Saturday, September 17, 2011

Chicken and leek pasties: An afternoon in three acts.

Act 1.

You’ve been waiting for the CSA you are testing for winter all day. Unsure of what time the delivery will arrive, you’ve even refused your mother’s kind offer of breakfast pastry. This was a mistake. You need buttery, flaky, crusted food you realize at 1 pm. The doorbell rings. Local, hormone-free chicken has arrived, and it brought its friend, nitrate-free bacon. Hurrah. The celebration is short lived—croissants still plague your mind.

You look around the room in despair. Evidence of your morning work—housecleaning—is strewn about the living room. The broom lies across the couch, a few piles of dog hair have been swept up but remain un-vacuumed, as the handheld died halfway through last week’s Jersey Shore. Free Snooks! You’ve digressed.

The last cookbook you forgot to put away is sitting on the coffee table. River Cottage Every Day. You flip through it, and pause on page 110. There it is: puff pastry—taunting you. Damn you, chicken and leek pasties. And yet, as you skim the recipe, you realize: you have all of these ingredients in the house! That’s when you decide to make puff pastry—from scratch. You write a food blog. It should be fine.

In the kitchen, you rummage through the fridge for butter. The cardboard box is empty, one stick is found on the bottom shelf next to your new chicken, another hidden behind the butter flap—go figure. It takes you a few minutes to figure out what 2/3 cup butter looks like. …maybe a few minutes more. Okay—you cube the butter and stick it in the freezer.

Then you eat an apple with peanut butter. Nice.

Act 2.
You’ve gathered your puff pastry ingredients in the dining room. Butter, salt, ice water, two cups of flour. That Taylor Swift playlist that youtube made for you is blaring from the living room: You are ready. You’ve made crust before for pies—how different can this be? After a few minutes tossing butter cubes in flour you sigh, this one just won’t come together. You decide to move on to the next step anyway. Roll out your “dough,” and fold it like a “business letter”—in thirds. This is easy for you because of a summer job you had in college when you spent one day folding 250 letters before finding out the office had a machine that did the same thing in about 6 minutes flat.
The pastry is looking like a real mess, but on the third letter fold the dough suddenly looks okay. You fold three more times with confidence. It’s time to wrap your dough in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge.
Here comes trouble. You keep the plastic wrap at the back of the Tupperware cabinet. Because of a style clash between you and your boyfriend, the Tupperware cabinet is an explosive box of suffering. Your buddy likes to store the plastic containers with their lids on, taking up the maximum amount of space. You deal with this nonsense by wedging the other pieces around these blocks and shutting the cabinet quickly before anything can fall into the sink. You are able to get the plastic wrap, but cannot close Pandora’s cabinet. Oh well.
Once the pastry is chillin’ in the fridge, you decide to clean up. As you begin scrubbing at the butter smashed into the grain of your cutting board, the water pressure cuts out. Your first thought is to fill the bathtub—you can survive on that for days. You calm yourself. This happens sometimes. You go to wipe the flour off the table. Then try to wash your hands, already forgetting that the sink isn’t working. You feel dumb. Down the hallway in the bathroom, you try again to wash your hands. The water isn’t working in there either. Your throat is dry—you can’t swallow! You fill the bathtub with what’s left in the pipes. This is no time to be neighborly.

Act 3.

Defrosting chicken is the worst. The microwave starts to cook it while it’s still frozen on the inside. You move on to the leeks, slicing them into pretty layered rainbows and then rinsing them in a big bowl of water—letting the grit fall to the bottom just like Ina Garten taught you.
Finally, you’re able to fry up the chicken. When it is golden and cooked through, you set it aside. You melt two tablespoons of butter in the chicken pan, scraping up the flavor left behind by the birds, then add the leeks and ½ a teaspoon of thyme, slowly sweating them for ten minutes. You take this time to finish cleaning the living room. One of Taylor Swift’s misses is playing. Turn it back to the good stuff.
You sneak into the stairway and sniff around. Take that, neighbors that make bacon on Sunday mornings and stew on Tuesday nights! The whole building smells amazing—leek-town amazing, and you are the mayor.
While congratulating yourself, you check on the leeks. You pour in 2/3 cup of light cream and let the mixture thicken for 5 minutes. Then you mix in a healthy teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and season the leeks with salt and pepper. You remove the creamed leeks to a bowl and return to the chicken. It’s cool enough to shred with your fingers, so you do that. Not only are you ready to make pasties, but the water is working again—you are chuffed as nuts!
The pastry dough is hard to roll out at first, but then it gets softer. You cut three “rounds” and mash together a fourth Frankenstein crust. You add the filling, leeks first, then chicken, and then wet the edges of the dough, preparing for the fold over.
Alex, er… your roommate comes home and wants to know why the tub is filled with water. You tell him it was a drill, and it went really well, now shut up and take a picture of this because your hands are sticky.
The crimping is less successful than you imagined. Even only using half of the chicken, you have overfilled the pasties. Three will definitely leak (as it were) in the 375-degree oven (Muzagaash willing) during the 25-minute baking period. That’s cool—you can just call the pasties “rustic.”
The pasties come out of the oven puffed (albeit only slightly), golden, and delicious—the crust is buttery, the filling is rich, and the afternoon light is fading. Well done, you.


  1. It's like I was there!

    You know what this reminds me of? Chicken pot pastry. Only way more classy.

  2. These look BEYOND amazing! WANT!