Pies have never really been my thing. I’m sure this makes me un-American, and now that I’m living in the UK — another pie-obsessed nation — it probably makes me un-British as wellness. It’s not the pies themselves, I think it’s the pastry. Although something made with flour and butter should, by its very nature, be high on my list of likes. I really don’t understand it. All of that aside, I decided to make a pie. And if you’re going to make a pie, you may as well make an award-winning pie, right? A pie that beat out 400 other sweet and savory pies in seven categories. I mean, if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it right.
Somebody asked me recently if I had ever made pastry. My immediate reaction was “No”, but that’s not quite true. There was that pecan pie for my Thanksgiving supper club — the recipe never made it onto the blog unfortunately, I really should rectify that. There was also apparently an apple pie, but that had shop-bought pastry. And that, my friends, is the extent of my documented experience in pastry; so maybe the “No” wasn’t quite accurate, but it wasn’t far off. The pecan pie, as I recall, had a spelt crust, which worked pretty well with the sweet, rich, nutty filling. But this type of dough is not what this particular mission called for.
The best in show, cream of the crop pie that I decided on this time was a version of another American classic: a chicken pot pie. All my friends loved chicken pot pie when I was growing up. I wasn’t a big fan. Always too much pastry, puffed up all over the place and flaking away into dust — buttery dust, admittedly, but difficult to eat without resorting to raccoon tactics. This version is a bit of a mash up: the pastry is French, the filling is the traditional American bechamel-coated chicken and vegetables. But then again, there are no carrots or peas in sight. And it’s layered rather than all tossed in the sauce and piled into a dish. I’m all for tradition and authenticity, but if it’s something you never really liked in the first place I think there is value in trying a few tweaks to see if you can improve on the original. David Chang did a similar thing with a Korean seaweed soup, Miyeok-guk, on an episode of ‘The Chef Show‘.
Speaking of ‘The Chef Show’, it was a day of binge watching the series on Netflix that inspired this particular kitchen adventure. The episode was in memorial to LA food critic Jonathan Gold, who died last year. He was a long-time judge of the annual KCRW Good Food Pie Contest and a very influential and insightful restaurant critic in LA, having written for the LA Times and Gourmet. When Allison Brooker’s La Poule au Pot Galette pie won the contest in 2014, Gold said it was “like a camel winning the Kentucky Derby” — its qualities not quite fitting the traditional description of a ‘pie’. Nonetheless, the way Evan Kleiman, who hosts the KCRW Good Food radio show and who was a long-time friend of Jonathan Gold, waxed lyrical about this savory galette on the episode piqued my interest, so I hunted the recipe down.
It’s fairly simple to make. You can’t go far wrong with buttery pastry, creamy bechamel, mushrooms, leeks and juicy chicken. There are a few things that set this pie apart from your typical chicken pot pie.
First, the ingredients are layered: chicken, shallots (in my case finely chopped onion), leeks softened in butter, mushrooms fried in yet more butter (I added garlic, cause…garlic), and creamy bechamel topped with thyme.
As with most savory pies, it is a labor of love. I made the pastry the day before, cooked the chicken and vegetables and made the sauce the next morning, then assembled and baked in the afternoon. But it’s nice to spend time creating something like this; slowly building the anticipation until the moment you raise the fork to your lips.
The pastry was sturdy, but not tough; the bechamel was creamy, but didn’t overpower the rest of the ingredients. It was as good room temperature as it was hot out of the oven. In short, this was a good chicken pie. One I would make again, despite the multitude of different steps and the requirement to be ahead of the game. It was a pleasure to make and a pleasure to eat. What do you know! I do like pie.