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Let’s Get Excited About Chicken Pot Pie

I can understand why a hearty chicken pot pie may provoke a, shall we say, less than enthusiastic reaction from an entire generation of former latchkey kids. Chances are that if you were the ward of working parents, you could return to your childhood home right now and find at least one individual chicken pot pie smashed deep into the recesses of the basement freezer. When rations of chicken nuggets and Kid Cuisines ran dry, only then would one reach for those crushed cardboard boxes filled with gloopy chicken goo and peas, encased in a soggy pastry with soft notes of BPA.

Like most foods whose good names have been sullied by mass production and freezer burn, chicken pot pie can be exciting when made the right way. Using garlic-butter-layered filo instead of a from-scratch pie dough not only makes your life easier, but gives you a crust that’s meltingly tender on the bottom and brilliantly crisp and flaky on top. Hell, if you wanted to swap out the chicken for a precooked rotisserie bird, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. When the moment comes to cut through that crispy top layer, out come all the rich scents of lightly roasted vegetables, roux-thickened stock, and juicy shredded chicken.

Once upon a time, a bird-filled pie would have been considered the height of entertainment and luxury. You know that nursery rhyme where four and 20 blackbirds were singing their little hearts out from inside of a pie? Historical texts from the 16th century tell tales of medieval party dishes baked full of teeny birds who would burst out of the top crust to fly away to sweet, sweet freedom. There were platters of peacocks shrouded in their own feathery flesh to look alive, their beaks stuffed with camphor-soaked rags that were to be lit at the table so they would “breathe” fire like mythical beasts. Stuffed capons were dressed with small gold-leafed helmets and lances, then sewn atop a roasted pig as if they were valiantly charging into battle. Chickens’ necks were stuffed with a mixture of mercury and sulfur, which would make the bird sound as if it were singing once it was piping hot. Sotelies, as they were called, were seen as whimsical showstoppers full of oyster stuffing, toxic chemicals, and vengeance against birds.

In the 21st century, our bird-filled pies are admittedly a little less exciting and a lot more practical. While you’ll occasionally see a masterwork savory trompe l’oeil on Instagram—such as Rene Redzepi’s “Duck Foot” Fudge, or Ritz Crackers’ Bacon Cheddar “Football”—it seems as if the days of grandiose bird pies are long gone.

Maybe you can’t jam two dozen live birds into a pastry crust, but you certainly can wow your friends, family, and the Internet with this masterpiece’s modern cousin, the pot pie. They’ll never know how it was so easy to make something so regal. And if its spectacular flavors don’t do it for you in the same way a flaming peacock does, spackle it with gold leaf, sprinkle on some glitter, and add a bunch of food coloring to the filling for a festive chicken pot pie that’s sure to be the highlight of any gender-reveal celebration.

Ingredients

  • For the chicken
  • 3 pounds skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 medium onion, cut into quarters with skin on
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 large carrot, unpeeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 1 ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ¾ teaspoons black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • for the filling
  • 8 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 ½ cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola
  • ¼ cup sherry or white wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • for the crust
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large cloves garlic, sliced
  • 10 sheets filo dough
  • 1 egg, well beaten

A full-size, well-made chicken pot pie is not a boring family-style dish, but a dramatic culinary spectacle that provokes a flurry of good feelings. It slowly fills a kitchen with an intoxicating aroma as it bakes, building anticipation that reaches a fever pitch by the time it comes out of the oven. There’s the agonizing period of waiting while the pie cools, with each minute becoming more unbearable than the last. Once the crust is pierced, all the senses go into overdrive: the audible crack of the filo, its golden-brown sheen, the irresistible scent, and the juxtaposition of soft and crisp textures.

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Cut chicken breasts into 2″ cubes; place in a large saucepan with stock, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, bay leaves, and spices. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Using tongs, move the chicken pieces to a bowl to cool slightly. Strain the stock, discard the vegetables, and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons of butter. Add 2 large cloves of sliced garlic and reduce heat to low. Allow to infuse while you make the filling.
  4. On the stovetop, heat the oil in a 12″ cast-iron skillet until it begins to shimmer. Add chopped carrots and a big pinch of salt; stir to coat. Turn off heat and move the skillet to the floor of the oven for 5 minutes. Add the peas, stir things around for a bit, and continue to cook on the oven floor for another 5-10 minutes until the vegetables show signs of charring but are not burnt. Return pan to medium heat on the stovetop, add sherry and stir well; cook until it has evaporated and glazed the vegetables. Add two tablespoons of butter; once melted, add flour and stir gently until there is no more raw flour visible and cook for another minute. Stir in reserved stock a cup at a time, bringing to a simmer to thicken, then stir in Parmesan cheese and remove from heat.
  5. Use your hands or a fork to roughly shred the chicken into bite-size pieces. Add to the skillet, stir well, and taste for seasoning, adding additional salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Lay a sheet of filo dough onto a cutting board, lightly brush with garlic butter, then top with another layer of filo. Repeat until all the filo is used up; toss the cooked garlic into the filling. Lay the filo over the skillet; using kitchen scissors trim off the excess, leaving a slight overhang. Cut the scraps into strips or decorative shapes. Lightly brush the top of the pot pie with egg wash, decorate with filo scraps, then give it another light brushing. Cut four 3″ slits in the filo to allow steam to vent, then move to the center rack of the oven and bake for 40 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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