Monday, October 6, 2014

better chicken pot pies

better chicken pot pies

There are over 900 recipes in this site’s archives, [which is completely nuts, but also conveniently gives me an answer to the ever-present “what do you do all day?” question besides my usual, “mess around on Instagram?”] and while I’m overwhelmingly quite fond of all of them, there are ones that nag at me not necessarily because they don’t work but because they’re not, in hindsight, the “best in category” I once found them to be. Among these are the chicken pot pies I made from Ina Garten’s beloved recipe six years ago, and somewhere, my friend Ang is gasping because these are, to date, her favorite thing I’ve ever made for dinner. But I always thought they could have been better for several persnickety reasons.

making the flaky pastry lids
chilled dough, quartered

First, instead of braising the chicken in that delicious veloué sauce you’re making, Ina has us roast chicken breast until they’re fully cooked, cool them, dice them and then add them to the sauce. But why? I asked Ina, but my book didn’t answer. That’s not the only extra step. Vegetables such as carrots, peas and those persnickety pearl onions are each blanched for two minutes in water before being added to the pot pie base, which baffled me even then. Why not just cook them in that finger-licking stew, too, and let them drink up all that awesomeness? My third quibble with the recipe is that for four servings of pot pie, the soup part alone uses 12 tablespoons (that’s 3/4 cup or 170 grams; it does not include the additional cup of butter used for the four pastry lids) of butter, and guys, I think it’s been fairly well established, perhaps even 900 times, my fondness for butter, but this is just … I cannot. When I created my own anything-but-abstemious pot pie recipe a few years ago for my cookbook, my filling only need 3 1/2 tablespoons butter for four portions to give you a nice rich sauce. Finally, I’d found that the sauce didn’t thicken well but assumed I’d done something wrong. A scroll through the comments that have arrived since indicates that it’s not just me.

browning the chicken parts

a-braising the chicken
cooked and cooled
chicken-pickin mess
diced carrots + frozen peas

Now, do understand, this does nothing to mitigate my Number One Fan Status of Ina Garten. Ina, call me! Let’s have lunch! I promise, I’ll behave better this time! I’ll try to stop doing weird things like signing my name snugged up against yours on the wall of stores where we’ve both signed books. (Wait, did I just admit that?) But it did mean that when my husband told me last week that he’d been craving chicken pot pie, I knew I wanted to make it, just not that one.

the filling, minus the leeks
don't fill yours this much

Back to the drawing board, I merged together the things I’d learned making my own pot pies, such as a dreamy flaky pastry lid, a thickening tip from Julia Child’s beef bourguignon, plus another archive gem, Cook’s Country’s chicken and dumplings, with a pot pie-like base to create my own ultimate chicken pot pie. Everything is cooked inside the same pot. There are (hopefully) no persnickety steps or ingredients. And, no, I did not hold the butter, but I also tried not to smother us with it. I hope you love them as much as we do.

pot pie lid + vent
brush with egg wash
chicken pot pies + dark so early
new chicken pot pies

An Almost-Vegetarian Pot Pie: Pancetta, White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies. Yes, I know, the pancetta. I went back and forth over this when writing the book and concluded it was good with or without the pancetta. Without it, it’s a delicious vegetarian pot pie, hearty and perfect, and you won’t miss the pork.

One year ago: Purple Plum Torte
Two years ago: Chicken Noodle Soup
Three years ago: Apple Pie Cookies
Four years ago: Roasted Eggplant Soup
Five years ago: Lebanese-Style Stuffed Eggplant
Six years ago: Majestic and Moist Honey Cake
Seven years ago: Peter Reinhart’s Bagels and Peanut Butter Brownies
Eight years ago: Pumpernickel Bread (I later added a Black Bread, which I love even more.)

Better Chicken Pot Pies

The one unusual trick I use in this recipe is to add the thickening portion (a mashed butter-flour roux) at the end, rather than the earlier parts of cooking. I found that the chicken cooked better in a thinner sauce, and that the thickening was more likely to hold up when added at near the end. Plus, you can really taste the richness in the final dish, hooray.

Note: I forgot the leeks and the parsley because these things happen. It would have been better with leeks; we missed them.

Makes 4 2-cup pot pies

Lid
2 cups (250 grams) all- purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
13 tablespoons (185 grams or 6 1/2 ounces) cold unsalted butter, diced
6 tablespoons (90 grams) sour cream or Greek-style yogurt
1 tablespoon (15 ml) cider vinegar
1/4 cup (60 ml) very cold water
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash

Filling
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 1/2 to 4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts (breasts, thighs and drumsticks are ideal)
1 to 2 glugs olive oil
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1/2-inch slices
1 large onion, diced small
1/4 cup dry sherry (optional)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup milk or heavy cream
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas (no need to defrost)
2 large carrots, diced small (about 1 cup carrots)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Make pastry lids: In a large, wide bowl (preferably one that you can get your hands into), combine the flour and salt. Add the butter and, using a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut them up and into the flour mixture until it resembles little pebbles. Keep breaking up the bits of butter until the texture is closer to uncooked couscous. In a small dish, whisk together the sour cream, vinegar, and water, and combine it with the butter-flour mixture. Using a flexible spatula, stir the wet and the dry together until a craggy dough forms. If needed, get your hands into the bowl to knead it a few times into one big ball. Pat it into a flattish ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill it in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 2 days. Meanwhile…

Make filling: Generously season all sides of the chicken parts with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If your chicken breasts are particularly large, I find that halving them can ensure they cook at the same pace at the other parts. Heat first glug of olive oil over medium-high heat in the bottom of a large Dutch oven (minimum of 4 quarts; mine is 5). Brown chicken in two parts, cooking until golden on both sides. Transfer to a plate and repeat with second half of chicken. Set aside.

Heat second glug of olive oil in the same pot. Add onions and leeks, season with salt and pepper, and saute them until softened, about 7 minutes. If using, pour in sherry and use it to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Simmer until mostly cooked off. Add milk or cream, chicken broth, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Nestle the browned chicken and any accumulated juices into the pot. Cover and gently simmer to 30 minutes, after which the chicken should be fully cooked and tender.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board to cool slightly. Discard the bay leaves. Allow the sauce to settle for a few minutes, then skim the fat from the surface using a wide spoon; reserve it for another use, or this:

In a medium bowl, mash butter (feel free to replace any part of it with skimmed chicken fat from the previous step, thanks to a commenter below for the suggestion) and flour together with a fork until a paste forms and no flour is still visibly dry. Pour one ladleful of filling over it, and whisk until smooth. Add a second ladleful, whisking again. Return this butter-flour-filling mixture to the larger pot, stir to combine, and bring mixture back to a simmer for 10 minutes. The brothy base should thicken to a gravy-like consistency. Adjust seasonings, if needed.

Add carrots and peas to stew and simmer for 3 minutes, until firm-tender. Shred or dice the chicken, discarding the bones and skin or saving it for another use. Return chicken to stew and re-simmer for 1 minute. Stir in parsley.

Assemble and bake pies: Heat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Divide chilled dough into quarters. Roll each quarter out into rounds that will cover 4 2-cup ovenproof bowls or baking dishes with a 1-inch overhang. Cut vents into rounds. Ladle filling into four bowls, filling only to 1 to 1 1/2 inches below the rim to leave room for simmering. Whisk egg with water to make an egg wash. Brush edges of bowls with egg wash, or if you like lids that easily lift off your bowls and are willing to risk that they may slip slightly into the bowl when baking, you can skip this. Place a lid over each bowl, pressing gently to adhere it to the outer sides of the bowl. Brush the lids with egg wash. Bake until crust is bronzed (more than mine, please, if nobody in your family is having a hangry meltdown) and filling is bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes.

Do ahead: The dough for the lids can be made up to 3 days in advance and chilled. The filling can be made up to a day in advance and re-warmed before assembling and baking the pot pies.


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