Happy New Year everyone! This is the first post of 2011 and it’s a dish that takes me back to Thessaloniki, perhaps it will trigger some of your memories? I first had a Kotopita (chicken pie) at a taverna in Thessaloniki, in the Agia Sophia area in fact. A Kotopita is made of filling of primarily chopped/shredded chicken meat and sandwiched between several layers of phyllo pastry. A strained Greek yogurt or a side of “paprika”, a kind of red pepper-based condiment that resembled ketchup but with the thickness of tomato paste.
We have odes to both the Kotopita and paprika today. The Kotopita (chicken pie) comes from Chef Sofia Georgakaki, originally from the Toumba area of Thessaloniki and she’s a fan of PAOK soccer club (naturally). I’ve came to learn of Sofia through television as she’s a contestant on Greece’s premier season of Top Chef. Sofia was doing some show promo on the station’s morning show and she also showcased her Kotopita for the viewing audience. This recipe is ideal if you have leftover turkey meat or one can buy one of those roasted chickens that are always ready for pick-up at your neighborhood supermarket.
I loved Sofia’s recipe as the filling wasn’t just chicken, the result was a moist pie with the crunch of crisp phyllo and the undertones of mushrooms, fresh sage and smoked cheese. The true test of this dish was re-heating it as a leftover and yes….still moist and very flavourful.
I’ve tweaked the recipe by adding some sweet paprika into the filling, used clarified butter for brushing the phyllo and I’ve tweaked my paprika sauce as the accompaniment to the Kotopita. The “must do’s” in this recipe is the smoked cheese, fresh sage and paprika sauce on the side. In Greece, the popular smoked cheese is from western Greece, the province of Epirus where some of Greece’s best Feta is also made. The town of Metsovo is “foodie destination” with it’s tradition of homemade sweet and savory pies, sausages, wine-making, homemade pasta and cheese production. The famous Metsovone cheeses are formed in cylindrical shape and of particular popularity is the smoked Metsovone, with its brown rind (and smoky aroma).
Smoked Metsovone is not something you will find in your area but you will find other smoked cheeses. As a substitute, I like using a smoked Gouda. As your grocer or deli for it and they should be able to direct you to their location in the cheese display. Get some smoked cheese and while you’re out shopping, grab some fresh sage…ideal for chicken, mushrooms and remarkably wonderful with the cheese too! Dried sage will work in a pinch but if fresh is available, it’s worth the splurge.
The paprika sauce here has been tweaked from a recipe I featured last September with some Keftedes. I’ve adjusted the recipe to suit the Kotopita and the pairing worked wonderfully. This paprika sauce begins with a roux and the remaining ingredients are whole milk, grated Kefalograviera and Feta cheeses and some sweet paprika. Serve a square of Kotopita with a dollop of the Paprika sauce and simply take a piece of the pie, swipe it into the sauce and savour the mouthful.
Sofia’s Kotopita (Η Κοτοπιτα της Σοφια’ς)
1 whole roasted chicken, meat pulled off the carcass and chopped (no skin)
OR equivalent in roast turkey meat (approx. 4 cups)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 lb of button mushrooms, quartered
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 cup of brandy (Metaxa)
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage (or 1 tsp. dried)
3/4 cup of half & half cream
1 cup of cubed Metsovone cheese (smoked Gouda works well here)
450 gr. package of phyllo pastry, thawed overnight in the fridge
1 lb. of unsalted butter, (optional to clarify it)*
For the Paprika Sauce
1 Tbsp. of unsalted butter (or olive oil)
1/4 cup finely diced onions
2 heaping Tbsp. of all purpose flour
1 cup of warm whole milk
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp. of sweet paprika
1/2 cup grated Kefalograviera cheese (or parmesan)
1/3 cup crumbled Feta cheese
1 heaping Tbsp, of Greek yogurt
- In a large, skillet, add the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions, scallions, garlic and mushrooms and saute while occasionally stirring for 5-6 minutes or until softened. Season with some salt and pepper and now add the brandy and stir in until absorbed. Now add the chicken (or turkey meat) and stir in and warm through for 2-3 minutes. Take off the heat and add the chopped sage and adjust seasoning with salt and fresh ground pepper (be careful with the salt as you will be adding cheese soon) and remove from the heat and allow to cool (transfer to a bowl to cool quicker). Now add the cheese.
- In a bowl, add the cracked eggs and cream and whisk and add the beaten egg/cream mixture to the chicken and stir until well incorporated and reserve.
- Remove your thawed phyllo from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature (15 minutes). Count out your phyllo sheets and divide separate into two piles with one pile having two extra phyllo sheets. One pile will layer the bottom part of the pie (with extra sheets) and the second pile will top the filling (and pie). You may use either a rectangular roasting pan or circular large pizza pan – your choice.
- Begin laying the first pile of phyllo, leaving the edges hanging over the sides of the pan. Brush each sheet generously with the melted butter. Empty the chicken filling into the pan and spread evenly.
- Fold the excess phyllo over and into the pan and evenly distribute the remaining sheets of phyllo (second pile) to entirely cover the filling. Again, ensure that each sheet is brushed generously with melted butter. Place the chicken pie in a fridge to cool or other cool place to slightly chill, so as to make cutting the phyllo easier. Cut the top layers of phyllo into squares and pre-heat your oven to 350F, middle rack position. Brush the top of your Kotopita with any remaining butter and place in your pre-heated oven for 45 minutes or until golden-brown.
- In the meantime, make the Paprika Sauce by warming up some milk in a pot and reserve (keep warm). In another pot, add the butter and onions over medium heat and once it melts, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon for a minute. Now a grab a whisk and while stirring, add a little bit of warm milk and sweet paprika. As soon as the milk is absorbed, add some more milk while stirring.
- Now add the grated Kefalograviera and Feta cheese and as soon as it has incorporated into the sauce, stir for 30 seconds and take off the heat. Add the Greek yogurt, adjust seasoning (more cheese) or if you like the sauce a litter thinner, add a splash of milk. Remove from the oven and allow to cool 15 minutes before serving with the Paprika Sauce. Serve a piece of Kotopita on a plate with some sauce.
- Serve the Kotopita as an appetizer, part of array of mezedes or a light meal with a salad. Pair with a Gerovassliou Sauvignon Blanc fumé, ideal for the smoked Metsovone cheese and chicken.
*To clarify your butter, add it to a pot and melt over medium heat. Once melted, take off the heat and allow to cool completely. Place in the fridge and allow to harden. Your clarified butter has hardened on the top and the why and water are in the bottom. Poke a hole and carefully drain-off and discard the water/why. What you have left is clarified butter.
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