When I asked my husband if he wanted to go out for dinner on his birthday, he scrunched up his nose at me. Granted, we already celebrate over dinner at Le Bouchon with our friends Alethea and Philippe, but I like to offer. Here is where I start to over analyze the dynamics between husband and wife. Stay with me here. If I were asked if I wanted to go out to dinner on my birthday, I would jump at the chance. Most possibly because if I don't accept the offer, my birthday meal would consist of a take-out meal, Heinz beans or something I cooked for myself. None particularly appeal for a celebration.
When I suggested that I make Claridge's chicken pie, a grin appeared. Is it wrong to have a dish in your repertoire that people beg for and you very rarely make? If so, this is my ace in the hole dish. It's a card I wait to play only during very special occasions. I have made this so-called pie a few times before, only in London, but to great sighs of satisfaction coming from those I have fed it to. It's really just a posh pot pie and yet, it holds true power over my husband and one of his close friends, Toby.
I have bet Toby, on at least one Ryder Cup, that if the US were to lose to Europe, I would make him this pie. Unfortunately, the US have lost several times to the Europeans. I love golf, but I am not very good at following through when bets are lost. That said, I have actually moved back to the US without ever having made Toby the pie, for which I feel terribly guilty about. He still reminds me of it today and I believe we have a scheduled date for "pie cooking" in September when I next visit London.
As soon as that sweet grin appeared on my husband's face at the mention of chicken pie, I couldn't resist. This is how he gets me every single time. I know how much he enjoys my cooking and he plies me with compliments until I have an entire menu planned just for his delight. So here it is gals, the menu to win over an Englishman: Claridge's chicken pie (no salad or greenery at all thank you very much) and Golden Syrup pudding with homemade custard. Seriously, it's that easy. Throw in a nice bottle of wine you brought back from Napa and he'll be putty in your hands.
As usual, I have a few notes for anyone attempting this at home. Firstly, I must confess that I bought frozen puff pastry- the good stuff from Whole Foods, but frozen nonetheless. I do not have time in my life for puff pastry and pudding making. Secondly, please buy frozen pearl onions. I followed Gordon's recipe that called for blanching the skins off of pearl onions and I wanted to kill him after about three.
Please don't be put off by the idea of a steamed pudding. Yes, they were traditionally very stodgy British fare, but I swear they rank among my favorite desserts anywhere. Truth be told, anything with proper custard gets my vote. The cake batter comes out deliciously moist and spongey. Given the addition of lemon juice to this recipe, it is not at all sickly or too sweet.
Lastly, you will need a plastic pudding basin with a tight fitting lid. (Do not put it in the dishwasher or the lid will not fit.) Mine is a 2 pint size and my Mother in-law brought me one over from the UK for Christmas, but I'm sure you can order one on-line. You could order at the same time you order yourself some Golden Syrup. It's worth it!
Claridge's Chicken Pie
Adapted from Gordon Ramsay's Secrets by Gordon Ramsay
Serves 4 as a main dish
4 skinless, boneless, free-range chicken breasts
1 cup pearl or baby onions, peeled
2 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 thyme sprig
6 slices pancetta or good smoked bacon, diced into strips
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 cups baby button mushrooms or any wild mushrooms you can find at the store
1/2 dry sherry or madeira
3/4 double cream or whipping cream
1 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tsp chopped tarragon
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tsp water
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the chicken into bite size chunks. Bring the stock to the boil in a pan and add the onions. Cook for 5 minutes. LIft out with a slotted spoon. Add the chicken, bay leaf and thyme to the stock. Return to a simmer and poach for 5 minutes. then take off the heat and let it cool in the liquid for a minute or two. Strain the stock into a jug, remove the herbs and season the chicken lightly and set it aside.
Heat a quarter of the butter in a pan and fry the pancetta or bacon until crispy. Remove and drain on a paper towel. Wipe the pan out.
Melt the remaining butter in the pan. When it starts to foam, add the mushrooms. Stir fry for about 7 minutes until softened and season to taste.
Pour in the sherry and deglaze the pan of all the delicious bacon or pancetta pieces. Bubble until well reduced. Return the bacon and onions, and then pour the reserved stock in. Bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half. Add the cream and bubble until reduced by a third. Add the chopped herbs and set aside. You can make this the night before up to this point. Just reheat the sauce and add the chicken to warm though.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400F. Roll out your pastry on a lightly floured surface until it's about as thick as a 1 pound coin (3 mm). Cut out four rounds using a small bowl or saucer. Place on a non-stick baking sheet and score the surface in a diamond pattern using the tip of a small sharp knife.
Brush the pastry with the egg glaze and bake for 10 minutes. It will have risen and will be golden. Then bake for a further 2 mintues with the oven door slighly ajar, to help crisp the pastry. Remove and cool on a wire rack.
Heat your sauce until bubbling and add the chicken. As soon as it's warmed through, check the seasoning and then divide between your plates. Top with the pastry round and serve.
Golden Syrup Pudding
Adapted from Just Like Mother Used to Make by Tom Norrington-Davies
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
1/2 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
4 tbsp milk
2 large eggs
34 cup self-raising flour
juice 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp golden syrup
If you have a food processor, combine the butter, sugar, salt, milk eggs and flour by blitzing until smooth. You can do this by hand too. Grease a medium size pudding basin (2- 2 1/2 pints) with a little butter. Add the lemon juice to the golden syrup to loosen it up and then pur it into the base of the pudding basin. Pour the batter on top. Cover the basin with a lid.
Boil a kettle full of water. Place the basin in a saucepan that also has a lid. Fill the pan with boiling water to come about 2/3 the way up the sides of the basin. Over medium-low heat, cover the pan and simmer for about 2 hours. Make sure it doesn't boil dry. Check every 30 minutes and top it up with boiling water if necessary.
When it's ready, remove it and allow it to rest for a few minutes. Remove the lid, being careful of the steam and place and upturned dish on top of the basin. Invert both the dish and the pudding and let the sponge plop onto the dish.
Eat it immediately with custard.
A Jug of Custard
Adapted from Just Like Mother Used to Make by Tom Norrington-Davies
6 egg yolks
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp plain flour
1 pint whole milk
In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and flour until pale and smooth.
Heat the milk gently in a saucepan until it looks like it's about to boil (it will fizz on the side of the pan). Remove from the heat.
Whisk the milk into the egg mixture, a little at a time. In the meantime, select a pan that is large enough to suspend your mixing bowl over, and fill it with water and heat to boiling, creating a bain marie. Put the bowl on the pan and slowly and constantly stir the custard as you heat it up.
This takes a good amount of time, so be patient. The custard is ready when it starts to coat the back of the spoon. It gets thickern the longer you allow it to cook.
Pass it thorugh a sieve and allow it to cool in a bowl or the jug you want to use when serving it.
You can serve it cold, as I did, or hot. You can also add vanilla pods to the milk to infuse a vanilla custard flavor, but I like it plain with the golden syrup steamed pudding.