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!


  1. I gather the recipe is 17th century, but it's presumably related to chicken hotchpot, at least linguistically. I'm pretty sure I've seen a period version, but the closest I'm finding at the moment is the 14th c. chicken in hochee.

  2. There is a still-life painting by Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1606 - 1684)on the page before the recipe that shows "a typical pie with a filling of meat, dried fruit, spices, and sliced lemon, similar to our traditional filling for mince pies." Perhaps this recipe is a simpler version of mince meat?

  3. Or are you referring to the hutspot?