chicken, tarragon & roasted onion pithivier: a feast using left-overs!

Essentially a posh “roast dinner in a pie”, this is made using left-over roast chicken flavoured with an instant tarragon sauce and filled with other extras from a roast dinner made the day before. The roasted onions add a lovely sweetness and the stuffing, with added pistachios and dried apricots, adds both flavour and texture.

This pie is excellent served hot but equally great served cold with good bread and pickles.


I used a little mustard-flavoured crème fraîche to stop the filling from being too dry, but not enough to give an oozing sauce when you cut into the pithivier (you want it to hold its shape when it is cut).

The three filling components are:

  • roast chicken meat and poached thigh meat mixed with tarragon, parsley and a mustard-flavoured crème fraîche
  • sausagemeat, pistachio and dried apricot stuffing
  • roasted onions

Poached chicken thighs:

On this occasion I didn’t quite have enough roast chicken so I poached some chicken thighs gently in a herby water and wine mixture: the poaching gives a different texture and great flavour as thighs have, I think, the best flavour. They are also very inexpensive. The stock left after poaching is brilliant for soup, gravy or for being frozen until later!

Pile it up!

I decided to layer up the filling loosely rather than mix it to one homogenous mass. I layered the filling into a clingfilm-lined bowl before turning it out onto the pastry base. However, you can just mix the filling ingredients together and it will still taste excellent. Note: the fillings have to be cold when the pithivier is assembled, otherwise the pastry will start to melt.

Mini pithiviers

You can also make mini pithiviers: a clingfilm-lined ladle or rounded cup can help shape the filling.

The pastry

I made up an easy rough-puff pastry here: very little hands-on time, with just time for resting the dough. It gives enough of a crisp, flaky pastry for what is needed here. Traditional puff pastry is excellent, but it has to be the all-butter variety if buying it!

A vegetarian alternative

For a delicious meat-free version, a filling of roasted butternut squash, sage, whole roasted garlic cloves, toasted pine nuts and wilted spinach, flavoured with a little nutmeg and fresh garlic, works very well. However, roast the squash in large chunks until it just goes brown around the edges but retains a fairly firm texture. Cut into medium-sized chunks, so that it doesn’t turn into a mush when the pithivier bakes.

Recipe for chicken & roasted onion pithivier: makes one large pie

Rough-puff pastry:

  • 350g strong plain white flour
  • 7g fine sea salt
  • 250g unsalted butter, in rough cubes
  • about 180ml cold water

For the poached chicken:

  • 4 free-range chicken thighs, skinned
  • boiling water to cover
  • a large glass of white wine
  • a few tarragon leaves plus stalks
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • salt and a few crushed peppercorns

For the roast onions:

  • 2 large onions, peeled and fairly thickly sliced
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper

For the rest of the filling:

  • about 200g roasted free-range chicken, without the skin
  • several leaves of fresh tarragon, chopped
  • a little flat-leaf parsely, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 3-4 tablespoons of crème fraîche
  • a few tablespoon of chicken gravy, optional
  • a couple of rashers of cooked smoked bacon, chopped roughly
  • good quality stuffing, cooked
  • a few pistachios, chopped roughly
  • a few dried apricots, chopped roughly

To finish:

  • egg-wash

(1) Make the pastry: mix the flour and salt in a bowl and stir in the butter pieces, coating them well with the flour. Add most of the cold water and stir to form a soft but not sticky dough, adding more if necessary. Cover with clingfilm and chill for about 30 minutes. Roll out the dough to a large rectangle and fold in three letter-style: bring the bottom third up over the dough and bring the top third over this. Give a quarter turn and repeat the rolling and turning two more times. (You can do it 3 more times of you want but it is not essential here). If at any point the butter is becoming too soft chill the dough for 20 minutes or so. You do need to chill the dough for at least 30 minutes until you want to use it. Or freeze it for later use.

(2) Poach the chicken thighs: place in a medium sized pan and just cover with boiling water. Add the wine, bay leaf, tarragon leaves, tarragon stalks and seasoning. Bring to a very gentle simmer and cover. Turn the heat down low and poach for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool in the poaching liquid before removing the thighs off the bones.

(3) To roast the onions: place the onions in an ovenproof dish the oil and seasoning, mixing to combine. Cover with foil and roast for about 90 minutes at 150C(fan), stirring the onions after about an hour: they should be very soft and have a dark golden colour.

(4) Mix the roasted chicken and the chicken thighs with the crème fraîche, garlic, bacon, tarragon, parsely, Dijon mustard and gravy, without breaking up the chicken. Go sparingly with the crème fraîche: you should have as a thick sauce holding the chicken in place, like a sandwich filling, rather than being a loose mixture.

(5) Chop up the stuffing roughly and stir in the pistachios and apricots.

(6) Take just over half of the pastry and roll it out thinly. Cut out a 12″ circle. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry and roll out to an 10″ circle. Chill until needed. NB: it is easier cutting around circular cake tins.

(7) Place the smaller pastry disc on a baking sheet lined with a double layer of greaseproof paper or a silicon sheet.

(8) Line a medium bowl – with the rim a little smaller than the diameter of the smaller pastry disc – with clingfilm: place a little of the chicken mixture in the bottom of the bowl, followed by the stuffing, the, onions and the rest of the chicken mixture pressing each layer down gently but without squashing the layers. You don’t need to fill the bowl! Turn the bowl gently onto the smaller pastry disc: you should have a nicely shaped dome with a border between the filling and the pastry edge. NB: alternatively, you can just layer the filling up on the pastry disc without using the bowl or mix everything together and mount it on the pastry base.

(9) Brush the pastry edge with egg-wash and carefully lift the larger pastry disc on top, gently easing it over the filling to push out air pockets. Press the two edges together to seal. You can go for a more decorative effect if you want by tapping the sharp blade of a knife all around or cutting out semi-circles all around the base with a round cutter. Brush all over with egg-wash and lightly score the surface with a sharp knife or a razor blade, only just cutting into the pastry but not deep enough to go through to the filling. Make a small hole on top. Chill for about 20 minutes while you heat the oven to 200C(fan).

(10) Bake in the oven preheated to 200C (fan) for about 15 minutes, before turning the temperature down to 180C(fan) and continuing to bake for another 15-20 minutes until the pastry is deep golden brown.

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