It’s St. George’s Day. I realise it’s not widely celebrated in England, but here in Grez-Doiceau it is. He’s our patron saint too and here we have a 3 day long festival in his honour, even with a Dragon being slain. We’ll be there on Sunday with English beer and cheese like we have done for the last two years. One cheese we sold back then has been on our list ever since – the Ashmore Farmhouse. Although made in Kent it is a true cheddar nonetheless. Hand-made from raw milk, it has deservedly won accolade after accolade including Taste of Kent awards and being named in the World’s Top 50 cheeses in The World Cheese Awards 2012. If you’re ever in Canterbury, pop into the Goods Shed by Canterbury West and buy some. Visit Carl the Butcher too, Lee’s General Store and buy some remarkable beer from The Bottle Shop while you’re at it.
I have always wanted to find St George’s mushrooms too, so named because they start appearing now. If I see some I’ll take a picture and sadly not cook them. There really are not many poisonous lookalikes at this time of year, the two main ones being the Red-staining fibre cap (it stains red when bruised, the St. George doesn’t, the spore deposit is brown, St. George is white), and the Livid Pink Gill. Fleshy mushrooms with pink gills and pinkish spore deposits are best avoided. All this means that even if I find some, Marie-Rose won’t let me eat any. A slight pity but I must respect her wishes – it’s not an important battle to win. I’d be more worried if she encouraged me.
So after the dog walking, earthing up of potatoes, a refreshing beer, a walk organised by the local Primary school, the barbecue that followed (Saucisses, Lard, Baguette and salad? When isn’t there…?) I turned my attention to supper.
It wasn’t as warm as I had hoped so perhaps something along thelines of Poulet Basquaise. But that’s not very English. So a fish pie with a twist it was – it wasn’t fish but chicken!
You will need:
A Chicken’s worth of chicken without bones. I’ll bone 4 thighs and 4 legs. Weird chicken, I know. Just prefer the dark meat. Use kitchen paper to pull the skin off. Make stock now with the bones, a carrot, and onion with skin, a bayleaf, a few peppercorns and a parsely stalk or two.
A large, chopped onion, not too fine
A few rashers of bacon, chopped
A leek, if you have one, cleaned and chopped
Some lard or butter if you must and flour, salt and (white) pepper
Parsely, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Any or all of these, finely chopped.
A pint of cider or perry
Floury potatoes, cooked and mashed. 2lbs will do it.
Pre-heat your oven to moderate, 350°F or so. Cut up potatoes and cook in salted water. Drain and leave to steam dry in a pan with the the lid not quite on…
Meanwhile, cut the chicken up into reasonably sized chunks. Half a thigh or thereabouts. Season and sauté in the fat, not over such a fierce heat that the butter burns if you are not using lard. Lard is best. We don’t want a brown sauce. Remove, and fry bacon, onion, leeks in the fat for a few moments until the onion is translucent. Do not brown. Maybe check the potatoes and deal with them (turn off the pan with the leeks etc. in it)
Now turn the leek pan back on, adding a tablespoon of flour and cook for a few moments but don’t brown it. Start adding the cider/perry and build up a nice sauce, you may not need all the liquid. Drink the rest. If you need more liquid use some of the stock you have already made. Add enough cream so it looks just right and check for seasoning. White pepper is correct here but if you only have black then so be it.
Put in your pie dish, mash the potatoes or put through a ricer if your mum bought you one for Christmas. Cover the chicken etc. with the potatoes, and make ploughlines with a fork. Dot with butter and put in the oven. It is ready when golden-brown and bubbling through at the edges. Turn off the oven and leave to rest whilst you boil some frozen peas. Or some green asparagus if the weather has been kind.
There you are. That’s English. And if you like you can pipe a St. George’s Cross on the top with ketchup. I might resist that temptation. Might.
In fact I was reminded of the clash of the Waterzooi. I have always felt cheated by the idea of chicken rather than fish. ‘ Water’ gives it away a bit, though I suppose Poule d’eau could be used but I just don’t fancy them. What goes around comes around and I remember my first few days in Peru. Day one I ate ceviche de conchas negras, day two saw a big headline in the papers: COLERA. Day three saw restaurants offering ceviche de pollo or ceviche de hongas. And now I do it myself, substituting chicken for fish.