chicken and watercress pie

There is something very evocative about placing a beautiful pie in the centre of the table, hot from the oven with crisp golden pastry and a bubbling filling. There's no shame in buying ready-made puff pastry, but if you do decide to make it yourself, buy the best butter you can get your hands on, as it will greatly enhance the flavour and flakiness.

serves: 4-6

1 chicken, about l.5kg
1 large glass of dry white wine
1 large onion, quartered but not peeled
2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves, torn 4 rosemary sprigs
A couple of whole black peppercorns
40g butter
150g bacon, chopped into small strips
2 leeks. roughly chopped
1 large bunch of watercress, washed and roughly chopped
170 ml double cream
1 tbsp mustard powder
3 unwaxed lemons, zested

for the puff pastry
(or simply buy500g of ready-made puff pastry)
225g plain flour; place in the fridge until cold
A pinch of salt
225g good-quality butter, cubed into about 1cm pieces; place in the fridge until cold
50ml-100ml ice-cold water
1 egg, beaten, for the glaze

L Lower the chicken into a snug-fitting pot and cover with cold water. Add the onion, celery, bay, rosemary, wine and peppercorns. Bring to the boil over a high heat. Once bubbling, lower the heat and skim off any scum from the surface. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through, with no pink juices.

2. While the chicken is simmering, begin to make the pastry. This can be done using the same method in a food processor. Sift the flour with a generous pinch of salt into a cold bowl. Using two knives, cut the butter into the flour and stop once the pieces are about the size of a pea and the texture is crumbly. Now turn the mixture onto a clean - and cool - work surface and form a well in the centre. Add only a few drops of the ice-cold water to the well and work it gradually into the mixture. Knead lightly to bring the dough together. Don't overwork it. Shape the mixture gently into a rough square, cover tightly with clingfilm and place in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.

3. Lightly flour a work surface and shape the dough into a rectangle. Roll it out until it's three times the initial length. Dust the top of the dough with a pastry brush to remove excess flour. Fold the bottom third of the pastry up into the centre, then bring the top third down to make a parcel. Seal the edges by pressing with the rolling pin. Give the dough a quarter turn and roll out again until it's three times the length. Fold it again as before - your rectangles will get neater and neater every time - and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

4. Carefully remove the chicken from the pot, place it onto a wire rack over a tray and set aside. Turn the heat up to reduce the stock by about three-quarters, or about 250m1, which should take up to 30 minutes, then season to taste. Pour the stock through a fine sieve into a bowl. Once the chicken is cool enough to touch, strip the meat from the carcass, and set aside.

5. The dough may be ready to roll out straight from the fridge, but if it seems too hard, let it rest at room temperature for 5 minutes before rolling Lightly flour a work surface and shape the pastry into a rectangle. To do this, gently tap it with the rolling pin to make slight ridges, which also lengthens it, then roll it away from you. Now roll the pastry out as evenly as you can until it's three times the original length. If the pastry becomes fatter at the ends, tap with the rolling pin to even it out.

6. Heat the oven to 180C. Melt the butter in a shallow frying pan over a medium heat and scatter over the bacon pieces. Cook it until crisp, which should take about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the pan and set it aside. Stir the leeks through the bacon fat and cook for about 7 minutes, until soft. Pour over the stock and turn the heat up. Allow the pan to bubble for a minute or so, then stir through the cream, lemon zest, mustard powder, roughly chopped watercress and bacon. Add the chicken and season to taste.

7. Place the pie dish in the fridge while you roll out the pastry. Again, lightly flour a clean work surface and shape the pastry into a rectangle, using the tapping method as before. Now roll the pastry out until it's just thinner than a pound coin, being careful to roll the pastry as evenly as you can. Brush the rim of the pie dish with the beaten egg glaze, then place the pastry on top, pressing down the edges to seal. Crimp the edges if you wish and cut a small hole in the centre with the tip of a knife. Finally, brush the pastry all over with the egg glaze.

8. Place the pie on the middle shelf of the hot oven for 30-40 minutes until the pastry has puffed up with an amber glow: Set the hot pie in the centre of the table and let it cool slightly before eating (if you can wait).

top tip
Look for butter that has a high fat content for perfectly crisp pastry. Good-quality butters such as Lescure, Rachel's, President and Waitrose West Country salted, with fat content in excess of 82%, are perfect


 top of page