Sunday, November 09, 2008


Sat 01 Nov 2008

Former housemate's 30th birthday party on the horizon, I cheerfully volunteered to do some cooking. All well and good, but, with the chocolate brownies under control I realised that I was going to struggle with the schedule AND tracking down sausage meat to make sausage rolls.

With my logistics head firmly on my shoulders there was no time to look at the post, even though it included this month's Australian Gourmet Traveller. What was I going to make for the party that was savoury? My first idea was macaroni cheese - soon scrapped because it's not finger food. The bed was covered in cookbooks and I was getting nowhere when I decided that, just perhaps, the AGT would have something suitable.

Given that it is coming up to Christmas, I shouldn't have been surprised to find the magazine stuffed with ideas for canapés. However, I ended up taking on board the Classic Dish: Champagne Chicken Vol-au-Vent.

I know you can buy pre-made vol-au-vent cases, but where's the fun in that? Especially if you've already bought the puff pastry (yes, I was going to make my own rough-puff but ran out of time during the week!).

Making the pastry cases is actually easy, if a little fiddly. I re-rolled the pastry as I was worried that it was not quite thick enough (the AGT recipe advises 4mm). Then, I cut out 4 cm rounds with a pastry cutter. As I didn't have a 3cm cutter, I then hand-cut inner circles - not quite all the way through the pastry. If I'd had a cutter this would have been a LOT quicker.

The oven heated to 200°C and the pastry discs brushed with an egg wash, they were baked for 7 minutes. This was long enough for them to puff up and I could remove the central disc. The trick here is to ensure that not only do you remove the lid but also enough of the inside. Anything you leave behind will bake hard and will take up valuable filling space. With the middles removed, return to the oven for 5 or so minutes, until crisp and golden.

In an ideal world (and, indeed, next time) this would have been done well in advance and the little blighters frozen, ready to be used.

Moving on to the filling ... well, really, you can stuff them with whatever you fancy!

For Champagne chicken ... take one chicken breast. In a small pan, combine 125 mL of water and 250 mL of sparkling wine with a sprinkle of dried tarragon (or a small twig off fresh) and a strip or two of lemon rind. Do this in a small pan, so the chicken fits snugly. Bring this mix to the boil, add the chicken, return to the boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pan and leave to cool in the liquid. The chicken cooks surprisingly quickly.

Once the chicken has cooled, shred by hand and mix with a little lemon juice and grated lemon rind, cream, strained cooking liquor and season with white pepper and salt.

When ready - fill the vol-au-vent (generously) and return to a hot oven for a minute or two, before serving immediately - garnished if you wish. If you need to transport your vol-au-vent, I recommend doing so separately, and filling the cases just before serving.

Very 1970s, but actually, very easy and very popular!

And, if you think about it, something a little retro is what you need at a 30th birthday anyway!
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