This savory pie of chicken, mushrooms and leeks in a creamy sauce encased in puff pastry (pâte feuilletée) makes a lovely autumn dish for lunch or a light supper. Full disclosure: I don’t make the pastry myself, but instead use a couple rolls of high-quality, all-butter store-bought puff pastry. This saves a lot of time. Then all you need to do is invite a couple of guests, make a salad, open a bottle of wine and voilà — your meal is ready.
Tourte poulet-champignons / Chicken-mushroom pie
But what exactly is a tourte? When English-speakers associate the words ‘French’ and ‘pie’, they are likely to think of the open-faced pastries that are so splendidly displayed in France’s patisseries, such as quiche or fruit tarts. The double-crusted tourte is seen less often here, yet it has a long and venerable history, having existed since Roman times.
Although versions with fruit exist, a tourte is most often savory, filled with meat, veggies, cheese or a combination. It comes in many variations across France. A common tourte in the rugged Auvergne region combines potatoes and fourme d’Ambert, the local blue cheese. A specialty of the Mediterranean port of Sète is tielle, which is filled with octopus. In eastern France, the tourte lorraine combines pork and veal (and sometimes rabbit) into a filling that resembles pâté. And the list goes on.
Across the Channel, where the British have made an art of the meat pie, the pastry of choice is a standard savory crust (pâte brisée), whereas the French prefer flaky puff pastry. I thought about it before creating today’s recipe, and opted for the latter. It makes for a lighter dish and adds, you know, that little je ne sais quoi.
Preparation involves sautéing the chicken, mushrooms and leek or onion and making a Béchamel sauce flavored with nutmeg, white wine and a little fresh thyme. When you’ve filled your pie, you can coat the top with a light egg wash to give it a pretty shine.
To allow steam to escape while the pie is baking, the French often cut a coin-shaped round out of the center of the top crust and insert a rolled piece of paper to create a chimney (cheminée). But I chose instead to cut a few slits into the top and, with leftover pâte feuilletée, added some cut-out diamonds for decoration. No sooner did the pie come out of the oven than it disappeared.