Greek chicken pie

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Standing ovation for two remarkable chicken pies : the unforgettable one I tasted last Christmas at Kato Pedina, a village at Zagori (see photo above), and the one I recently remembered and cooked again made with my family’s own recipe, already counting 80 years!

The Zagori chicken pie was uncovered, like a tart. A typical chicken pie in Greek cooking is usually covered by a heavy homemade fyllo or a thinner store-bought one. Store bought phyllo pastry is fine – if you go for it simply make sure you prepare a drier filling, to prevent the thin fyllo from getting soggy and that you thaw it completely before handling it otherwise it will break into pieces.

The heavy homemade fyllo can handle a more moist filling. Paramount to the success of the dish is to start with a tasty chicken, slowly poached in wine and water with herbs and spices (star anise can work wonders here, as do bay leaves, celery, and whole peppercorns) or slowly baked in the oven with one goal : to remain juicy.

For sure, chicken pie does not care for a boring, tasteless or overcooked bird no matter how you cooked it. It also demands a savory grated cheese , such as the greek cheeses kefalograviera or spicy feta from Cephalonia. Last but not least, slow baking will help the filling to slowly absorb its juices while at the same time  the fyllo stays crunchy.

A delicious greek chicken pie

with ready-bought fyllo and left over chicken

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Ingredients: (For a medium sized baking pan or pyrex)

  • A small chicken, boiled or roasted, boneless and skinless, shredded
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • A bunch of spring onions (scallions), finely chopped
  • A small bunch of chives (10-12 sticks)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • A bit of fresh butter and some olive oil to brush the fyllo layers and sauté the onions
  • 1 ½ cup spicy feta, crumbled
  • 1 ½ cup tasty kefalograviera, grated
  • 1 sun dried tomato (without the oil), finely chopped or a small red Florina pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • pinch of cumin
  • 1 level tbsp. thyme or fresh fennel
  • ½ tsp chili flakes or hot or sweet paprika (if you don’t want your pie spicy)
  • 1 cup stock, from the boiled or roasted chicken
  • 2 tbsp. sesame, nigella and sunflower seed (or just the sesame)
  • 1 packet of fyllo

Make sure to poach the chicken with a bit of water and let the stock boil some extra time to become thick and jelly-like.

Preparation:

Heat the oil and fresh butter in a large nonstick skillet, over medium heat, and then add the onions.

Once the onions start wilting, turn the heat up and cook until slightly golden.

Add the chicken and stir well and then add the stock and the spices and keep stirring for a couple of minutes.

Remove from heat; add the cheeses, the eggs, thyme and chives. The filling is liquid but not watery.

Preheat oven at 150C.

Layer 4 oiled phyllo crust sheets on the bottom of a well buttered baking pan.

Spread over half the filling.

Cover with a non-oiled but wrinkled phyllo sheet (making folds instead of layering it flat)

Add the rest of the filling, spreading evenly. You don’t want the pie to be tall; it should be spread out evenly and short, about 3 fingers thick max when finished.

Cover the filling with an extra 4 phyllo sheets, brushing oil between them. The last fyllo sheets must be wrinkled with lots of pleats, to become crispier.

Brush the last fyllo with olive oil and mark the pie in squares. Sprinkle with sesame (optional) or a mixture of sunflower, sesame and nigella seeds. Wet your hands with water and shake them over the pie (this helps the phyllo stay crunchy)

Bake for an hour. Turn the heat up at 180C and bake for an extra half hour. For the last 10 minutes turn the heat up at 200C, but be careful: you want the pie to dry but not burn.

To check if the chicken pie is properly baked stick a knife between two pieces and if it comes out relatively dry then it is ready.

Let the pie cool for about 10 minutes and then cut in square pieces.

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