I don’t like getting bogged down in the kitchen. One of the ways to make the pie easier to bake was to move from using a traditional crust to using phyllo. The crust is wonderfully flaky and crisp this way. I like the contrast of the crispy crust and the creamy interior, and then little bits of carrot and peas here and there, so you have all kinds of textures going on. Sensually, it’s delicious. I also like to use some of the thigh meat, as well as the breast, because it’s juicier and more flavorful.
Your readers will find it isn’t just the eating, but also the actual process of cooking this dish that is very comforting, very stress relieving. — Marian Burros
1 heaping cup pearl onions
1 1/2 pounds skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 pounds skinless chicken thighs
20 baby carrots, peeled
1 leek, white part only, trimmed and sliced
4 thyme sprigs, plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large red bell pepper
1 large yellow bell pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, washed, stemmed, and cut in 1/4-inch strips
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cups reserved chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
For the phyllo topping
8 phyllo leaves (see Help Note)
4 tablespoons melted butter for brushing
Make the filling
1. Plunge the pearl onions in boiling water for 30 seconds and drain. Cut off the root end and slip the outside skin off the onions. Set aside.
2. Cut each whole chicken breast into quarters. In a pot, combine the chicken breasts and thighs, onions, carrots, leek, and 4 sprigs of thyme. Season with the salt and pepper. Add water just to cover. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked.
3. Meanwhile trim, seed, and halve the peppers. Cut each half into thin strips, and then cut the strips in half. Heat the oil; saute the peppers over medium-high heat until they soften. Stir in the mushrooms and saute until they soften, about four minutes. Set aside.
4 When the chicken is cooked, strain, reserving the liquid. Let the chicken cool, remove the meat from the bone, and cut the meat into 1-inch chunks. Add the chicken meat to the peppers and mushrooms. Add the pearl onions. Cut twelve of the carrots in half and add. Stir in the peas, lemon juice, and chopped thyme. Discard the leek, thyme sprigs, and the remaining carrots (or use for something else).
5. Melt 8 tablespoons butter over medium heat, remove from the heat, and stir in the flour. Return to medium heat and cook, stirring, a couple of minutes until blended and bubbling. Remove from the heat and stir in the stock. Return to the heat and cook, stirring until the mixture thickens. Take the pan from the heat, cool slightly, and stir in the cream. Season with salt, pepper, and the nutmeg and stir into the chicken and vegetables. Adjust the seasonings.
Make the phyllo topping
1. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
2. Open the package of phyllo and cover with a damp towel.
3. Place a stack of 8 phyllo leaves on a work surface. Trace the top of a deep 10-inch baking dish on the pile of phyllo leaves. Cut the phyllo to fit and then cover them again. Wrap the remaining phyllo in an airtight bag and use on another occasion. Phyllo will last about a week.
4. Spoon the chicken and vegetables into the baking dish.
5. Remove one leaf, brush it with some of the melted butter, and place it butter side up on top of the chicken and vegetables in the baking dish. Butter the next leaf and place it on top of the first. Repeat until all the leaves are used and brush butter on top of the final leaf. Tuck the edges of the phyllo into the dish. Cut a 1-inch hole in the middle of the phyllo to allow steam to escape.
6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and the top is golden brown.
Help Notes: The filling can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator, well covered. It must be returned to room temperature before it is baked.
Phyllo are the paper-thin sheets of pastry used for so many Greek pastries like baklava. Many supermarkets carry them in the frozen-food section. Fresh is better, but not so easily available, unless there is a Greek market near you. Completely defrost the phyllo in the refrigerator or at room temperature before using.
If you want a thicker sauce for the filling use an additional 2 tablespoons of flour.
Recipe © 2003 Marian Burros. All rights reserved.