|leftover chicken and mushroom pie|
every so often o tells me about a chicken and mushroom pie that his mother used to make for him. then, he hastily adds that he is sure i wouldn’t like it, partly because i am not a huge fan of pies and partly because the pie would be more along sub-continental lines. this statement is probably inspired by the many discussions that we have had about the adaptation of recipes.
i believe that a certain degree of adaptation is inevitable when one is cooking in different places. sometimes an ingredient needs to be substituted due to lack of availability and often vegetables, meats and spices taste different in different parts of the world. this is quite aside from the fact that recipes often take on local flavour and colour, which is also inevitable. having said that, i am of the belief that the spirit of the recipe must remain intact. i say this because as a child both my parents cooked and introduced me to a lot of international foods, and for the most part recipes survived relatively unscathed in my parents cooking endeavours. when i started travelling i ate these foods in their countries of origin and was pleased to find that they tasted very similar to the ones that i had tried. for instance, i discovered that the hummus i ate as a child (made by mama) tasted the same as the ones that i later ate in dubai and on edgware road in london, which is a kin to a mini-arabia. equally, mama’s lasagne tasted just the same as ray’s home-cooked one on a visit to italy.
o is a lot more forgiving about the spirit of recipes and so will contentedly eat what i often think are culinary blasphemies like truffle oil added to a pasta made with an assertive turkish sausage, along with extra chilli flakes. when in pakistan he will have no qualms about eating the odd meal at pizza hut, which i would politely decline. i would much rather eat local pakistani food. certain categories of food are exempt from these particularities so i love eating shami kebab sandwiches draped with a local cheddar cheese melted under the grill with a slick of mitchell’s chilli garlic sauce. i also don’t mind the odd ‘pakistani’ pizza with a spicy sausage, chilli flakes and cheesy topping, but i really have to be craving it to do so. as a child i recall being quite fussy about eating things like spaghetti bolognese or macaroni cheese at places other than my own house. i didn’t take well to pakistani bolognese where the mince took its deep colour from the addition of chilli and spices and the spaghetti was invariably over done. it’s o’s knowledge of my persnickety nature that made him say what he did about the chicken and mushroom pie. but if there is one thing i love doing, it is learning to cook new things and so i decided that i’d surprise o with his mother’s chicken and mushroom pie.
i don’t recall mama making pies at home. we had a lot of casseroles and bakes like cauliflower cheese, moussaka and so forth but not pie so i was on slightly uncertain ground when i set myself the task of making o his mother’s chicken and mushroom pie. luckily, since we live in the age of convenience it is very easy to get ready rolled puff pastry so all i really had to do was make a really good filing. o’s mother used to get her ready rolled puff pastry from the famous united bakery in super market in islamabad. for those of us who grew up in islamabad we would have all eaten united bakery treats especially the delightful chicken patties. the chicken in these patties is sparse and almost like a mash with onions softened in oil and a zealous amount of pepper. the buttery puff pastry however mellows the sharpness of the pepper. we had many of these patties with strongly brewed tea. the puff pastry used by o’s mother would be same as the one used to make the chicken patties.
i followed my mother-in-law’s recipe in spirit, adapting where necessary. i’ve eaten a fair share of chicken mushroom pies in england and know that they are based on a béchamel sauce. a chicken mushroom pie is pure comfort food. it’s the perfect marriage of milk thickened by a roux into which you fold the chicken, some herbs and mushrooms. the filling is cooked under a lid of puff pastry whose surface is scored to release the trapped heat. i did add grated cheese to the béchamel in line with my mother-in-law’s recipe but this isn’t necessary given the richness of it. i also excluded the tomato as traditional chicken and mushroom pies do not include it.
i didn’t tell o that i had made him his mother’s chicken and mushroom pie, and so he was genuinely surprised. i wish i had captured a picture of him the moment he saw it come out of the oven. it’s as if he was a little boy let loose in a candy shop and told that he could buy whatever he wanted. as he sat down with a rather hearty sized portion of the pie he told me that his mother used to make this pie for him when he came home from boarding school. i have heard enough school dinner stories and eaten student residence food myself to know that we school and university going students were subjected to food that looked and tasted inedible. it is perhaps small wonder that this pie invokes such immense nostalgia for o. it reminds me of that moment in the animated movie ratatouille when the arrogant and hard to please anton ego eats the humble oft home-cooked ratatouille created for him by remy (the rat). the frame of the movie switches instantly from the restaurant to the critic as a little boy in his mother’s kitchen.
*a short note on the recipe.
as i mentioned earlier i adapted my mother-in-law’s recipe, which is included below. my version, which is based on a béchamel sauce follows no specific recipe. it was an intuitive recipe cooked on the memory of mama cooking a béchamel sauce. i remember this from when i was around ten or eleven. in fact one of our favourite tv dinners was a cheesy white sauce with toast fingers. mama would make the béchamel in a small double handled tefal saucepan to which she would add a generous mound of grated cheese and stir it through. a couple of twists of the wooden pepper mill would give a coarse sprinkle of black pepper. she’d serve this with toast fingers. we’d often have this on the nights that top of the pops was broadcast on the local ntm channel. it was one of the few nights we were allowed to have dinner in front of the television. bbc food has many recipes for classic chicken and mushroom pie. i am including a simple no-nonsense recipe from angela harnett to get you started and a dressed up version that includes porcini, cream and white wine to see how you can take basics and turn then into something sophisticated.
o's mother's chicken and mushroom pie recipe
puff pastry: 1 (we get the ready made one from united bakery)
chicken: 1 boneless
onion: 1 medium, grated
tomato: 2 medium, grated
cheese: 3 tbsp, grated (cheddar)
salt + black pepper: 1 tsp each
fry garlic in oil. add chicken pieces and cook for 20-25 minutes. remove chicken from pan and add butter, onion, tomato and seasoning. fry slightly then add cheese. when cheese begins to melt, add mushrooms and onions. now mix in chicken, and take out the mixture in a baking dish. roll out puff pastry like pizza dough in a thin layer and cover the chicken mixture. make small holes in the center to let the steam escape and bake for 40 minutes (200 degrees C) or more till pastry is golden brown.
the puff pastry can be put in 2 layers, one at the bottom of the chicken mix and one on top.