29 April 2013

Using up your leftovers - Chicken & Ham Pie

We bought a whopping great big piece of Gammon to do as a pot roast last Sunday - and it was scrummy.  I served it with gnocchi in a Carbonara sauce plus some veggies and it was very acceptable indeed as a different sort of Sunday dinner.

However, we were left with rather a lot of Gammon that needed to be found a job to do.  As I didn't think that using it as a door stop would be much good - not with the dogs around, anyway (joke!) I set my mind to what we could do with it.

Immediately, I found myself liking the idea of a pie.  It would need to be a pot pie sort of pie, with a white sauce holding it all together rather than gravy (didn't fancy a gravy pie) and it occurred to me that I had a perfectly sized piece of pastry left over from the Rhubarb & Ginger Pie (oh dear, I really must blog that!) to make a lid for a pot pie.  It also occurred to me that I had one chicken breast in the freezer, also waiting for a job to do.  Perfect!  There was certainly enough gammon there that the addition of a chicken breast would turn it very much into sufficient for a pie, so long as some veggies came along for the ride.

I knew I had a selection of veggies in the fridge that would do the trick, so there I was rummaging through the vegetable drawer, thinking "what can I use?".

The original use for the gammon - with gnocchi in Carbonara sauce

Onion was a definite, that will start off the flavour base - with some garlic to lend depth.  Then carrot for sweetness - some finely diced with will lend flavour to the sauce and some rather bigger to add interest to each bite.  Celery was a definite - again finely diced to add flavour to the sauce and some sliced bigger to add interest to the pie.  Aha!  Mushrooms - perfect, but I'd have to make sure they were well cooked before putting the pie lid on, or they'd release a heap of water into the pie which would make the sauce thin and watery.

Hmmmn ... it needed something else.  Peas?  Well yes, but I had thought to serve peas alongside and too many peas isn't good (even though I love 'em and can eat dozens of the little green lovelies).  What else is small and sweet?  Aha!  Sweetcorn.  Perfect.

Now then, what herbs to use.  I had fresh parsley and dill.  I pondered long and hard over the dill because I know it goes well with chicken - but I just wasn't convinced about how well it would go with the gammon.  I decided upon just the parsley and the dill went back into the fridge.

Now, to make a white sauce or to "cheat" and use a tin of condensed cream of chicken soup?  Well, the way my knees have been, just lately, the simple act of making the pie will be enough to upset my knees severely.  So perhaps the length of time it takes to make a white sauce would be rather more than my knees could handle, so opted for the condensed cream of chicken soup.

I have no qualms in using ingredients like a tin of soup in recipes, as I am quite sure that there are more people out there who - like me - have reasons to not spend the entire afternoon in the kitchen (nice as that may be) than there are devoted cooks who do!  Things like gravy granules - these days - are perfectly nice ingredients that have a place in everyday home cooking, in my opinion.

To reduce the strain on my knees, I made the filling for the pie during the afternoon - which gave it plenty of time to cool (and for my knees to recover) before putting the lid on and baking it.  The 35 minutes it was baking were perfect timing for preparing and steaming some vegetables and making some mash, too.

Oh and I must have a quick word about the mash!  I peeled a roughly 50/50 combination of potatoes and parsnips and simmered them until they were tender.  After draining and leaving to dry for a moment or two, I put them back into the hot pan along with a good (and I'm talking "good to big") knob of butter and a tablespoon of Creme Fraiche D'Isigny - my favourite creme fraiche.  The D'Isigny type has a lovely savouriness about it that comes from a slight hint of cheesiness - which goes so, so well with savoury dishes.  It was just beautiful in this mash, as once the potatoes were seasoned and mashed together, everyone declared it to be really tasty.  So that was a success!

As a cook's note, once baked the juices from the vegetables and meat had reduced the soup base very slightly - so do be careful to not overdo the water in the first place.  It is far, far better to have your filling - pre-baking -  be on the thicker, more gloopy side than to be a perfect degree of sauciness.  Once baked, you'll find it comes out perfectly.

I made some additional chicken gravy, as we are all gravy hounds and I knew that the sauce in the pie would be insufficient for mopping up with mashed potato - but it is entirely up to you.  If you aren't a gravy hound, then don't make additional gravy!

A note for the more health-conscious amongst us, is that Campbells have brought out a range of low fat condensed "cream of" soups.  Now I've had a peek at the ingredients list and they don't appear to contain anything terrible (such as Aspartame), so they might be worth a look for you.

I can't let the opportunity pass to make another little mention of the fabulous Essential Cuisine stocks.  I'm not joking in that obtaining these stocks has made the thorny question of "is there too much salt" in a recipe, incredibly easy to deal with.  I used the fantastic chicken stock in this recipe and the flexibility of being able to add just a little bit of water, but a lot of stock powder which ups the chicken flavour beautifully without making it too salty, is worth so much to me as a cook.  I couldn't do that with a stock cube - even the low salt stock cubes would be way too much.  The Essential Cuisine range of stock powders are so reasonably priced at £3.95 a tub (which lasts longer than its equivalent in stock cubes, as you can be so much more flexible in how much you use) and delivery is amazingly quick - I can't sing their praises enough. 

My hubby - who is notoriously particular about his pie fillings - really liked this pie.  Now I consider that a total win, without anyone else having given their approval!  However, as it was, son & heir also thoroughly enjoyed his dinner and would happily have it again.  I really liked how no two forkfuls were the same - and you ate all the way to the end of your dinner without getting fed up with eating the same old thing.  A pie that holds your interest, is a thing of beauty!  Another good point is that I ate the last piece of pie for lunch the following day and it had lost none of its flavour or its appeal.  Having been warmed up via microwave, that's quite an accolade for a leftover piece of leftovers pie!

CHICKEN & HAM PIE   (Serves 4)

Ingredients :

1-2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
1 onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, halved and sliced finely
1 fat donkey carrot, half diced finely, half sliced
2 sticks celery, one diced finely, one sliced small
4-5 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced thinly
1-200g sweetcorn niblets (defrosted, if frozen)
295g tin of Campbells condensed cream of chicken soup
100ml water
a low salt chicken stock cube or 1 tsp chicken stock powder
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped finely
300-400g cooked gammon ham, broken into random bite sized pieces
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
300g (approx) short crust pastry
2 tbsp milk.

Method :

1.  In a large frying pan, heat the oil on a moderate heat and add the onion.  Cook, without browning, until transparent.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.

2.  Add the carrot, celery and mushrooms and continue cooking until the mushrooms have softened and given up a certain amount of their moisture.

3.  Add the chicken pieces and cook - still on a moderate heat - until the chicken has turned a uniform white.

4.  Add the sweetcorn, soup, water and chicken stock and stir to mix well.

5.  Once well combined, add the parsley and the gammon.  Stir gently, so as not to break the gammon up.

6.  Taste for seasoning and adjust.  The very least you should need, will be a good shake of pepper.

7.  Set aside to cool.

8.  Once cool, decant into your pie dish and roll out the pastry to fit over the top of the dish.  You are aiming to keep the pastry fairly thick.

9.  Brush some milk onto the edge of the pie dish and place the pastry over the top.  Press down lightly onto the edges to make a seal and then cut off the extra with a sharp knife.

10.  Cut a small hole in the centre of the pastry to allow the steam to escape without blowing the pastry lid off, then crimp around the edges to finally seal the pastry.

11.  Paint the pastry lid with milk and place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas 4 for 35-40 minutes.

Serve with mashed potatoes & parsnips and a selection of in season vegetables.

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