The Versatile Pie

In Britain, savory pies have been around since they were sold as fast food at medieval fairs. Remember the nursery rhyme, Simple Simon? He met a pieman going to a fair and wanted to sample his wares. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the origin of the word “pie” in the Anglo-Saxon lexicon to the 14th century. Sweet fruit pies didn’t appear until much later when Shakespeare was penning his plays and Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne.

According to Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food, the word pie is probably derived from magpie, that bird with a habit of collecting a miscellany of objects – much like assembling ingredients for a pie. Pies are a way of using up leftover stews, stretching bits of ingredients, or making use of an abundance. Simply assemble and top with pastry (whether it is shortcrust, puff pastry or phyllo sheets) and bake.

There are a seemingly infinite number of variations on the theme. Americans know them as pot pies. Greeks simply add the suffix –pita to the word for the primary ingredient: hortopita (“greens” pie), tyropita (cheese pie), kotopita (chicken pie), etc. And, that’s not even counting the “pies” like shepherd’s pie (sometimes called cottage pie) topped with mashed potatoes or those American “pies” topped with biscuits (best described as dumplings for British readers) rather than pastry.

I love leeks, so here’s a pastry topped pie that uses that mild oniony vegetable in one of my favorite ways.


Paprika Chicken & Leek Pie
My version of this pie combines the classic pairing of leek and potato with the flavors of Sam & Sam Clark’s (seriously addictive) recipe for leeks in yoghurt in their second Iberian-inspired cookbook, Casa Moro.

Serves 4

  • 1 lb. chicken, boned and skinned breast meat
  • 10 oz. potatoes, about 2 medium sized
  • 1 lb. leeks, about 4 small sized
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried mint (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 1-1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Sheet of puff pastry (or substitute shortcrust pastry)
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare the vegetables. Peel and cut the potatoes into small cubes, set aside. Clean the leeks by rinsing it in cold water, cutting off the root end and removing the outer layer. Slice the leeks lengthwise and cut horizontally into 1/4 inch segments until you have cut the white and pale green sections. Place the half-round segments in a large bowl with clear, cold water. Let them soak until all grit and dirt has been washed off. Drain and set aside.

Cut and cube the chicken into bite-size pieces. In a skillet, heat the oil on medium and sauté the chicken until it begins to brown. Add the potatoes and leeks and continue cooking until the leeks soften and the potatoes begin to soften around the edges. Add the paprika and dried mint, stir to mix before adding the flour. Do not be tempted to use fresh mint – it has an entirely different flavor. Mix in the flour and then pour on the stock. Simmer on low for about 15 minutes while the stock thickens. Add the sour cream and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, adjusting the seasoning with salt and pepper.


Put the chicken and leeks into a greased shallow pan or pie dish. Brush the edges of the pan with beaten egg and top with puff pastry sheet, pressing along edges to seal. Cut relieving holes in the top of the pastry and brush with egg. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is golden.


  1. I think technically, cottage pie and shepherd’s pie are two separate dishes, one is made with lamb, the other beef. Your chicken and leek pie looks and sounds delicious!


  2. You’re absolutely right, of course. But I’ve seen it made with venison under either of those names. I suspect that people have forgotten the distinction. Shepherd’s pie = lamb (naturally!) and cottage pie = beef.


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