Chicken Pot Pie


From Seasoned in the South by Bill Smith

People love this when cold weather comes. I serve the pies in one-and-one-quarter-cup ramekins that look like little baked bean pots. I suppose that you could make one large pie, but I have never tried. In any case it is important to simmer the filling until it is well thickened because the pastry will not puff properly if it is sitting atop liquid. The glutens need to rest and it needs to be well chilled before you roll it out. The filling is also better if made ahead. Like soups and stews, the flavor develops better with a little time and the natural gelatins will have time to kick in for better thickening.

The pastry is a variation on the quick puff pastry that Julia Child introduced in her Julia Child & Company series on PBS back in the 1970s. Up until that time making puff pastry was an arduous task that most people would not try at home. Her new technique made it so unbelievably easy that people were tempted to use it almost casually. The first time you do this is as astonishing as the first time you make mayonnaise.

3 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold water with an ice cube in it
Flour for rolling out the pastry
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon grainy mustard

1 (about 3 pounds) velvetized chicken
1 medium onion, peeled and diced (about 1 ½ cups)
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted clarified butter
2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds (about 2 cups)
2 large parsnips, peeled and sliced into thin rounds (about 2 cups)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 pint pearl onions, peeled and blanched according to package instructions
1 cup frozen small green peas

1. Dice the butter into quarter-inch cubes and toss with a little of the flour to keep them from sticking back together. Place in a large mixing bowl and refrigerate to rechill for at least 20 minutes.

2. Add the flour and salt to the butter and begin to combine them with your fingers as you would for making biscuits. Do this for a few minutes until they are thoroughly mixed and the size of the butter chunks is reduced by half. You do not want the butter to completely disappear. Add the water all at once (fish out any ice that hasn’t melted) and stir it together with a spatula. Dump out on a floured table or countertop. It will look like a crumbly mess. Shape it into a rectangle of approximately 4 inches high by 6 inches long. Use a rolling pin to roll it out into an 8 by 12-inch rectangle. You will do more flattening than rolling the first time, but try to apply equal force in all directions. The pastry will not want to hold together at this point. Even though it will want to fall apart, return the rectangle back to its original dimensions by folding the long dimension back on itself by thirds as if you were folding a letter to put into an envelope. Turn the rectangle 45 degrees and roll it back out to an 8 by 12-inch rectangle. Fold again. Repeat this rolling and folding twice more. With each turn the pastry will become more and more cohesive. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

3. When the pastry is rested and is good and cold, roll and fold it two more times, always returning to the same 4 by 6-inch rectangle. It should now look like a nice pie dough. Allow to rest at least an hour more before using, but it will keep easily for a week in the refrigerator.

4. When you are ready to make pies, roll out your dough and cut it into circles that are a quarter to a half inch larger than your pie ramekins. Beat together the egg yolk and mustard into a small bowl. Paint each top with the egg mixture and freeze the tops solid. They will be put frozen on top of the pie at the very last second before baking.

1. Prepare the chicken. When it gets cool enough to touch, pick the meat and reserve for the filling. Add the skin and bones back into the broth and cook until you have about 1 ½ quarts of stock. Strain and degrease.

2. In the soup pot, sauté the onion in the clarified butter. When it is translucent, add the mushrooms and cook until all the butter is absorbed. Add the strained, degreased stock and bring to a simmer. Add the carrots and parsnips.

3. Put the butter in a saucepan and begin to soften it over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and turn up the heat. Stir constantly until the flour is a pale tan color, 8-10 minutes. Whisk this roux into the stock followed by the cream.

4. Simmer on medium heat, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until the filling has begun to thicken considerably. You will need to stir this often to prevent scorching on the bottom. When it seems appropriately thick, add the chicken meat and the pearl onions. Bring back to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes more. He peas should be added right before the pies are put into the oven to bake so they wont turn olive-drab.

5. The filling can be used right away or cooled and used later. If used later, the filling should be reheated on the stove top or in a microwave before the pies are baked.

6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Fill the ramekins with the filling, if it appears too runny use a slotted spoon. Center the frozen tops o each pie. Bake at once for about 20 minutes. The filling will already be hot, the tops should be puffy and golden brown. Serve with a green salad for a side of wilted spinach.

Makes 6 1 1/4-cup pies

For another great way to make chicken stock, click here