Wednesday, 6 November 2013

101 uses for a dead chicken - #1 Chicken, leek and parsley pie

One of the books I remember from my childhood was "101 uses for a Dead Cat". Not very good taste, but quite funny, especially when you are 9 or 10. My favourite cartoon was the one where you used the cat's bum as a pencil sharpener. 

I know. 

Sorry about that.

But it sort of popped into my head the other day when I was looking at the chicken before me, trying to decide how best to cook it. Before you start to worry, I wasn't contemplating turning it into any kind of desk top toy, or anything else other than a meal, but I reckon there are at least 101 ways to cook a chicken, and maximise the meal potential from a bird.

And if you maximise your bird, you reduce waste.

Food waste is a terrible thing.

We all know it. 

And I'm not just talking about the terrible irritation that rises up when the kids turn their nose up at whatever you've put in front of them.

Food is expensive. People put lots of time and effort into growing, cultivating, preparing it and we spend our hard-earned money on it. We are extremely fortunate to live in a country where we have a huge variety of food available to us.

On the other hand, we live in a society where children still go hungry; where there is an increasing need for the food banks. It seems to me that we owe it to everyone, not least ourselves, to do better at wasting less food.

According to Love Food Hate Waste, "...We throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, the majority of which could have been eaten. It's costing us £12bn a year and is bad for the environment too"

This costs an average (if there is such a thing) family £50 a month. And apparently "If we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the benefit to the planet would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 5 cars off the road."


So, back to my chicken. It's true that buying a whole chicken usually represents better value for money than buying jointed pieces. You can get so much more out of it. If you get the opportunity, it's worth reading Rose Prince's book "The New English Kitchen" which is a great book, crammed with ideas for making meat (especially) go further. If not, you can work on the basic principle that for a family of 4, a whole chicken will give you at least 2 main meals, plus stock for soup and bits for sandwiches. 

If you don't like 'boiling bones' as one of my friends delightfully calls it, the other way to get delicious chicken stock is to poach your chicken whole first. You can then eat it as you would roast chicken for your first meal, or turn some of the meat into a pie.

I got the idea for this pie from The Claire Macdonald Cookbook. I'm in awe of Claire Macdonald. She's a favourite of my mum's, and her recipes are really great. As a hotelier on Skye, cooking everyday, she produced 'homely dinner party' food which she hoped would be a treat for her guests to eat. I can't imagine anything nicer than spending a day out in the majestic Skye mountains or on the beaches, then coming back for the sort of food she was serving up. When I was flicking through the book, this pie seemed like just the sort of thing to serve up to the kids and the Husband after our first day back at school and work since the Italian escape. There's a good load of meat left for another meal and for some sarnies, and as a result of poaching the chicken I've got about 3 litres waiting to be used for other things. Marvellous. And don't balk at the addition of curry powder. It really works!

Chicken Leek & Parsley Pie
 for 4

1 chicken - mine was 1.7 kg
1 carrot, cut into chunks
2 small red onions (or equivalent - I used what came in the veg box) peeled and halved for the poaching, plus 2 more peeled and finely diced for the filling
2 sticks of celery
2 bay leaves
A good sprig each of thyme and rosemary
A good handful of parsley, leaves & stalks, plus another good handful, thick stalks removed, finely chopped
40g butter
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced reasonably thinly
25g plain flour
1/2 tsp mild curry powder
250 ml milk
100-150 ml stock reserved from cooking the chicken
salt & freshly ground black pepper
300g puff pastry
milk for glazing

First, cook the chicken. Put it into a large pan with the carrot chunks, the halved red onions, the bay, thyme, rosemary and the first handful of parsley, a few grinds of salt and pepper, then cover with water. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for an hour or so till the chicken is cooked. Allow to cool in the water.

Remove the chicken from the stock, and then strain it through a seive. Reserve what you need for the pie (100-150 ml) and put the rest aside for soup, risotto, or whatever you have planned for it.

Strip the meat off the carcass, and put a layer of chicken pieces in the bottom of your pie dish. I used the meat from the 2 legs (thighs and drumsticks) and some more of the 'brown' meat. The rest of the meat can be used in another meal. Watch this space.

Pre heat the oven to 220C

Melt the butter in a pan, and add the leeks and finely chopped onion. Cook gently till soft and transparent then stir in the flour and curry powder, cook for a minute or so, then stir in the milk and stock, and bring to the boil and cook till thickened. Add salt and pepper and the chopped parsley. Cook the sauce out for a few minutes, then pour over the meat and stir it all together to combine.

Cover the pie with the pastry, decorate as you see fit (pastry leaves are always a winner in my book, I don't care if anyone says they are naff), brush the pastry with milk, then bake for 20 minutes before reducing the temperature to 180 for another 20 minutes.

Serve the pie to your family. They will love you even more.


  1. You're leaning against an open door with me on this one RJ. I am almost evangelical about making stock, and making a chicken go as as poss. It means paying the extra for a good, organic, free range bird is more than justified. A pie is one of my fave options and I am so giving this recipe a go. Curry powder? Genius!

    1. too right - spend a bit more on the chuck, then get the most you can out of it! It's paella tonight - of sorts...


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