baking (run them under a hot tap for a minute before adding them to the mixture to defrost)
- Switch up the herbs â€“ parsley is the classic
- Slice some fennel in with the onions and use pernod rather than white wine for a more anise taste
- Use vermouth rather than wine for a more herbal taste (I keep vermouth in my kitchen for when I need a splash of booze but donâ€™t want to open a bottle of wine. I use Madeira in the same way for red wine)
- Leave out the chicken, and then, just before putting the mixture into the pie dishes, add leftover chopped turkey from Christmas dinner
- Add mushrooms to the pan when you add the chicken