Chicken Pie and Bechamel Sauce by the Cockney Critic

Otherwise known as the cockney critic or Mr Happy Days, Jerry Mullan’s culinary journey has been as diverse as the countries he’s lived and cooked in, whether it was running Charity events at St Paul’s Cathedral or Hog roasts at Hampton Court, he’s always smiling. Currently, Head Chef of an award-winning West London gastropub, his influences and passion are irresistible whether on a plate or being read.

Jerry Mullan

Mother sauce number one, Bechamel, with Jerry

Although Bechamel is a French word and most people would associate this amazing white sauce with France, it actually originates from Tuscany in Italy and is called Balsamella. The Italians have done such an amazing job creating this unique and important sauce, the French put it in the five mother sauces or the five wonders of the food world as some would say.

This sauce is used as a base for various dishes, Lasagne, Mac n Cheese, Cauliflower Cheese, Croquettes, Fish Pie, Chicken Pie, Pasta Bakes etc… It’s full of so many possibilities, along with it being easy to make and more importantly cheap to buy, which is always an added bonus.

Over the years, intolerances and allergies have gone through the roof, and so many of us are so much more aware of what we eat and drink. A traditional bechamel is made with flour, butter and milk.

Bechamel Sauce

Meaning you have dairy and gluten in a traditional bechamel. However we live in such an amazing world when it comes to food, you can now buy vegan butter, which is vegetables pressed, or you can substitute for nut butter if you prefer. Gluten-Free Flour can be easily found in your local supermarket, and the milk you can change for any nut or soya-based. Personally, I really like cashew milk with mine, but each to their own as my dear old nan would say.

As you can tell by my food, I love flavour, with thousands of herbs and spices from all over the world, we can always do better than just the standard butter, flour and milk, no offence to the French, but this recipe is 400 years old, and they didn’t have Tesco’s variety of dried herbs back in the old days. But also remembering that it is a base source and still needs that universal flavour added.

Ingredients – Makes 4 portions

For the Roux

  • 4 tbsp Plain Flour
  • 3 tbsp Butter

For the Sauce

  • 1 cup Milk
  • 1 tsp Rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp Thyme Garlic
  • 1/2 red onion

In a pan, cook the onions on a low heat until soft, this is called sweating. Then mix all the herbs in with the onions, followed by the milk. You don’t want to boil the milk, but simply warm it until steam is coming off and allow it to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Top Tip – If milk isn’t stirred occasionally, it will catch on the bottom of the pan, and this will cause a smoky burnt flavour in the milk. If this does happen, change the pan immediately, put it on the lowest heat possible and cut a potato in half and place in the sauce. It works as a sponge and will draw out some of the burnt flavour, just make sure you take it out before serving.

While this is infusing together we need to make the Roux. This is the magic behind this sauce, and what instantly makes it thicker. The trick behind this is the flour needs to be cooked out with the butter completely, before mixing in the milk, otherwise, it will be lumpy with bits of flour.

In a pan on medium heat, melt the butter, but do not let the butter boil or change in colour. Once melted, add the flour and stir (I prefer a whisk but a spoon is fine). Keep stirring every few minutes, or when you start to see it bubble around the roux mix. Keep doing this for about 8 minutes.

Keeping the roux on the heat, strain the milk into the pan and whisk. The sauce should thicken straight away if not just give it a few minutes and it will start to thicken. Keep whisking every minute or so until you have this amazing glossy, creamy looking sauce, with a hint of rosemary and thyme coming through from the steam.

And there you go ladies and gentlemen, here is my version of this amazing classic.

Why not have a try at some of these?

Mac N Cheese – Simply add grated cheese and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon (don’t worry you will not taste it, it blends beautifully with the cheese.
Cauliflower cheese – I use cheddar in mine and Stilton for broccoli bake. I also use the stem of the cauliflower and cook it with some water and blitz into a puree. It gives a smooth creamy cheesy flavour (this is in fact the secret cheese taste in my very own version of vegan cauliflower cheese). Or why not try something more complex and give Nans Pie a run for its money.

Nans Proper Chicken Pie Serves 4


  • 1 whole chicken
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 onion
  • 400g of pastry

This is an amazing recipe and flies out of the kitchen at my workplace. The only thing I’ve seen that can outsell burgers at a pub. The secret behind this recipe is to do it like Nan and use the whole bird.

This recipe does take time and is slightly tedious but is so simple to do and worth every minute of the cooking time.

The chicken is usually already cleaned for you, but I always like to give it an extra wash, especially these days, I wouldn’t suggest sanitizing it but a good rinse inside and out never hurt anyone.

Place the chicken on a clean chopping board and grab your knife. I usually take off the wings, and one leg and use it for another meal, or you can cook the whole thing and make 8 pies.

Cut the chicken into four pieces, it doesn’t need to be specific cuts, and you can cut through the bone, it is merely to get it into a pan and ensure the milk covers all of the chicken.

Now using the same method for the Bechamel, we’re going to cook the chicken. Crazy I know but wait until you taste the flavour.

Place the chicken, herbs, garlic, and your milk into a pan. The pan will need a lid, or to be covered with foil as the milk will evaporate too quickly without one. Lid on, heat on and here we go. Bring the milk to the boil, and then lower the heat to allow it to simmer and cook for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t catch with the heat. Flip the chicken over halfway (top up with milk if needed).

Chicken and leek pie, we need the leeks. Cut half an onion in quarter rings, thinly slice the leeks into rings and sweat them off in a pan, on low heat with a little oil until they are nice and soft, and until the onions are almost translucent, then leave them to one side.

Once the chicken is cooked, use a strainer to strain the chicken, then put it to one side and allow to cool. Place the strained milk into the pan with the leeks and onions, to make your roux and finish off your bechamel sauce.

So, in a pan on medium heat, melt the butter but do not boil or allow it to change colour. Once melted, add the flour and stir (I prefer a whisk but a spoon is fine). keep stirring every few minutes or when you begin to see it bubble around the roux mix.

Keep doing this for about 8 minutes.

Add the milk and continue to stir, until you have this amazing, beautiful smelling glaze of a sauce. The smell of the chicken and thyme, ohhhh, it’s amazing.

Here comes the tedious bit. When the chicken has cooled down, remove from the bone and put into the sauce. Depending on how many birds you pull a year, this may take a little while, but in this day and age, people have a little more time on their hands so happy days.

Congratulations to all the Nans across the world who would be proud, to know you have your very own chicken pie mix, easy enough no?

Here’s the easy bit. Lay out the pastry and place the bowl you’re using to serve the pie in upside down, on top of the pastry. Cut around roughly 1 cm (or your little finger size) wider than the bowl. Doesn’t need to be exact so don’t worry.

Fill the bowl with your chicken mixture, and place the pastry lid on-top, just fold over the edges (you will need to pierce the pastry lid with a knife to allow the steam to escape), then brush over your egg wash.

If you don’t have an ovenproof bowl for your pie, then do not worry about a thing, because every little thing is gonna be alright.

Place the pastry lid on a tray with parchment paper and cook separately (this way the bottom of the lid will be crispy rather than a little wet).

Both methods cook in a preheated oven on gas mark 6 or 180 degrees, for 25 – 30 minutes. And there we have it, as the famous saying goes, winner winner chicken dinner!

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