My mother used to make chicken a la king for us with the leftovers from a roast and it was my all-time favourite dish as a child. When I was really young, she’d always serve it on top of toasted white sandwich bread. When I got a little older she graduated to puff pastry vol au vents purchased from the French patisserie that opened up in the strip mall next to the 7-11. And then she stopped making it, and never wrote down the recipe, leaving me now with nothing but a memory of it. I’ve tried to reproduce it from recipes, but mom’s version was obviously not tradtional, it’s always turned out wrong.
Having put the chicken a la king out of my mind, I was experimenting with an easy way to make chicken pot pie when I made this recipe. It’s not so traditional. The bechamel-style sauce is replaced with pure, heavy cream — not the healthiest of substitutions for sure, but one that really makes the dish lovely. There are no carrots or peas to be had in this one either, just a lovely hit of mushroom, leek and garlic. Perfect companions to both the chicken and the cream. Adding a little sherry to the mushrooms at the end of cooking would be awesome, I didn’t have any around the day I made this, so the recipe is without.
The pie turned out delicious, and surprisingly remniscent of mother’s chicken a la king, although I can guarantee hers was made with half and half. We always had a litre carton of the stuff in the fridge, mom drank her coffee creamy and sickly sweet– at least 6 cups a day. I’m seriously tempted to make this again, but served on toasted white bread. Somehow that would seem even more like home.
makes 4 small pies
- 2 chicken breasts
- 2 cups water or low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 leek, cleaned and chopped, white and light green only
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 1½ – 2 cups heavy cream
- Salt and pepper
- Lots of chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 sheets ready rolled frozen puff pastry
- To poach the chicken: put breasts in water or stock in a pot on the stove so that they are covered by at least half an inch. To this liquid you can add any or all of the following: celery, onion, garlic, peppercorns, a bay leaf and dried herbs. These will add flavour, but aren’t really necessary considering the richness of the sauce. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the chicken to sit in the liquid for another 10 minutes. Remove breasts and allow to cool.
- Heat the oven to 200℃ (400℉).
- In a large, heavy saucepan heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring constantly, until translucent. Add the mushrooms and the garlic. Cook until the mushrooms release their liquid and it evaporates. Pour in the cream and allow to come to a simmer, let it cook down a little until the sauce is thickened a little. Remove from heat. Shred the chicken and stir it in, season to taste with salt and pepper and add the chopped parsley.
- Divide the mixture into 4 ramekins. Cut a square of puff pastry to sit on top of each. You can seal the pastry around the edges with a little water, making sire to cut a few slits to let the steam escape, or you can set a loose square on top of each (the pastry will puff more, but it will look less like a pie). Brush with egg wash if desired and bake on a tray for about 20 minutes.