chicken in the swamp

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No lattice-top?  No pretty dashing colors of summer berries?  Not even the scarce possibility of a scoop of ice-cream on top (people will eat anything with an ice-cream on top these days)(how’s that heatwave going)?  Just when my latest favorite creation was traffic-vetoed because of its less-than-fashionable appearance (A’ight, it may look Susan Boyle but that rice can fucking sing!), I can’t believe I’m preparing to feature this visual question-mark…  If you have the urge to gush out, Oh Lord this poor woman dropped that labour of a pie in the kitchen sink!…  I assure I have not.  It’s this stubborn nerve of mine, you see.  I want to cook for traffic I really do.  I’m not playing cool.  But it’s this nerve for curiosity… this damn nerve…

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Yes, sadly I tend to be drawn to recipes with unusual quirkiness rather than certainty for deliciousness which explains my many tormenting failures up to date, and yet I repeat.  But the pie had me at “swamp” when I saw it on Food52 with all its unsightliness, thinking any foods so unapologetically embraces the word as savaging and vulgar as “SWAMP” in the name ought to taste superb!  But the absolute motivation to actualize it in my kitchen came after reading through the recipe step-by-step.  It swamped me away.  It is practically ingenious.  First, you bake the relatively less-watery ingredients in between two pie shells so the crusts have a chance to get browned and flaky all around (trick follows!), then you flood the plain… yes, literally, shooting it up with a light cream/egg mixture that’s borderline custard until the liquid fills up every nook and crannies inside, onto and over the top-crust forming an irregular terrain, thus, the swamp, and baked again until wobbly.  What you get, is NOT a quiche, but an extremely flaky pie with fillings that comes with a runny, barely set custard-sauce.  At this point who cares about what it looks like?

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Of course if you want it the dessert-version, that’s how it came originally anyways.  But I was in a hunt for a renewed chicken pot-pie and this recipe fell promptly onto my lap (I don’t believe in signs except food-signs), into the kitchen, there-and-back-again from the oven, then ended up becoming the perfect my-wife-kept-this-in-the-fridge-so-I-don’t-starve kinda meal for Jason while I was away in Taiwan (shooting up absinthe shots, shhh…)(blogger life is so stressful… so so stressful…).  From what it looks like, not even a thinnest wedge was left for my home-coming.  Can’t blame him… chicken sausage, sweet leeks and melted cheese swimming in a savory, creamy custard in between two layers of flakiness.  Beautifully deformed.  Unsightly comfort.  It’s time to swamp up.

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Makes: one 9″ pie

TRICK to a CRISPIER/NON-SOGGY pie crust WITHOUT PAR-BAKING is:  Preheat the oven under top+bottom-heat setting, and keep it that way.  Remove all the racks and baking sheet in the oven, and place a piece of aluminium foil right on the bottom of oven.  Place the pie-dish DIRECTLY onto the bottom over the aluminium foil and bake according to instructions.  This will allow MUCH MORE HEAT directed to the bottom of the pie-dish, giving you a much crispier bottom-crust VS if you bake it on the middle rack.  And it goes without saying, using a good heat-conducting pie-dish helps, too.

I tried 2 slightly different fillings for the pies and I personally prefer pie Filling #2, with ground chicken, leeks/spring garlic and gruyere cheese.  But I included pie filling #1 anyways because it is a good way to use up leftover roasted chicken and scrap vegetables.  But of course you can switch it up, add/take away things as you like (just make sure you choose a combination without TOO MUCH excess liquid/juice).  Chicken, sauteed vegetables, melted cheese and creamy custard… pretty much can’t go wrong either way.

Ingredients: inspired by Food52.com

  • Pie crust: (can be made the day before)
    • 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
    • 2 sticks (1 cup, or 230 grams) of unsalted butter, very very cold
    • 1 1/2 tsp of salt
    • 1 tsp of brown sugar
    • 8 ~ 10 tbsp of iced water
  • Swamp custard:
    • 1/2 cup of heavy cream
    • 1/3 cup of milk
    • 1 large egg (1/2 for the custard, another 1/2 for egg wash)
    • 1/4 tsp of salt
    • 1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/8 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg

Make the pie crust:  Cut the butter into cubes and flash-chill it in the freezer for 15 min (this REALLY helps the butter from turning SOFT on you while you work).  Whisk together flour, salt and brown sugar.  Prepare a large cup of iced water on the side.  With a food processor or a hand-held pastry cutter, pulse/cut the butter into the flour-mixture until the LARGEST piece is about the size of a pea.   If you are using a food processor, transfer the mixture into a large bowl now (further pulsing will cut the butter-bits too small).  Add the iced water into the flour/butter-mixture, 3 tbsp at a time.  Fold and squeeze the dough together, adding more iced water as you go, until the dough JUST comes together into a solid mass, but NOT TOO STICKY.  You will need about 8 ~ 10 tbsp of iced water.  You should be able to see bits of butters throughout.

Lightly flour the working surface and transfer the dough on top.  Cut the dough into 2 portions, 1 slightly larger than the other (60% and 40%).  Dust the dough with flours as you shape it into a large, flat disk.  Plastic-wrap them and chill it in the fridge for at least 1 hour, or 30 min in the freezer.

Assemble and bake the pie:  Preheat the oven on top+bottom heat setting on 400ºF/200ºC.  Remove all the racks and baking-sheets, then place a piece of aluminium foil on the very bottom.

Take the larger portion of pie-dough out of the fridge and leave the smaller one chilled.  Dust the working surface with flour, then roll the dough out into a large circle that’s big enough to cover the entire pie-dish.  Hang the pie-dough over the rolling-pin then drape it over the pie-dish (if your pie-dish tends to stick, put a piece of circle parchment paper on the bottom first).  Press the dough down to fit the dish, with about 1/4″ of dough extruding over the edge.  Fill the pie-dish with pie filling #1, or #2 (you might not need all of it depending on the depth of your dish).

Take the smaller portion of pie-dough out and roll it out into a large circle, big enough to cover to top of the pie-dish.  Hang the pie-dough over the rolling-pin and drape it over the pie-dish.  Press the dough slightly down along the inner-edges of the pie, then fold the sides over to wrap over the extruded edges of the bottom pie-dough.  Pinch and squeeze them together.  You should have a pie that looks like a small basin in the middle.  Just for safety measure, flash-chill the pie in the freezer for 10 min.

Meanwhile, beat up 1 large egg and divide it in half.  Mix 1/2 with heavy cream, milk, salt, black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to make custard.  Set aside.  Add 1 tsp of water to the other 1/2 beaten egg to make egg wash.  Take the pie out of the freezer and brush the top evenly with egg wash.  Score a few venting slits on the top, then place the pie DIRECTLY on the bottom of the oven over the aluminium foil.  Bake until the top crust is golden brown, approx 40 min.

Then take the pie out of the oven and lower the oven-temp down to 360ºF/180ºC.

Insert the tip of a funnel into one of the venting holes.  Pour the custard, SLOWLY, into the funnel and the custard should start flooding the interior as well as the top of the pie (you may not need all of the custard).  Return the pie to the bottom of the oven, and bake for another 10 min.  The custard should be still runny, not completely set.  Let the pie sit for 5 min (the custard will continue to set over residual heat) before serving.

Pie filling # 1: (can be made the day before)

  • 400 grams (14 oz)(approx 1 1/2 chicken breast) of roasted chicken
  • 250 grams (8.8 oz) of spinach, roughly cut up (or use 1 cup of frozen spinach)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of finely diced celery
  • 1/4 cup of finely diced carrot
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup of fresh peas
  • 175 grams (6 oz)(roughly 1 cup) of assorted cheese (cheddar, gouda, or gruyere), diced into small cubes
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of all-purpose flour

Dice the roasted chicken in small bite-size pieces.  Heat up a skillet over medium-high heat with 1 tbsp of olive oil, and saute the minced garlic until fragrant.  Add the spinach with a pinch of salt and black pepper, cook until the spinach has completely wilted (if you are using frozen spinach, squeeze out all the excess water before adding).  Transfer to a sieve over a large bowl and press on the spinach to extract as much liquid as you can.  Discard the liquid and set the spinach aside.  Add 1 tbsp of olive oil in the same skillet, and cook celery, carrot, onion and thyme with salt and black pepper until they become soft and translucent.  Place diced roasted chicken, spinach, sautéed vegetables and peas in a large bowl and chill in the fridge until completely cooled down, about 1 hour.

Right before using, add the diced cheese and 1 1/2 tbsp of flour.  Toss to evenly combine.

Pie filling # 2: (can be made the day before)

  • 400 grams (14 oz) of ground chicken
  • 1/4 cup of grated parmigiano cheese
  • 2 cloves of garlic, grated
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp of corn starch
  • 290 grams (10.3 oz) of leeks or spring garlic, finely diced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 175 grams (6 oz)(roughly 1 cup) of assorted cheese (cheddar, gouda, or gruyere), diced into small cubes
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of all-purpose flour

Mix ground chicken, parmigiano cheese, grated garlic, salt, black pepper and corn starch with a fork until evenly combined (like sausage meat).  Heat up a skillet over medium-high heat with 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Cook the chicken mixture, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go, until nicely browned in pieces.  Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.  Add another tbsp of olive oil to the skillet and saute the leeks/spring garlic with a generous pinch of salt and black pepper until soft and slightly wilted, just a couple of min.  Combine it with the browned chicken and chill the mixture in the fridge until completely cooled down, about 1 hour.

Right before using, add the diced cheese and 1 1/2 tbsp of flour.  Toss to evenly combine.

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