Roast Chicken & Fennel Pithivier
Although I have borrowed the odd recipe for this blog I do prefer to invent my own – modifying someone else’s recipe feels a bit of a cheat even though I always acknowledge the source. Sometimes though my mind goes blank and a wander round the shops can help, at some point I need to segue into a recipe but given that we are going to start with a stroll around Oakham, this might be tenuous!
Considering that it is the county town of Rutland, Oakham is very small – albeit perfectly formed. This diminutive stature applies in particular to Oakham Castle. Actually a fortified and moated house, only the Great Hall remains. This beautiful building is one of the finest examples of late 12th century domestic architecture in England.
What makes it particularly interesting is the fine collection of commemorative Horseshoes which Peers of the Realm were required to offer the Lord of the Manor when they visited Oakham. Traditionally placed upside down, in Rutland this does not bring bad luck, but prevents the Devil from resting inside the shoe!
Oakham School seems to occupy most of the town, particularly in the summer when we have many students visiting from abroad. The 1000 students represent 10% of the town population! The school was established in 1584 and the original building (below) was the sole classroom for over 300 years. The school motto is Et quasi cursores vitai lampada tradunt (And, like runners, they pass on the torch of life). This building is inscribed Schola Latina – Graeca – Hebraica A° 1584 – reflecting the three languages taught; Latin, Greek and Hebrew.
The mediaeval Butter Cross market is one of many such market crosses in England where milk, eggs and butter were sold. Behind this octagonal grade 1 listed building can be seen the 14th Century All Saints’ Church.
So, talking of butter, it is of course, the main ingredient in puff pastry and it’s equally tasty but much easier to make cousin – rough puff (I did say the link would be tenuous!). I hope you enjoyed the wander around Oakham with me – it did help. The rather vague butter link apart I found a beautiful bulb of Florence fennel – one of my favourite vegetables. I thought this would be wonderful cooked étuvée and then combined with torn roast chicken and roasted tomatoes.
A pithivier is a lovely way to present a pie. Eponymously named after the town in France, they can be sweet or savoury. Either way they are characteristically marked with a series of spiral knife marks through a deep egg glaze. Rough puff is ridiculously easy to make and freezes very well. It’s worth making a big batch. Chicken legs are best for this dish, so much more flavour, and do crisp the skin up – it is shredded into the mix as well for that intense roast chicken taste.
I hope you will be tempted to try this recipe – as my lovely partner Karen pointed out, it’s just a posh pasty really – and perhaps visit Oakham too! I’d like to say that Oakham is twinned with Pithiviers - that would be a very neat link – but it isn’t. Pithiviers is twinned with Ashby de la Zouch which at less than 40 miles away is pretty close!
Oakham is in fact twinned with Barmstedt in Germany, which is also the name of my street and I have lots of fun spelling it out to confused people. I’m not sure Pithiviers would be any easier though and I’m just grateful that my road isn’t named after the second town Oakham is twinned with – Dodgeville in the USA. Dodgeville Drive? Mmm, I think I’ll stick with Barmstedt!
- 250g butter
- 350g plain flour
- 10g lemon juice
- 100g ice cold water
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 sprig of rosemary or thyme
- 10g extra virgin olive oil
- 300g fennel (approx 1 bulb)
- 60g water
- 40g unsalted butter
- 500g chicken legs (2)
- 50g crème fraîche
- 25g chopped parsley
- 1 large egg yolk
- cut the butter into small cubes and freeze for 20 minutes
- rub half the butter into the flour until you have 'breadcrumbs'
- add the lemon juice and water and mix until you have a rough dough
- dot with the rest of the butter and knead gently until you have a smooth dough with large flecks of
- wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 20 minutes
- lightly flour your work surface and roll the dough out into a rectangle about 10mm thick
- fold one third towards the centre and the remaining third on top
- roll out as before
- fold both ends over so they meet in the middle
- fold one half over the other - this is a 'book' turn
- wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 20 minutes
- roll out again, as before, and make another 'book' turn
- repeat this process once more - you will have completed 1 single and 3 book turns each time creating more layers (laminations) of butter flecked pastry
- pre-heat the oven to 180°C
- cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the pips
- drizzle with the olive oil, thinly sliced garlic and rosemary
- season with freshly milled pepper and sea salt
- roast in a small dish for 1 hour
- season well and roast until cooked through and the skin is crisp and golden
- cool and pick the meat and skin from the bones
- shred the crispy skin and tear the meat into shreds
- slice the fennel as thinly as you can
- place in a pan with the water and butter, season
- cook, covered, over a gentle heat until the fennel is soft and the liquid has completely evaporated
- Let the fennel cool and then mix with the chicken, crème fraîche and parsley
- taste for seasoning
- Remove the pastry from the fridge - it's easier to roll at room temperature
- Place one of the tomato halves on a piece of cling film and a ¼ of the chicken mix on top
- fold the cling film to make a ball and press the mix into a ladle or small dish to shape
- repeat with the remaining chicken and tomatoes so you have 4 parcels and reserve in the fridge
- Roll the pastry out into a sheet 3 - 4mm thick
- cut 4 circles 1cm wider all round than the chicken mix
- brush each disc with egg yolk and place the chicken mix on top
- cut another 4 circles 2cm wider than the first circles
- place on top of the chicken mix and crimp the top and bottom pastry together
- Brush with egg yolk twice - returning the pithivier to the fridge between coats to let the egg dry
- brush a third time and create spiral marks using the tip of a small knife
- pierce a small hole in the top to allow steam to escape
- Line a baking sheet with parchment and bake at 180°C for 30 minutes
- Serve with salad, vegetables, new potatoes or just eat on its own!
- The pastry is quite dry to start - don't be tempted to add more water as this will make the pastry tough and shrink more when cooked.
- The pithivier can be made in advance and frozen uncooked.
- They are also good cold the next day.
- Vary the filling - poached salmon works well too.