When my brother-in-law, Sonny, and his family were in the Philippines a year and a half ago for a one-month vacation, we celebrated Sonny’s birthday with two parties. The first was an all-family potluck dinner; the second was a catered affair for family and extended family. For the potluck dinner, I brought two trays of a baked chicken and potatoes dish that is very similar to what we had for dinner last night.
In Western cuisine, this would be called a farmer’s pie or a shepherd’s pie. It is a cooked stew topped with mashed potatoes and then baked until the top is lightly browned. Between Sonny’s birthday and last night’s dinner, I’ve learned a few things to improve this dish. Notably, the addition of grated parmesan cheese to the mashed potatoes was an idea suggested by fellow food blogger Shalimar that she posted as a comment in an older farmer’s pie entry.
There are no rules regarding the stew. You can use beef, pork, duck, turkey, veal, lamb or chicken. If you’re using poultry, it is a good idea to use fillets which can be bought in most supermarkets. Otherwise, you can pre-cook the bird, remove the meat from the bones, and cut them into chunks. I used chicken thigh fillets for last night’s pie. Wash the potatoes and scrub well. Place in a large pan and cover with water. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until tender. To test, pierce the thickest part with a sharp knife. If the knife goes all the way through without resistance, the potatoes are done.
Drain the potatoes. As soon as they can be handled, peel off the skins and mash. Mix in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Pour in the milk slowly, stirring all the time to incorporate the milk into the mixture. Your mashed potato should not be too soft. When you reach the right consistency, stir in the parmesan. Add more salt and pepper, if necessary. Boil about 3 c. of water. Pour the hot water into a glass bowl and melt the butter in it. Add some salt and pepper. Pour in the potato flakes. Stir with a fork just until moistened. Let stand for 30 seconds to allow the flakes to rehydrate. Pour in the milk, stirring to incorporate. Stir in the parmesan. Adjust the seasonings, if necessary.
Set aside the mashed potatoes and allow to cool while you prepare the filling. Cut the chicken into 2-inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper. Cut the ham in roughly the same size. Add the smoked ham and chopped onion. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion bits start to turn brown. Add the mixed vegetables. Stir well. Pour in the cream and stir to blend. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Lower the heat and cook until the liquid is bubbly. Transfer the chicken and vegetables to an 8-inch ovenproof dish. Spread the mashed potatoes on top. Grill or broil (top heat on) in a preheated 180oC oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
A little tip: If your dish is as full as mine (see the photo on the previous page), place a large piece of foil, cookie sheet, or large baking tray under it before putting it in the oven. The sauce of the chicken mixture will boil and it will seep through the mashed potatoes along the edges of the oven dish. You don’t want the sauce dripping all over the oven floor. I spent 30 minutes cleaning up because I forgot about the aluminum foil.