Saturday, October 27, 2012

British Museum-Great Roman-Chicken Pie

I recently went to London for two days.  I spent one day on transportation and dealing with US embassy (not fun and want to forget about!).  The other day was in British Museum, and what a day it was After 6 hours there I found I didn't see many masterpieces.
But I did learn some things about the history of food. Food is of course a major part of culture, and I found the history is fascinating. 
Well, Rome always amazing about everything. I learned from my guide that the great Romans ate their food with their fingers (since cutlery hadn't been developed yet).   However, a difference from the other cultures that eat with their hands (Indian, Middle Eastern), they had slaves wash their hand through the whole dinner - and the rich Romans can have a dinner party last for 8 hours!  I guess the Slow Food movement has a noble history.  Also, they didn't have sit-down dinners, they had "lay-down" dinners.  Only the slaves would sit down to eat.

In the Roman section of the the museum, there is a very interesting
silver pepper pot, in the form of a sleeping African slave, made about AD 200-270. The slave squats to nap, with a chained chest or lantern between his legs.

The figure is hollow; pepper could be shaken through holes in the head. Black pepper was from India at that time and was very precious, since other spices were hard to come by (chili peppers didn't arrive until the 1600s since they came from the New World).  

Winter is coming, so I made some comfort food: chicken pie.  This is a version which uses what I have in fridge.    
My cooking philosophy: use what you have on hand, sometimes one doesn't need to stick to the recipe - be more flexible!

Chicken Pie 


pie dough:
500g plain white flour, plus extra to dust
pinch of sea salt
250g unsalted butter, well chilled, cut into little cubes
1 large egg yolk
3 tbsp cool water 

1 tbsp white vinegar 
1 egg, lightly beaten, to glaze

1 zucchini diced
2 carrots diced
1 fennel   diced
454g chicken thighs without bone diced
3 strips bacon
1 onion chopped
2 garlic crushed
2 bay leave
bunch thyme
bunch parsley
pinch dry dill

white sauce:
150ml double cream
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp plain flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 


To make the pastry, put the flour and salt and butter into food processor. Lightly beat the yolk with the water, then sprinkle over the flour. form a dough, adding a little more water if necessary. Form into a ball and knead lightly on a floured surface. Wrap in baking parchment and rest in the fridge for an hour, or until needed.

Fry the bacon first then use the bacon oil to saute the onion, garlic, bay leaves and thyme for few minutes then add in the carrots, fennel and zucchini; saute for another minute.
Use another pan, put olive oil in, fry chicken to golden then add the chicken to the vegetables.   Add in dry dill, cooking wine, salt, and pepper.  Cover and simmer at low heat until all the food is soft. Discard the bay leaves and thyme. Strain the liquid and reserve 500 ml for the pie. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour and cook, stirring, over a very low heat for a minute or so, without colouring. Slowly stir in the reserved liquid and cook, stirring, for five minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Add the double cream, season generously and take off the heat. Stir through the chopped parsley and leave to cool.

Divide the pastry in two, making one portion slightly bigger than the other.  Roll out one portion on a floured surface to a round, large enough to line a 20cm fluted pie tin, Always prick the pastry base gently with a fork after lining the tin.
Chill the pastry for 15 minutes and preheat the oven to 180C.
Now, line the pastry case with a piece of baking parchment and half-fill with baking beans. Bake the pastry case on the middle shelf of the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the paper and beans and bake for a further five minutes to slightly dry out the base. Set aside to cool a little.

Spoon the chicken mixture into the case,Pour the white sauce on the top.  Roll out the other piece of pastry then use cookie cutter to cut enough butterflies to cover the pie.  Brush with beaten egg and bake for 30 minutes until the pastry is golden-brown and the filling is bubbling. Leave to stand on a wire rack for five minutes before serving.

 Brian liked this and ate it for the next four days for breakfast, lunch and dinner!


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