A great technique for thickening sauces and pie fillings is to use a tablespoon of agar agar flakes instead of starch. Agar agar is a setting agent derived from seaweed and it ensures a really smooth finish without masking flavour as starch does. Agar agar is also a good vegetarian replacement for gelatine in recipes, and it is a lot more heat resistant.
For the chicken
- 8% brine (1 kg cold tap water and 80 g salt mixed together)
- 8 boned and skinned chicken thighs (keep the skin)
- 500 ml (2 cups) chicken stock
For the leeks
- chicken skin from the thighs
- 300 g washed and finely sliced leeks, white part only
For the button mushrooms
- 25 g unsalted butter
- 250 g button mushrooms, quartered
For the sauce
- 135 ml double cream
- 120 ml white wine, reduced to a syrup consistency
- 135 ml full-cream milk
- 90 ml reserved chicken stock
- 1 tbsp agar agar flakes
To assemble and cook the pie
- 200 g cooked ham hock, chopped into small pieces
- 25 g wholegrain mustard
- 15 g Dijon mustard
- 10 g flat-leaf parsley
- salt and pepper
- 250 g packet all-butter puff pastry
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Soaking time 5 hours
Cooling time 1½ hours
Place the brine in a bowl big enough to contain the chicken thighs. Add the chicken to the water and leave in the brine for 5 hours.
Rinse the chicken under cold running water for 5 minutes, then pat dry with kitchen paper. Store in the fridge until needed.
Place the brined chicken thighs in an ovenproof saucepan and cover with the chicken stock. Bring the stock to a simmer over a medium heat then place in the oven for 1 hour 30 minutes.
Allow the chicken to cool in the liquid before removing and dicing. Retain 90 ml of the chicken stock for the sauce which will bind the pies. (The remaining stock can be used for soups or sauces.)
In the meantime, cook the leeks. Place the pan over a medium-high heat. Add the chicken skin and render the fat from it for 10–15 minutes. Remove the skin and discard.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the leek to the fat. Cook until completely soft (approximately 15 minutes), then allow to cool in the pan.
To cook the mushrooms, place a pan over a medium-high heat. Add the butter and when melted, add the mushrooms and cook until lightly coloured (approximately 5 minutes). Drain the mushrooms on a plate covered with kitchen paper.
For the sauce, put the cream, reduced wine, milk and reserved chicken stock into a pan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Sprinkle in the agar agar flakes and whisk to incorporate. Simmer for 4 minutes then allow to cool and blitz thoroughly with a hand blender.
When ready to assemble and cook the pie, preheat the oven to 215ºC.
Mix the chicken thigh meat, diced ham, leek, mushroom, wholegrain and Dijon mustards together then add the sauce. Finely chop the parsley and add it to the mixture. Season with salt and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper and stir until all the ingredients are well combined. Pour into a family-sized pie dish (approximately 28 cm in length).
Roll the pastry on a lightly floured surface until 5mm thick. Lay over the pie dish and fold the overhang around the lip of the dish to seal the edges. Rest for 15 minutes in the fridge.
Crimp the edges of the pie with a fork for decoration then, using a pastry brush, coat the top of the pie with the beaten egg.
Place the pie in the oven for approximately 15 minutes or until the pastry turns golden on top.