Sunday, December 4, 2011

Elegant Chicken Pie

This is a picture of the pie before the crust went on.

Elegant Chicken Pie is a fantastic dish. It was wonderfully tasty, and a huge hit with the guests. I was planning to make it on Sunday for the church dinner group. The only problem was it contains sweetbreads, which are not sold in regular grocery stores. I hadn't seen sweetbreads in a butcher shop since the 70s, when we lived in Georgetown.
I asked my daughter what I should do. She suggested the Internet. I typed in butcher shops DC and got a list. On Friday we had teacher training at a renovated school in Anacostia. During the break, I went down to the end of the classroom and started calling. The first place I called was Wagshalls, a fancy deli and grocery store in AU Park. They normally had sweetbreads but they were out. The butcher suggested Union Meats on Capitol Hill. Bingo.
Saturday morning I normally go riding. I get up at 6:00 and drive out to Poolesville, have my lesson at 9:00 and drive back. This Saturday morning, I had moved my lesson to 2:00 because one of my co-workers had invited my daughter and me to a church tea on Capitol Hill. We could get the sweetbreads after the tea.
The tea turned out to be a wonderful occasion. Women in their 20s and 30s chatted animatedly over plates of cucumber sandwiches, scones and cookies. A group of women sang Christmas songs. Each table was decorated differently by the women who sponsored it. It was a warm winter day when we left. The Victorian houses of Capitol Hill were decked with wreaths. Inside the houses we could see Christmas trees set up in the bay windows.
Eastern Market suffered a terrible fire a few years ago. The city had it rebuilt almost exactly the way it was. On Saturday morning it was full of shoppers and vendors lined up outside the building, selling gloves, Christmas trees and winter vegetables. Union Meats had a huge counter running halfway down the building with red shirted butchers waiting on customers. Union Meats is the butcher shop of my dreams. Veal knuckles, veal shin, even pigs' heads. Head cheese here we come!
I left head cheese for another day and bought the sweetbreads and two chickens from the poultry vendor across the aisle. The next day, I prepared to deal with them. Sweetbreads, according to Wikkipedia, are the thymus or pituitary gland of the calf. They are covered with a membrane which must be removed. For once, Hewlitt tells us how to cope with them.
The recipe is long but not especially complicated. The invention of ready made rolled up pie crust makes putting the crust on a matter of minutes. I may never make pie crust again.

Elegant Chicken Pie

1 three pound chicken

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 cinnamon

6 tablespoons butter

1 carrot sliced

2 small white onions

1 pair sweetbreads

salted water

1/2 cup diced cooked ham

1/4 pound mushrooms sliced

juice of half a lemon

3 tablespoons cognac

3 tablespoons port wine

2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon foie gras

Rich pie pastry for one 10-inch crust

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Sprinkle the chicken inside and outside with salt and pepper. Add the nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon to the inside of the chicken.

3. Heat half of the butter in a large oven proof skillet. Add the chicken and turn to coat on all sides with butter. Let the chicken rest on one side. Add the giblets, carrot and onions and roast fifteen minutes basting often with a large spoon. Turn chicken to the other side and roast fifteen minutes, basting. Turn chicken on its back and continue roasting and basting about thirty minutes or until done. Leave chicken in the skillet while completing the dish.

4. Meanwhile soak the sweetbreads one hour and drain. Place sweetbreads in a saucepan and add salted water to cover. bring to a boil. Simmer five minutes and drain. Rinse under cold running water. Trim or pare away the skin and tubes of the sweetbreads. Slice the sweetbreads.

5. Heat remaining butter in another skillet and add sweetbread slices . Cook, turning occasionally, about two minutes. Add the ham, mushrooms and lemon juice. Cook, stirring gently once in a while, about five minutes.

6. Cut chicken into serving pieces and place in the bottom of a deep baking dish. Add the cognac and port wine to the juices in the skillet in which chicken cooked. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve. Add salt to taste and all but two tablespoons of cream. Strain this into a saucepan and add sweetbread mixture. Simmer three to four minutes.

7. Blend remaining cream with the foie gras and add to the saucepan. Pour this sauce over chicken and cover the dish with the rolled-out pastry. Bake fifteen minutes or until the crust is a rich golden brown. Makes six servings.

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