It may not be a good number for little girls playing together, but there is power in a trio. Father, Son & Spirit, Goldilocks' bears, the Moirai, the Norns, the Maiden, Mother and... the Other One; folklore imbues a trinity with a fillip of meaning that a pair or a quartet doesn't have.
Anyone given to reading children's stories (except possibly the ones re-written in bleach by the Disney Corporation) will be familiar with the stories of three brothers. It doesn't much matter which one. They all follow the same pattern. Three brothers set out on a journey. There are obstacles to be overcome - they don't recognise the fairy, or the saint, or the witch, or the infant Jesus. The eldest brother falls at the first hurdle through overconfidence and pride, the next brother falls at the next hurdle and the youngest, with humility and hard work, carries the day/ gets the treasure/ tastes the water of life/ wins the maiden.
And so it is with chicken pies.
Not long ago, Paul and I had a date night. At one of our favourite restaurants we ordered the "chicken pie for two". We've had many delicious menus there, and several really lovely pies, so expectations were high. And our overconfidence was punished. When the thin, crispy crust was broken, there was no rush of savoury steam. The filling was frankly sweet, to the point that I wondered if they swapped the salt and sugar bowls. I could see celery but I couldn't taste it and while the texture was reasonably good, it just wasn't the flavour I wanted in a chicken pie. Where were the herbs, the alliums? I felt a bit let down.
Fortunately, just 40 hours later I got another go. Another favourite place had a chicken pie on their Sunday lunch menu, and having not been satisfied with my previous pie experience, I had to order it.
This one was an individual pie dish. The crust again was thin and crisp. The steam issuing forth was rich and savoury. It was a good pie. And yet. And yet. It just didn't quite nail my echt pie yearnings. It only had a top crust. It had chunks of bacon which were good, but the pieces of chicken were a little small, a little stringy and the broth lacked body.
There was nothing for it. I had to take the "Third time's a charm" approach and make a chicken pie for myself.
The first thing I settled on, was that my pie would have both a top and bottom crust. There is something about sealing the filling completely that adds so much to a pie. And for the filling I decided to work from Nigella's coq au riesling, because that is always so delicious and I knew that there would be no lack of savour. I also knew I wanted to go from a raw filling, rather than a stew because I wanted all of the steam of the preparation to be sucked up into the pastry, to really combine the pastry and filling.
Ultimate Chicken Pie
500g shortcrust pastry
250g puff pastry (I feel no shame at all in using bought pastry, but it must must must be all-butter)
250g smoked lardons
500g chicken thigh fillets
250g oyster mushrooms
1tbs parsley, chopped
1tbs cornflour slaked in 1/2 cup riesling
1 eggyolk for glazing
In a bowl, combine the lardons, diced chicken thighs, chopped leeks and torn oyster mushrooms. Season with black pepper and chopped parsley, then stir through the cornflour slurry.
Line a pie plate with the shortcrust pastry and pile in the filling, heaping it up in the centre.
Brush a little of the beaten eggyolk around the rim and cover with the puff pastry. Press down well to seal. Glaze the top with more of the egg, then cut a small hole in the top.
Bake in a 175C oven for about an hour, or until the pastry is richly coloured and the steam smells enticing.
Serve thick slices in deep dishes to catch the delectable full-bodied juices. Drink the rest of the bottle of riesling with it.