Apparently, Mark Twain wrote the phrase “as polite as pie” in 1884 and James Joyce, instead, wrote ” as nice as pie” in Ulysses in 1922.
I don’t know about pie being ‘polite’ but it is indeed jolly ‘nice’. I was made to think about pies about two weeks ago when I consulted my daughter as to what I could make for supper that we hadn’t had in a long time and that she particularly liked. And her answer was ‘chicken pie’. You could have knocked me down with a feather. Good old chicken pie! It had been ages since we’d had it. Why didn’t we make it more often?
Chicken pie is not hard to make, especially if you buy the pastry dough (just make sure it doesn’t contain hydrogenated fats, however) and ‘is not much on looks’ as the song goes but it creates tremendous excitement, somehow, when served at home. It’s got what I call ‘home appeal’ — one wouldn’t exactly hanker after chicken pie in a fine dining establishment but it definitely exudes a wow factor on the dinner table at home.
So chicken pie is basically a mixture of cut up chicken lightly cooked with some vegetables and either bechamel sauce or cream; this mixture then gets re-cooked in the oven under a blanket of pie crust. I favour mushrooms in mine but daughter can’t stand mushrooms so I put peas in hers.
Et voilà the chicken pie … individually portioned and piping hot from the oven. Great success and well worth the effort.
And this is how I hit upon the idea of making duck pie for my dinner guests the other evening. Most of it can be made in advance, it’s just a question of popping it into the oven at the right time, and that’s always a huge bonus when guests come over for a meal — it means you don’t have to be nailed to the kichen stove.
Duck is not easy to come by where I live and I had to order it. I asked the butcher to have it cleaned for me and in doing so he sliced it almost in half. So it was just as well that I was going to make pie with it — it would have ruined a roast!
Here is the duck … that would have been impossible to roast, just look at the size of that slit. But never mind because what I WAS about to do, and always do before roasting duck, is … wait for it … boil it!
Yes, boiling! I read about this in a magazine article at the end of last century and I tried it and it worked! The thing to do is simmer the duck in plenty of water for about an hour, then remove it and let it dry out a little before roasting it in a very hot oven. The skin will crisp to perfection and the flesh remains tender and moist.
Anyway, on this occasion, I thought I would intrepidly move up to the next level and instead of boiling the meat, I would STEAM it in my pasta pot. (Let me tell you, I use my pasta pot much more for steaming than I do for cooking pasta –truly a useful and oft-used piece of kitchen equipment.)
About two inches of water in the pot and away we go with the steaming (1 hour). In the meantime …
I made 600ml of béchamel sauce …
And pan-fried 6 artichokes which I had cut into strips.
At the end of an hour, I removed the steamed duck and this was what was left in the pot. A very precious liquid, do not throw away!
The steamed duck is looking very pale …
On a baking tray, in it went into the hot oven for about 40 minutes (at 220°C for the first 15 minutes, and then down to 200°C for the rest of the cooking time).
And here is the roasted duck looking much more bronzed now.
Can you see? … see how tender and succulent the meat looks! It took a lot of self discipline not to tuck into it there and then, the smell was bliss!
The skin was incredibly crusty and crisp – it made beautiful noise when I put the knife in it! If you look at the right-hand corner of the roasting tray, you can see some golden liquid — that’s fat from the duck, wonderful for roasting potatotes in!
Here is the meat of 1 duck, skin and all. Cut up like this, you can see how much further it can go in terms of quantity. I was using it to feed 8 people, using two ceramic baking trays.
TIME TO ASSEMBLE THE PIE
I sprinkled salt and pepper …
Then I added the cooked carciofi …
And some canned peas, the kind I use for making pea soup sometimes. I suppose that frozen peas would do too but I avoided using them for fear that they would release too much water during the cooking …
Then I heated the bechamel and added another 400ml of milk to it, to thin it down a bit, and added about two thirds of it to both dishes (i.e. I left a third for later use).
Because …. this is when I started worrying you see … It didn’t look like the meat would be sufficient for 8 people. What was I going to do? After much head scratching, figuratively speaking, and wringing of hands, I did the only thing I could do at that late point. I sent my husband out to buy me some chicken breast. I was going to have to ‘flesh out’ the duck meat with some chicken meat.
Hence: if ever you would like to make this duck pie at home … the point we have now reached would be when you cover the meat with the topping and put it in the oven to finish it off (about 35 minutes at 180°C).
I, on the other hand, proceeded as follows:
I chopped a mixture of herbs …. parsley, thyme and marjoram. Herbs are wonderful friends in a pie.
I chopped up the chicken breast into chunks and cooked them in some melted butter for only a few minutes ….. I ‘under’-cooked them somewhat, because they would carry on cooking in the oven. I sprinkled salt and pepper on too and added the herbs last.
I added some of this anaemic looking chicken to the duck … and mixed all the ingredients together to spread them out evenly on the tray.
Then, finally, I added what was left of the béchamel sauce as a blanket over everything.
We covered both trays with shop-bought pastry dough (that, repeat, did not contain hydrogenated fat or margerine). And popped the duck pies into the oven for about 30 minutes at 180°C.
I’d already had a nice glass (or two) of bubbly by then and was feeling very happy, as any cook has a right to be.
It turned out that 1 tray was enough for all of us ! So I put the other in the freezer for another occasion. I served the duck pie with basmati rice … Remember what I said about the precious liquid of the steaming duck?
I added a little more water and used that to cook the rice. It worked beautifully, making the rice as glossy as can be.
Nothing humble about this pie … it was really good although if it had been only duck meat as opposed to a duck-and-chicken mix … it would have been even better.
And leftovers, eaten at room temperature and accompanied by a crisp salad, are good the following day too … no pie in the sky here!