Pasties are the classic British portable lunch – much like calzoni in Italy – the most famous variety of which is almost certainly the Cornish pasty. They are eaten all over the UK and sold in every bakery from Land’s End to John o’Groats – the two points farthest from one another on our great island (876 miles). Considered Cornwall’s “national” dish and geographically protected – much like champagne – the pasty is thought to have been taken up outside of England’s western most county following the emigration of Cornish miners in the late nineteenth century, along with Rugby Union. As good as this spread of British culinary tradition to the diaspora is for receiving countries, I can’t help but feel the South Pacific countries have become a little too good at rugby.
Chicken and leek is another classic pasty filling, one that’s generally lighter and used in a wide array of pastries and pies. Leeks have a delicious and robust flavour that pairs extremely well with chicken, particularly the more flavoursome brown meat. Indeed, if making these pasties I recommend roasting a whole chicken beforehand, saving the breast meat for curries and stews (it tends to be a little drier), using the carcass to make a large pot of chicken stock and employing the brown meat where its texture and flavour can be best appreciated. Naturally, a creamy filling accompanies leek and chicken – gravy would simply smother the flavour. A simple béchamel sauce seemed most appropriate as a result of its viscosity – we wouldn’t want soggy parcels, now would we?
Many different varieties of pastry can be used in the baking of pasties – rough puff, short crust, filo – any will do. However, as someone who likes to stick roughly to tradition, hot water crust pastry is my personal choice. Being made with hot water it can be a rather tricky pastry to handle, though it is incredibly quick to make – far faster than short crust, which isn’t exactly notorious for excessive time consumption. For basic recipes like this, Jamie Oliver always seems to come up with the goods and he does so again here. Of course, I’ll give you the recipe in full below – but credit where it’s due!
Local connection: Where possible, invest in well-sourced and ethically produced meat bought from a local supplier. As usual, we purchased out chicken from Source in Bristol – if you’re in the area it comes highly recommended!
Chicken and Leek Pasties
for the pastry:
• 125g salted butter
• 150ml hot water
• 250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
• ½ tsp salt
• 1 medium egg, beaten
• A handful of ground polenta
for the filling:
• 200g chicken
• 2 leeks, finely chopped
• Olive oil
• 1 clove of garlic, mashed
• Small knob of butter
• 1 tbsp plain flour
• 300ml whole milk
• A little freshly grated nutmeg
1. Bring the water and butter to a boil in a saucepan, remove from heat and stir in flour and salt. Beat until you have a dough – turn out onto a floured surface and shape into a ball. Pop into the fridge for 30 minutes or so.
2. Meanwhile, sauté the leeks and garlic in a little olive oil. Once translucent, add the chicken and heat through.
3. In a separate pan melt a small knob of butter, stir in the plain flour and cook for a minute, stirring. Tip in the milk and nutmeg and whisk until thick and creamy. Add to the chicken mixture.
4. After 30 minutes has elapsed roll out your pastry on a floured surface until around 0.5cm thick. Cut into six circles of around 15cm diameter. Scatter a baking tray with polenta, place the pastry circles on top and fill each with a little of the mixture. Preheat the oven to 180C.
5. Brush the edges of the pastry with egg, fold the pastry in half, enclosing the mixture. Press the edges down and crimp between thumb and finger. Baste each with a little egg and scatter over the remaining polenta. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown – serve with a side salad.
Cost: Being mainly composed of flour and butter, almost every type of pastry is inherently frugal. This means that in this recipe the filling is the main source of expense, the cost of which can be reduced considerably by roasting a whole chicken and storing the meat for later. Indeed, after employing that course of action these pasties set us back a mere £4.50 – for enough to feed six!