Saturday, September 18, 2010

Homemade chicken pot pie

My SO and I almost never roast meat, but recently we ended up getting two chickens for free.  So, we roasted them and served them with a delicious gravy.  By the time a week had gone by, we'd already made a number of delicious chicken sandwiches, so were excitedly looking for another way to use the leftovers.  Enter chicken pot pie.

Before we made this, I was never a fan of pot pies.  In fact, I'll admit to having to be dragged kicking and screaming into cooking this.  But then I went back for thirds.  In my defense, most of the pot pies I've had were either frozen vegetables and bland chicken in a sauce that tasted like unseasoned flour topped with cardboard, or were salt-fests with mushy tops. 

Crust: (this is essentially a three-quarters batch of my standard pie crust recipe, made without sugar)
1 7/8 cups white flour (1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons)
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold water

3 cups cooked chicken, coarsely chopped (we used a mix of dark and light meat)
1/2 pound frozen corn, defrosted
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter (reduce salt added if using salted butter)
4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed with a garlic press
1/2 cup flour
2 cups chicken stock (we used homemade)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt (plus more to taste; we added probably ~1/4 teaspoon more)
pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

To cook this recipe, you'll need to sautee the vegetables, make the white sauce, make the pie crust, and then bake the dish.  Try to time everything so that the pie crust has been chilled for at least a few minutes and the vegetables are finished sauteeing by the time the white sauce is finished.

Making the pie crust:

1) Put the flour and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl and mix. I typically use a pastry blender to do this, though a fork or whisk also work.
2) Cut the butter into approximately tablespoon-sized pieces, and add to the flour mixture. Use a pastry blender, fork, knives, or your fingers to cut the butter into the flour, stopping when the largest chunks of butter are pea-sized and most of the butter is in very small pieces. Be careful not to melt the butter; if the butter is starting to melt, put the covered mixture in the fridge until the butter has solidified again.
3) Add the cold water and cut the water into the dough with a spatula (or table knife) until the dough starts to hold together. If there is still a lot of dry flour in the bowl, add another tablespoon or two of extra water (I often end up adding 1/2 - 1 tablespoon extra).
4) Compress the dough together with your hands and pat into a disk. If the dough is relatively warm and sticky, wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for a short period (~15 minutes) until it is firmer, though I find the dough is usually cool enough to roll right away if I've worked quickly enough.
5) Use a floured rolling pin on a well-floured work surface to roll the dough into a circle approximately 1 to 2 inches wider than the pan you'll be using to bake the pot pie in.  Rolling the dough takes a bit of practice to do well, though I've found that even when I have apparently fatal flaws, they're rarely apparent in the final dish. If the dough develops holes or cracks, you can usually moisten (with water) another piece of dough, press it on top of the crack, dust it with flour, and then continue rolling the crust as normal. I'll slip a rimless baking sheet underneath the dough every now and then, adding some flour underneath the crust, to prevent it from sticking to the countertop. Joy of Cooking has a very useful section on rolling pie crust if you've never done it before.
6) Slide the pie crust onto a large, flat surface (I use a rimless cookie sheet) and put it in the fridge.  Cover with plastic wrap if it will be in the fridge for more than a few minutes.

Sauteeing the vegetables:
1) Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a wide pan over medium-high heat.
2) When the butter has melted, add the carrots, onions, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and cook, stirring nearly constantly, until the onions are turning brown and have started to caramelize (~10 minutes).  Letting the onions and carrots begin to caramelize is key to the flavor of the dish, so don't rush this step.
3) Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute or so.
4) Remove the onion mixture from the heat and put into a heat-proof bowl.

Making the white sauce:
1) In either the same pan you used for sauteeing, or in a separate pot, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat.
2) Add the flour to the butter, and cook, stirring constantly, until it starts to become golden and nutty-smelling (~2 minutes).
3) Remove the pan from the heat, and let rest (stirring occasionally) until the mixture (roux) stops bubbling (approximately a minute or two).
4) Add the chicken stock, return to the heat, and stir until well mixed and thickened.
5) Mix in the cream and milk, and continue cooking and whisking (nearly constantly) until the sauce thickens (~5 minutes).
6) Mix in 1 teaspoon of salt, and set aside until everything else is ready.

Assembling and baking the dish:
0a) Preheat your oven to 400F.
0b) Butter the bottom and sides of the pan you'll be baking the dish in (we used a large oval casserole pan, but a 9x13" pan should work fine).
1) Combine the chicken, corn, sauteed onion mixture, and white sauce in a large bowl; mix thoroughly.
2) Test for salt level by tasting a bit (yummy!), and add more salt if needed.
3) Pour the mixture into the baking dish, and level the surface.
4) Gently slide the pie crust onto the baking dish (I do this by sliding it off of the rimless cookie sheet I used to store it on in the refrigerator). Trim off any portions of the crust that overhang the edges of the pan by more than a few inches, and then tuck the overhanging pieces down the sides of the pan (forming a little outer-edge to the filling).  See note about cutting vent holes.
5) Bake at 400F for 25 - 35 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the filling bubbling.
6) Remove from the oven when finished, and let rest for at least 20 minutes before serving.


I did take some pictures of the finished product, pot-pies aren't the easiest subject to photograph.  So, if you're curious about what ours looked like, look here and here, but I'll warn you ahead of time that it's not the most beautiful thing ever (until you taste it, and then it's just gorgeous).  

I typically make my pie crust by hand with a pastry blender, but you can also make it with a food-processor using frozen butter following the directions in this recipe (but using the ingredients specified for the pot pie crust).

I'd recommend using good, homemade chicken stock for this: the stock is one of the primary ingredients that leads the white sauce to turn from a bland flour sauce into a rich, savory sauce that you can't get enough of.  We don't salt our homemade chicken stock ahead of time, so if you're using pre-salted stock you may want to reduce the salt added to the white sauce in step 6 (of "making the white sauce"), and then check the salt level of the dish during the assembly (step 2 of "assembling and baking the dish"), adding more salt if needed.

Joy of Cooking suggests brushing the top with half of a beaten egg to create a shiny top; we could care less about the shine - we just want the tasty crust and filling.  Joy also doesn't mention cutting vent holes; we added some halfway through baking once we saw that the crust was poofing up a lot, but they're probably not required. 

We used a mix of milk and heavy cream in the sauce to make it richer; we thought the finished product was just right, but feel free to substitute whatever you prefer for the milk and cream (it'd probably be fine with all milk, all cream, a mixture of milk and light cream, etc.).

Modified from a recipe in Joy of Cooking.


Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.

No comments: