Once upon a chicken pie …

“Mother was in the pantry, setting the top crust on the Sunday chicken pie. Three fat hens were in the pie, under the bubbling gravy. Mother spread the crust and crimped the edges, and the gravy showed through the two pine-trees she had cut in the dough… ” (Farmer Boy)

South African chicken pie – definitely not your average pot pie, as Americans might want to call it. Traditions, spices, ingredients (secret and not so secret), which pastry to use (flaky, short, puff, rough puff) all play a role in defining South Africa’s most beloved savory pie. It can be one large pie for the dinner table, or hand-held size for lunch-on-the-go, or mini pies to add to your snack and appetizer platters. When my children visit from South Africa, they are welcomed with the large version. The “man of the house” gets hand-held versions for his work dinners and the mini ones? Well, do you need a good reason for snacking?

The traditional pie, heritage food. Inviting family over on a Sunday to share. Laying the table with grandma’s silver and linen. Learn to find and love each other again around the table …

Traditionally you cooked a whole chicken with mace and pimentos and peppercorns and cloves, with 2 whole onions. You soaked some sago (tapioca) till soft and when the chicken was cooked and boned, stirred it into the broth and added some white wine, beaten egg and lemon juice. The sago helped to thicken the sauce. The mixture was then spooned into a pie dish lined with pastry, covered with slices of hard-boiled egg, the top crust and baked in a hot oven. Time consuming, but well worth it.

Nowadays we all want the quick way to do things. We are so rushed for time, busy with this and that. I prefer the traditional way, of course, but even I go for a quick version sometimes. Buy a rotisserie chicken, make a mushroom sauce, cut out puff pastry circles, fill, paint with egg-wash and voila … done! (Full recipe below).

Quick and easy chicken pie

1 Rotisserie chicken
8 oz Sliced white mushrooms
3 Tbs butter
1/4 Cup all purpose flour
1 Cup milk (or half and half)
2 Sheets puff pastry
Salt, pepper and other spices to taste
2 eggs and a splash of water

Heat oven to 385F or 190C.
Debone the chicken and chop into small pieces.
Beat the eggs with a bit of water till foamy.
Fry the mushrooms in the butter till soft.
Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and stir till all the butter is absorbed.
Slowly add the milk and simmer gently till the sauce is thick.
Stir in the chopped chicken and spices to taste, let it simmer for a minute or two
Remove from the stove and let the mixture cool down completely.
Sprinkle some flour on the work surface and gently roll out the puff pastry so that you add an inch or two to the dimensions. Use a large cookie cutter, or saucer for bigger pies, and press out circles.
Brush edges of bottom pastry with the egg-wash
Put 1 1/2 tbs cold filling in center of circle.
Gently stretch the top circle between your fingers to make sure it fits over the filling, use a fork to “seal” the edges.
I use a silicone baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes till golden brown and nicely puffed.

Tip : You can flash-freeze unbaked pies (no egg-wash), then wrap well and keep in freezer. To bake from frozen, brush with egg-wash and bake at 350F or 165C till golden brown – about 40 minutes. Check after 30 mins. to make sure they don’t get too dark.

You can also bake this as one big pie. Same procedure. I usually spray my dish with a tiny bit of cook ‘n spray, followed by the pastry which I don’t trim and edges brushed with egg wash. Then the filling, top pastry, more egg wash, decorations, “vents”. 365F or 180C – 20 to 30 minutes.


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