So after our wonderful couple of weeks of sunshine, we get overcast skies and light flurries. It’s cold again and my body is rebelling against anything remotely fresh and green. We had made a trip to Costco the other day, where I picked up a big container of mushrooms and wanted to use them in a creamy stew or pie of some sort.
The English love their meats and vegetables wrapped up in a flaky, buttery crust. Everyone has heard of the famous steak and kidney pie, but there is also the popular steak and mushroom, vegetable, sausage roll and the Cornish pasty. When I have time, I like to make the rolled out pie crust, which is more traditionally English, but today I wanted a creamy chicken stew full of mushrooms and vegetables topped with crunchy, yet buttery and soft biscuits. The biscuits soak up the gravy perfectly. The biscuit version is one I learned here in the US and I love it. I am quite sure everyone knows what an American biscuit is…not the same thing as tea and biscuits that we have in the UK. An American biscuit is very much like a scone, but lighter and fluffier. What I love even more about the particular biscuit recipe I use is that you make a very soft, dropping consistency dough and just drop spoonfuls of dough onto the stew. No need to roll out and shape individual biscuits. The drop biscuit recipe is from the great cookbook; “Joy of Cooking.” If you want an even easier method of covering your pie, use a flaky, puff pastry from the store, but the biscuit version is very different in taste and texture. Give it a try at least once.
Growing up, my mum mainly made Indian food and it still is my comfort food. Apart from fish and chips from the local chippie, we rarely ate English food at home. We rarely ate out as a family because my mum cooked everything from scratch at home. When we did go out to eat, it was usually the very fancy Pakistani restaurant in Knightsbridge (special occasions), the local Pizzaland on Baker Street, shawarma from Edgeware Rd or the fish and chip shop at the seaside in Margate (and occasionally, we’d be treated to McDonalds on Finchley Road…a treat?!) School lunches and eating out with friends is where I sampled British fare. I didn’t eat too many savoury pies but I sure did enjoy the sweet tarts and pies. I loved the crust and as I began to cook and experiment for myself, I came to love making pastry. The love of pastry has of course led me straight back to English cooking and their love of pies and tarts, both savoury and sweet.
There are no strict rules to this. Use the vegetables you like or have on hand. I like the classic mushrooms, carrots, potatoes and peas. Of course, you can easly use turnips, sweet potatoes, corn, green beans etc. I don’t like big pieces of cooked celery but I like the flavour it provides to a stew like dish. I dice the celery very finely along with the onions and cook them together until they are very soft. These then just melt and become the base for a rich, flavourful, creamy gravy that coats all the vegetables. The little bit of lemon juice at the end really helps lighten and freshen up the rich flavours. If you have some cream or half and half, a couple of tablespoons right at the end make a great difference to the mouth feel. The stew becomes very silky, smooth and mellow with the addition of the cream.
I usually boil a whole chicken with some aromatic vegetables and reserve the broth for the gravy and shred the meat for the pie. The easiest way to quickly get cooked chicken meat and broth is to put the chicken and the aromatics in a pressure cooker and cook for 25 minutes. Since I never seem to have enough forethought or planning where dinner is concerned, I never have the time to make a slow cooked chicken with broth. It always ends up being the 25 minute, pressure cooker version! Also, lately at high altitude, I don’t even want to mess with slow cooked. That just means its going to take forever. So, however you do it, you need shredded chicken and you need broth. You can always use good organic, store brought chicken stock and a rotisserie chicken.
I like to make the whole pie in my big Dutch oven. It’s easy and becomes a one pot meal (apart from the potatoes, you have to boil them separately.) The pies can be made in small, individual ramekins or dishes if desired. I make a small separate one for my daughter who claims she is a vegetarian. Truthfully, she just doesn’t like the taste or texture of the meat itself but will eat the chicken broth or sauce, yea, go figure. So, I make one for her without the chicken.
2 tablespoons/30ml lemon juice
1/4 cup/59ml of heavy cream or half and half
handful of chopped parsley
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon/2ml salt
6 tablespoons/85g butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1 cup/236ml milk
In a big (I use a 6qt) Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and
butter on medium heat.
Add the onions and celery and cook till soft and almost golden.
Add the garlic and the thyme and cook a minute or two.
Add the carrots and cook about 5 minutes, until slightly softened.
Mix in the flour and cook a little to get the raw flavour out of the flour.
Pour in the chicken broth and stir briskly to blend in the flour
and thicken the sauce.
Let the gravy come up to a bubble and thicken.
Add a teaspoon of salt.
Add the mushrooms. They will release liquid and loosen up
the gravy a little.
Cook the mushrooms till they are softened, about 5/7 minutes.
Add in the frozen peas and gently fold in the potatoes.
Take off the heat
Add the lemon juice and stir through.
Pour in the cream and add the parsley.
Check for salt and pepper.
If pan is not oven proof, then pour the filling into an
oven proof dish and put aside.
Make the biscuit topping.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt together.
Add the butter pieces and rub into the flour, till the butter is in
tiny pieces and blended into the flour.
Pour the milk in all at once and mix into a thick, sticky dough.
Using 2 teaspoons, drop small pieces of dough onto the prepared stew.
Cover the surface completely with the balls of dough.
Place in the oven and cook until the biscuits
are nice and golden, about 30/40 minutes.