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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chicken Little

Back in the old days, I thought chicken pot pie was a gourmet item.  I was especially impressed with Marie Callendar's frozen chicken pot pies.  I mean, come on.  Swanson was for the neophytes.  Marie Callendar was true fine dining.

Now that I'm older and have a more "refined" palate, (that's gourmet speak for "frozen food just doesn't taste as good as it used to"), I know that a homemade chicken pot pie is a thing of beauty.

I also know that making a chicken pot pie is, shall we say, a process.  There's the cooking of the chicken, the making of bechamel, the chopping and sauteing of the veggies and finally, the making of the pastry top.  Chicken pot pies are not something you can just throw together willy nilly.

I've tried lots of different recipes for this classic pot pie.  For a long time I was a devotee of Ina Garten's chicken pot pie.  Oh, I've tried others, but hers was the best.  The trick is that it can't be too fancy.  This is comfort food so it should be delicious without being challenging.  Roughly translated, there should be no fancy schmancy ingredients or techniques.

The other day I was paging through my Martha Stewart American Food cookbook.  Now, Martha isn't always my cup of tea.  First of all, I have a long standing beef with her pronunciation of the word "herb".  Martha says herb, as in "his name is Herb."  Most other people say "erb", dropping the "h" sound.  Long term feuds have been based on less.

Wait!  I've gotten myself off track.

We can all have our own feelings about Martha, but one thing is for sure.  Martha knows her comfort food.  And Martha knows when to stick with the classics and when to fool around.

Chicken pot pie is a classic and thus should not be fooled with.  Martha's recipe is straight forward and easy, albeit labor intensive, to make.  The bechamel is creamy and the pastry top, my favorite part, is flaky.  Over all, it's a really good chicken pot pie with a truly superior pastry top.

I think I'm still a fan of Ina's rendition of this delicious class, but Martha's is worth giving a try.  After all, like with chicken soup, there's more than one perfect recipe.

Recipe:  Chicken Pot Pies
(Martha's American Food, by Martha Stewart)


2 bay leaves

2 sprigs fresh thyme,  plus 2 tablespoons, chopped
2 sprigs flat leaf parsley, plus 2 tablespoons chopped leaves

1 whole chicken (3 to 4 pounds) cut into 8 pieces

1 parsnip, cut into 1 inch pieces
3 ribs celery, 1 cut into 1-inch pieces, the rest cut into 1/2 inch dice

1 medium onion, sliced
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
5 tablespoons unsalted butters
6 to 8 cups chicken stock or water
6 ounces frozen pearl onions
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 carrots. sliced into 1 inch rounds
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, trimmed and cut into quarters
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1 recipe for Basic Pie Dough (see below)
1 large egg, for egg wash


Using kitchen twine, tie together the bay leaves and parsley and thyme sprigs for a bouquet garni.  Place chicken in a large stockpot (it should be just large enough to hold the chicken with 3 inches of room on top).  Add bouquet garni, parsnip, 1-inch celery pieces, onion, peppercorns, and enough stock or water to just cover the chicken.  Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming foam from the surface as necessary; reduce heat and simmer until chicken is just cooked through (juices should run clear when meat is pierced), about 20 minutes.  Use tongs to remove each part as soon as it's finished cooking.  Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull off and discard the skin, separate the meat from the bones, and tear it into bite-size pieces.  You will need about 2 cups meat; save any remaining for another use.  Strain liquid from pot through a fine sieve, pressing on solids; reserve 2 1/2 cups strained broth and discard solids.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, then add carrots, diced celery, and the mushrooms.  Cook until the vegetables start to soften, stirring occasionally, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add flour and chopped thyme to make a roux; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.  Stir in reserved broth and season with salt.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 8 minutes.  Add reserved chicken along with the pearl onions and peas.  Return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender and peas are bright green, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in chopped parsley.  Season with salt and pepper.  Let cool completely.

Set out 8 overproof dishes.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out pie dough until it is about 1/8 inch thick.  Invert one of the dishes onto the dough and lightly a mark a circle about 1 inch larger than the dish.  Repeat to mark seven more circles, then use a pastry wheel or knife to cut out each one.  Make vents by cutting several slits into each one with a paring knife.  Ladle filling into each dish.  Drape dough over filled dishes, crimping edges to seal as desired.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and chill until dough is firm, about 20 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350.

Using a pastry brush, lightly coat dough with egg wash and bake, rotating halfway through, until crust is golden and juices are bubbling in center, about 1 hour.

Recipe:  Basic Pie Dough
(Martha Stewart)


3 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water


In a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar; pulse to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with just a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining.
Sprinkle with 1/4 cup ice water. Pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed with fingers (if necessary, add up to 1/4 cup more water, 1 tablespoon at a time).

Transfer half of dough (still crumbly) onto a piece of plastic wrap. Form dough into a disk 3/4 inch thick; wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (and up to 3 days). Repeat with remaining dough. (Disks can be frozen, tightly wrapped, up to 3 months. Thaw before using.)

Makes 2 disks.

1 comment:

  1. What a fabulous looking chicken pot pie, my husband's favourite comfort food. He'd marry me all over again if I made him these.