I’d be fibbing if I didn’t admit that the spiritual predecessor of these pies is Rebecca Rather’s “All Sold Out Chicken Pot Pies from her exceptional The Pastry Queen.” At this point, they don’t really match up, but hers was the first recipe that made me think that I could actually make a superior chicken pot pie. The cookbook, The Pastry Queen, is a favorite of mine and one of the 20 or so cookbooks that I don’t think I could ever be without.
Now my pies are slightly different in almost every regard, but the result is the same great comfort staple. I remember as a kid thinking that the Swanson pot pies were truly the end-all-be-all of lucky dinners. Someday I’ll make this in tiny little foil pie tins just so my kids can experience the joy of the little tongue scorching personal meal. These homemade pies are much better, but I laugh at myself that I consider the TV dinner version a true symbol of comfort. I can hear my brother and me at the grocery store, begging my mother to buy several boxes.
This is not exactly a simple recipe, because there are a number of steps. But it is an easy recipe. The vegetable filling is ripe for personalization. You can add peas or green beans or any other favorites. Next time I will likely use diced onions instead of leeks, but the leeks caught my eye and I couldn’t pass them up. Add, subtract, and play. Just make sure that you sauté the hard vegetables first and then add the ones that need less cooking right at the end.
This preparation goes something like this: Prepare the crust, place it in the refrigerator to rest for an hour, poach the chicken, strain the stock, chop the chicken, sauté the vegetables, roll out and cut the pie crust and place it back in the refrigerator, prepare the cream sauce, mix everything together, place in ramekins, top with crust, brush with egg wash, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake.
Doesn’t that sound like a lot? It does. But it is fun to make. You aren’t going to mess it up. Children adore it. Spouses get all aglow like you really, really, really must love them (which of course you do…or you would just buy the Swansons). So try this sometime.
4 tablespoons leaf lard (or shortening), cubed and frozen
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and frozen
1-¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon sea salt (or kosher salt)
4 to 6 tablespoons cold water
1 pound chicken tenders
2 cans (14.5 ounce) low sodium chicken broth
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
½ medium-sized white onion, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ pounds small white potatoes, or other potato, diced large
2 carrots, peeled, diced
2 leeks, light green and white, sliced
2 ears corn, kernels cut off cob
5 button mushrooms, diced
½ cup butter (1 stick)
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups stock (from poaching chicken tenders)
½ cup heavy whipping cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Finishing the pies:
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 egg white mixed with 1 Tablespoon water
Sea salt (for sprinkling on crust)
1. For the Crust: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the lard, butter, flour and salt about 12 bursts. Remove the flour to a bowl and drizzle the water over the flour. Work the water into the dough gently until the dough will hold its shape when squeezed. Form the dough into a ball and place it on a sheet of plastic wrap. Flatten the ball into a disk shape, wrap it up with the plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to rest for at least one hour. When you are in the process of making the filling, roll out the dough and, with a knife, cut it in to four circles . The circles should be the same diameter as the ramekins, plus two inches (so you can have dough hanging over the edge). Place the dough circles on parchment paper and put them back into the refrigerator until you are ready to put them on the pies.
2: For the Chicken: Put the broth, carrot, celery, and onion in a shallow sauté pan. Place the tenders in the broth. Bring the broth to a low simmer and allow the chicken to slowly poach over the course of about 20 minutes. When the chicken is just done, turn off the heat and let the chicken sit in the broth for another 10 minutes. Remove the chicken and chop it into bite-size pieces. Strain the broth through a sieve to remove all the vegetables. Reserve the broth to use in the cream sauce.
3. For the Filling: Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Clean the sauté pan and return it to the stove top. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in the pan. Add the potatoes, carrots, and leeks and sauté for 12 to 15 minutes or until the potatoes are just softened. Add the last tablespoon of butter to the bottom of the pan and add the corn and the mushrooms to the vegetables. Saute the vegetables for an additional three minutes and then remove the pan from the heat while you make the cream sauce.
4. For the Cream Sauce: In saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir briskly to combine it with the butter. Cook the butter and flour for one minute. Slowly add the chicken broth while stirring constantly to work out any lumps. Cook the sauce until it is thick and creamy, about five minutes. Add the cream and stir to combine.
5. To Assemble and Bake: Add the cream sauce to the vegetables. Taste the vegetables and cream sauce at this point and adjust the seasoning, adding at least ½ teaspoon of sea salt (or kosher salt) and ½ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper. Taste again and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Distribute the vegetable filling evenly among the ramekins (or pour into one larger casserole dish). Wipe the rims of the ramekins. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and apply one circle of dough to each ramekin, crimping the dough down onto the edge of the ramekin to form a seal. Pierce the dough in a few places with a sharp knife to create vents. Brush the dough with a bit of the egg wash. Sprinkle the tops of the dough with a little bit of sea salt. Place the ramekins on top of a baking tray and place it in the oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes. After 20 minutes of baking, check to ensure that the crusts are browning nicely. If they are browning too quickly or unevenly, you can place a piece of foil over the pie.
Remember that the filling is fully cooked, so all you need to do in this part of the process is bake the crust. As soon as the crust is golden, you can remove the pies from the oven. Allow them to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving. They will be extremely hot.
First, don’t be intimidated by how “big” this recipe is. It is not difficult…it simply has a lot of moving parts.
If you cut the fats into ½” cubes and then place them in the freezer for a few hours, they improve your pie crust. The little fat particles get worked into the flour, but many of them stay in small pea size bits. These bits are what explode in the oven within the flour, creating a flaky crust. Pie dough likes to be cold. That is why it rests in the refrigerator before rolling and why I recommend that you put it back in the refrigerator after you roll and cut it.
The sea salt I used in this recipe is called Maldon Salt. It is English sea salt that has very large crystals. It is a wonderful finishing salt. I didn’t even know it existed until a few weeks ago when our friend Matt Young told me about it. Now, I believe that I will never be without it.
You could easily make the dough and the chopped chicken a day in advance. You could also cheat a little and use precooked chicken and pre-fab pie dough from the refrigerator section. I won’t tell.