I said I would do it, and here it is: the winner of the Regrettable Food survey, Chiffon Chicken Pie, straight from the pages of The Sunday News Family Cook Book published in 1962. Please tell me I never have to make this again.
The ingredients were not necessarily promising, but didn’t include much “fake food”, and thankfully no MSG. I bought Ritz crackers for the first time in years, and had to hunt a bit to find pimientos. We already had gelatin on hand, as I sometimes use it in mousse cake. I bought a value pack of chicken thighs (no way was I going to use quality organic chicken for this) and roasted them, picked the meat off and made stock from the bones, but I could certainly have bought precooked chicken meat and canned stock, which would probably have been more authentic.
First, the chicken jello. I brought two cups of stock to the boil, while sprinkling a packet of gelatin into a quarter cup of cold water. I dissolved the softened gelatin into the hot stock, then refrigerated it until it began to set up. Then I got to whip it, which produced a fine, airy foam that tasted vividly of roast chicken. Look at that, molecular gastronomy at home! I then had to whip a cup of heavy cream to mix in, and the chicken foam began to set up in the pan and had to be re-whipped. Weird stuff.
While the chicken jello was setting up, I was working on the crust and filling. First, I crushed a sleeve’s worth of Ritz crackers in my little food processor, and toasted the crumbs in melted butter. I patted these inside a regular glass pie pan. Then I chopped up my cooked chicken meat, finely diced two stalks of celery, and mixed them together with a spoonful of mustard and some sliced jarred pimientos.
All this stuff got mixed with the whipped cream and the chicken foam, then piled into the cracker crust. Then I just had to add the garnish before the pie went into the fridge to finish setting up.
It was odd cooking just a few peas for garnish. The photo for the original recipe showed the pie decorated with a regimented pattern of peas, but I got a little carried away and made a shamrock. When you’re arranging peas on chicken foam, these things can happen. I also added a few pimiento strips for color. Halved Ritz crackers went around the edge, lightly pressed into the foam. Delightful.
Ideally there should have been horrible salt and pepper shakers in the final photos, but I don’t have any, so I settled for random Japanese figurines that I had sitting around. I thought they gave a bit of the right feel. I suppose I should also have tinted the white balance more greeny-yellow but I couldn’t bear to. I took a few shots to memorialize my achievement, then took the pie out for its debut.
Some friends had very generously offered to taste the pie – actually it was probably just morbid curiosity, but I was happy to not be left alone with it for dinner. We even had wine pairings to try (the Lopez Island Siegerrebe was the best match but the Raisins Gaulois Gamay was delicious and made up for a multitude of sins).
Here’s our brave friend Rich taking the very first bite:
Some of us thought it wasn’t too bad. Others, more sensitive to textural strangeness, were put off by the foam and refused to taste further. The chunks of celery were distracting. I thought it was rather entertaining, but not enough to eat more than two small pieces or ever make it again. We went out for pizza.
What I’ve concluded here is that, while this was a fascinating cooking project, I really don’t like making food that people don’t want to eat. And I really hate throwing away food. So if anyone was hoping I would make those Mock Chicken Legs, they’re going to have to commit to coming over to dinner and actually eating them.