As I write this, the first fire of the season is blazing in the hearth and the soothing smell of simmering chicken is giving the kitchen a welcoming homey feel. In the garden this afternoon I picked some little leeks, lovely big sweet carrots and a couple of late onions, along with a handful of parsley and thyme and a few bay leaves – deciding, as a nip set into the air, that it was just the night for a tender chicken pie.
That’s the great thing about having a garden at hand – you can wander around and see what’s ready to pick and then make up your menu accordingly. Instead of being driven by protein or a recipe, the meal comes together around the weather, the temperature and what is available to pick.
Having a garden to draw on makes me more inventive and resourceful as a cook – after all, this is what housewives and cooks have been doing for eons, before there were supermarkets down the road to dial up ingredients from anywhere around the globe. The great advantage for us cooks these days, though, is that a pantry of global flavours (spices, sauces, grains, condiments etc) is on offer at our fingertips, which means that simple, everyday ingredients can be transformed in all manner of styles and flavours, and simple, everyday meals no longer need to be monotonous.
Tonight there were quite a few other tracks aside from the aforementioned chicken pie that I could have headed down using the offerings from the garden and my poached chicken. Bok choy, broccoli, spring onions and coriander would have partnered for a tasty stir-fry, or with a base of chicken stock and kaffir limes and chillies, those same vegetables would hit the mark in an Asian-styled chicken noodle and vegetable soup finished with the clean tastes of fresh lime juice and coriander. The green capsicums and chillies, which badly need picking, would be so very good in a white bean and bacon stew with canned tomatoes from the pantry and a little thyme, or roasted and pureed with tomatoes and some cumin and chillies to make a salsa in which chunks of chicken can simmer before adding coriander and lime and serving Mexican-style in soft flour tortillas with a dab of guacamole.
Whilst my chicken is store-bought free-range and I’m using flour and other pantry stapes from the supermarket, there is still such a terrific sense of satisfaction that my labours in the garden have, albeit in a small way, contributed to our meal tonight.
Easy Chicken Pot Pie
Place a whole chicken in a big pot, cover fully with cold water, then add a spoonful of salt, a few bay leaves and peppercorns and a sliced lemon. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook over lowest heat for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and leave the chicken to cool in its juices (this method of poaching creates the moistest chicken flesh – it may still be slightly pink around the bone but is perfectly cooked through). While the chicken cools, make a sauce by putting chopped onions, leeks, celery and carrots in an ovenproof dish and sautéing in a little butter over a low heat. Add chopped thyme, a couple of cups of chicken stock and simmer. If you have mushrooms or bacon these are also good flavour boosters, but I don’t have any so in their absence I opt for a packet of dried mushroom soup powder to create a denser flavour and lightly thicken the sauce. Then I stir in some chopped parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. I remove the skin, bones and fat from the chicken, shred the breast meat (only three of us for dinner tonight) and mix it through the sauce. Finally, I cover the dish with flaky pastry and bake the pie at about 200C for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden and crusty.
This recipe makes enough for four, with half a chicken left over for another meal and lots of fabulous chicken stock, which will keep in the fridge for a few days or can be frozen.
On the side we will have a fluffy mash and some broccoli and cauliflower simmered with just a little water, a splash of good quality olive oil and a grating of lemon rind for 4-5 minutes it is just bite tender.
If you would prefer a more formal recipe, there are two great chicken pie recipes on my website at www.annabel-langbein.com. The Chicken & Mushroom Pie pictured at the top of this blog is a richer version with red wine and tomatoes, while the Leek & Mushroom Chicken Pot Pie pictured at right has a delicious rosemary parmesan crust. Feel free to change out the vegetables to suit what's in your garden!