Friday, January 15, 2016

When Life Hands You Lemons ... Make a Chicken and Lemon Pie

In a previous post, I explained how my wonderful neighbor gave me his bountiful harvest of Meyer lemons and that my daughter and I decided that the end of the saying, "When life hands you lemons" is "get cooking!"

We wanted something savory, meaty, yet still highlighting the lemon flavor.  I found the answer in The Dutch Table by Gillian Riley.  I showed off this book earlier when I tried its chicken hutspot recipe.  It is a lovely book that displays both Dutch recipes and art.

ISBN 1-56640-978-0
What I found was a recipe for Veal and Lemon Pie on page 62.  The ingredients list was inviting however veal was not really an option for me at this time.  We decided that boneless, skinless chicken thighs would be a good substitution, and set off on our Dutch adventure.

Chicken (Veal) and Lemon Pie

1 lb. (500 gm) of chicken thighs (leg of veal), finely chopped.
(1/2 cup veal fat, finely chopped)  I did not use this or substitute for it with the chicken.
1 lemon; half of it thinly sliced, the rest chopped
Salt, pepper, nutmeg, and mace to taste
2 egg yolks
Butter to taste
Verjuice, lemon juice, or white wine vinegar
Rich shortcrust pastry

Mix all the ingredients together except the sliced lemon.  Line a pie dish with a layer of pastry, tip in the meat mixture, and finish with the lemon slices and generous lumps of butter.  Cover with a pastry lid and bake in a moderate oven for 1 hour.  Eat hot or cold.  If hot, make a sauce with meat stock thickened with egg yolks, butter, and verjuice.  (Lemon juice or a very little fine white wine vinegar may be used instead of verjuice.) 

A little chopped parsley or marjoram makes a pleasant addition to the flavorings.
That ball is the crust.
My Notes

For the pastry, we used the same crust recipe I used for the Elizabethan meat pie last March.

We decided to use a deep dish pie pan and so we used 3 pounds of chicken thighs, and chopped them finely using the food processor.  That means we estimated about double the rest of the ingredients.

The Meyer lemons are small (about 2 inches in diameter) so I used four of them.  Two were sliced thinly and two were chopped.  All were seeded as I chopped and sliced.

I love my Ulu knife
I used 1 tsp of salt, 1 tsp of pepper, 1/4 tsp mace, and about 1/8 tsp of nutmeg.  I also included about 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped oregano.
Herbs and spices about to be mixed in.

We used two egg yolks (did we forget to double that?).  I also mixed in about 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar.

This was the meat mixture and it looked lovely even before being tipped into the pastry.

Now with the chopped lemon and beaten yolks
Once the mixture was smoothed out, my daughter arranged the lemon slices over the top and I arranged a stick of butter, sliced, over the top of that.

She wanted a lattice top so she wove it and finished the edges.

We used the egg whites beaten with a little water as a crust wash in the hopes the crust would brown nicely.

The pie baked at 325 degrees F because a moderate oven is 350 degrees F and we were using a ceramic pan.  After 1 hour it did not look ready so we gave it another 20 minutes to get the crust brown.

The big problem we had was that the juices from the meat and the butter overfilled the pan and made a mess on the bottom of the oven.  I think we probably could have used 1/2 of a stick of butter instead.

It turned out beautifully!

It went into the refrigerator in preparation to be eaten the next day.

The Verdict

I reheated the pie in the microwave for about 4 minutes to make sure the interior got warmed.  Then I covered the top with foil and put it into the oven at about 300 degrees F to finish warming it.

Since we were serving it hot, I made the sauce as the recipe suggested:  1 1/2 cups chicken broth, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon butter, a little honey, and then once it was well-mixed and hot, I beat in two egg yolks.   It didn't thicken very much but the color was a pretty pale yellow and I liked it.  I didn't add any salt because the broth was already a bit salty.

I served the pie from its pan and the sauce from a gravy boat with a ladle.

Thin but very tasty.
Four of us were there to taste it and we liked it!  I thought it was even better a few days later, reheated in the microwave.

Still juicy
The flavor was lightly lemony, mostly savory from the chicken, and the spicing was delicate yet flavorful.  The filling was not greasy or too buttery and there was still the juice from the cooked meat.  The sauce added a nice, mild zing and made the filling even moister.

I had two parts I would change:

1)  I think I put in too much mace but not by much. (I got a blast of mace bitterness in my first bite.)

2) I would put in less lemon peel and more of the lemon pulp because there was some lemon bitterness in the dish.  The people who like bitter didn't mind and the people who don't like bitter were still able to enjoy it but wished there was less bitter.  Perhaps just use the peel on the slices on top of the meat.

We made the bottom crust too thin so it nearly disappeared in the taste of the pie but the top was robust, crunchy, and delightful.  We thought maybe we didn't really need a bottom crust as the filling stayed in its shape without it.  This pie would be good either way.

We also decided that making it a deep dish pie was not the best way to serve it.  That worked for the Elizabethan pie because it had so many layers, chunks, and spaces, but this filling was uniformly dense.  A normal thickness would have been better.

All four taste-testers declared it a success!

Yes, we served it for Christmas dinner!

Friday, January 1, 2016

When Life Hands You Lemons... Pickle Them!

The saying is, "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!"

However when life hands you Meyer lemons, free from my neighbor's tree, I say, "Get cooking!"

First, though, my apologies.  My work over the last four months has been the busiest ever and I could not find the time to cook and write for this blog.  All I can really say about it is thank goodness for chef salads and store-bought roasted chicken so I could have a balanced diet.  : )

But now the crunch time is over and I am back along with my daughter who is visiting.  We want to cook and she wants to take pictures!  We are ready to take on the fifth year of life for this blog with 107 posts and more than 23,000 page views from all over the world.

Imagine our joy when my new neighbor discovered a prolific Meyer lemon tree in his backyard and proposed that we take them off his hands...

In case you don't know the variety, Meyer lemons are different from the typical lemon you find in the grocery store.  That is a Eureka lemon, a true lemon because the Meyer is a hybrid of lemon and orange or tangerine.  The big differences are that the Meyer has a smoother, thinner skin and its juice is sweeter and less acidic than the Eureka.  A good explanation is found here:

Eurekas are preferred for the market because they are durable in shipping but Meyers are prized in my area for their flavor and scent.

I spent some quality time perusing my cookbooks (O!  How I missed thee!) to find interesting ways of using my windfall.  The first choice was from A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden and published in 1974.

ISBN 0-394-71948-4
Ms. Roden began this book around 1950 to recover the tastes of Cairo with which she had grown up, and ended up examining the history of many of the recipes and expanding out to many of the Middle Eastern countries:
With this collection of dishes I wish to offer what to me is a treasure, the detailed and simple explanation of the way in which the women of the Middle East (and, of course, the professional male cooks) have prepared their food for centuries, some even since Pharaonic times.  I would like to pass on the experience which has been transferred from mother and mother-in-law to daughter and daughter-in-law, with the keen encouragement of their husbands, fathers, and brothers.

I was inspired by my success on the Seer Torshi, Persian Pickled Garlic, to try pickled lemons, a favorite in Moroccan cuisine.

Lamoun Makbouss / Pickled Lemon  (page 332)
A delicacy which is also magnificent made with fresh limes.  
Scrub lemons well and slice them.  Sprinkle the slices generously with salt and leave for at least 24 hours on a large plate set at an angle or in a colander.  They will become soft and limp, and lose their bitterness.  Arrange the lemon slides in layers in a glass jar, sprinkling a little paprika between each layer.  Cover with corn or nut oil.  Sometimes olive oil is used, but its taste is rather strong and may slightly overpower the lemons.
Close the jar tightly.  After about 3 weeks the lemons should be ready to eat -- soft, mellow, and a beautiful orange color.  
My mother accidentally discovered a way of speeding up the process when left with dozens of lemon wedges which had been used to garnish a large party dish.  She put them in the freezing compartment of her refrigerator to keep them until she was ready to pickle them.  When she sprinkled the frozen lemons with salt, she found that they shed a large quality of water and softened in just over an hour.  They were ready for eating after only a few days in oil and paprika.
The lemons are frozen here
We decided to freeze our lemon slices and wedges (just to try both!) before we salted them.  That way they would be ready to try before my daughter had to leave.

Be sure to remove the seeds before freezing!
Once they had been frozen overnight, we put them on a cookie rack over a pan and sprinkled them with the salt.  The lemons certainly gave up a lot of water quickly but we let them sit for about 12 hours anyway.

Then we packed the slices and wedges into a glass canning jar, sprinkling with a bit of paprika between the layers.  Note:  The instructions didn't say to sterilize the jar but we filled it with water and microwaved it until it boiled, then drained the water and let it steam dry.

We finished the recipe off by covering the lemons with canola oil and putting on the lid.  I tapped the jar several times to get the air bubbles out from between the layers.

It was tough to wait but we managed a week.

A pretty picture

The Verdict

Five of us did the taste test.  One, who does not like anything bitter at all, did not like the taste of the pickled lemon and didn't finish her piece.  Three thought it was okay -- the bitter level wasn't high but it was present; mostly it was considered too sour and they wished there was some sugar involved in the pickling process.  The fifth liked it enough to have two and noted that the flavors came in waves:  sour, salty, and then a little sweet.

We wondered how the pickled lemons were utilized in Moroccan food.  Was it to be served as a garnish?  A condiment?  None of us thought it should be served "as is" because we expected more depth of flavor for something you should pick up and eat.  To be clear, the slices tasted like lemons, which is something desirable if that is the flavor you want for your garnish or to add to a recipe.  It was not desirable if you wanted something to nibble -- and that was confirmed by the person who likes to eat fresh lemons.

Perhaps I didn't use enough paprika and that would have made a better flavor.  Perhaps the recipe's goal was to capture and protect the flavor of fresh lemons for a time when lemons weren't available. It definitely achieved that goal!

So we decided to call it a success but with the accompanying "meh" to indicate that it was not something we were excited about.  The jar is sealed back up and put away to pickle some more.  We'll taste test it again in the future.

The Bonus

The lemons we prepared for the recipe didn't all fit into the jar we had picked out.  So the rest went into another jar and we covered them with brandy.  We tried those, too, and found them to be a little more interesting than the lemons in oil.  The brandy had soaked into the peel and that was good.  The salt was a surprise flavor on the tongue.  Then the lemon flavor from the fruit spread its goodness across the tongue.  Overall, I think that was a better success but that it still needs time to soak.