Comfort food for Valentine’s Day

Comfort food for Valentine’s Day

by Dr. Susanna Hoffman

Susanna hoffman with kalea Dr. Susanna Hoffman returns to Telluride Inside… and Out, with her Chicken Pot Pie in Filo Crust with Onions, Nutmeg, and Saffron ("The Olive and the Caper," Workman Press)

There hardly exists a nation where the mere mention of chicken pie fails to evoke homage and hunger. Greece is no exception, especially in the chill days of winter. The chicken pie of Greece, though, doesn’t arrive sunk in a deep pot and crusted on top (France) or crusted both under and over (America), both entailing the troublesome necessity of making, chilling, and rolling pie dough. Rather its dense stuffing lies between sheets of easy to use, pre-made, and available in the frozen food section: golden, crunchy filo. Inside the stewed chicken is infused with saffron and mixed with a wealth of amber-hued sauteed onions. On top of that, a dash of nutmeg combines with dill and lemon to open up all the flavors.    

(Makes one 13 X 9-inch pie, serves 6 to 8)

4 cups chicken stock
12 chicken thighs (about 3  pounds), skinned
2 tablespoons plus 1teaspoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, quartered and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, well beaten
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Cup fresh dill leaves
Dash of nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1 teaspoon saffron threats or 1/4 teaspoon ground
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 to 16 sheets filo dough
Olive oil or butter for oiling the filo
1 tablespoon milk

1.  Place the stock and the chicken thighs in a large heavy pot and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer until the meat is very tender and no longer pink around the bone, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. While stewing the chicken, heat the 2 tablespoons oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat until the butter melts. Add the onions, stir to coat, and saute, stirring occasionally until they are thoroughly soft and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside.
3. When the chicken and stock are cooked, lift out the thighs, reserving the stock, and cut or pull the meat off the bones. Tear or coarsely cut the meat into large pieces. Set aside.
4. In a medium-size nonreactive saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Whisk in the flour and stir until beginning to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Slowly, in ½ cup amounts, whisk in the reserved stock, allowing the mixture to thicken slightly each time before adding more. When all the stock has been added, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the eggs, lemon juice, dill, nutmeg, saffron, and salt. 
5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil the bottom of a 13 X 9-inch baking dish or equivalent round pan.  Cut the filo sheets the size of the pan, plus about ½ larger all around.
6. Pour some olive oil into a small bowl, and working quickly, with the tip of a pastry brush, one at a time, brush the filo sheets with the oil. Layer each filo in the pan, turning the extra half inch up the sides, and top with another filo sheet, until you have a bottom crust 6-8 sheet thick. Spread the onions even over the filo. Spread the chicken over the onions, and pour the sauce over all. Oil and layer the remaining sheets of filo over the top, tucking the extra half inch down around the filling.  Oil the top of the pie and, with a sharp knife, score through the top layer of filo into as many pieces as you want. With your finger tip, gently run a tiny dab of milk over all the scored lines so the filo won’t curl up while baking.
7. Place the dish in the oven and bake until slightly golden on top, bubbling on the bottom, and crisp around the edges, about 45 to 55 minutes. Remove and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Wine recommendation: Gerasimo Malagousia, or Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko , available at Telluride Bottleworks)

Susanna riffs on pies

While there is no detailed recipe for the pies of more ancient civilization, though they are frequently referred to, Byzantine texts indicate that savory pies of that empire were brought to crusty new heights and that abundant sorts of foods were placed in them.

Saffron, which had mostly been used to flavor wine, now became a culinary ingredient, and nutmeg took over as a preferred spice. 

The Byzantines raised so many fowl–pigeons, chickens, geese, pheasants, peacocks, no doubt these birds found their way between sheets of filo dough, which the Byzantines had invented. Of the small birds the Byzantines wrote about, they particularly relished quail. They also favored sweet and flavored wines, their favorite being Muscats.

The following Byzantine for quail pie exists in Latin, one of the two main languages used, the other being Greek.    

“In pastry dough place quail split in half. Add saffron, nutmeg, white cheese, pine nuts, and pieces of fatted port. Seal with more dough. When the pie is done, pour in Muscat wine and bring to a boil.”  

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