Saturday, January 07, 2006

Stocking up for the winter with Chicken Pot Pies

It ain't Swansons, believe me. And Sarastro gives it his kitty stamp of approval.

When we first made these pot pies, it took hours and we swore we'd never go through it again. Then we tasted them. Better than any pot pie you've ever had in your life.

"Aw, man. "

We knew we'd be making them again. And in fact once every winter, we break out the recipe, make a dozen of the little babies, wrap 'em in plastic, freeze ten and then bake and snarf up two of them. The recipe we do now has some shortcuts in it, so it's not exactly the way that Cuisine instructed. For instance, we don't make the white stock from scratch for the veloute sauce (we substitute store-bought chicken broth), and we no longer roast the whole chicken ourselves, we purchase an already roasted chicken from Whole Foods. So sue us.

Even so, leave yourself all afternoon free.

Chicken Pot Pies

I find it's best to split the prepping into five sections, and if you have help, I've indicated who should do which tasks, too)
-- Veloute sauce (Person 1) takes at least an hour to simmer
-- Dough (Person 2) needs to chill for a while
-- Veggie Prep (Person 1) will need 15 minutes of roasting time
-- Chicken shredding (Person 2)
-- Assembly (Person 1 & 2)

Veloute Sauce (4 cups)
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 cup diced carrot
- 1/2 cup diced celery
- 2 Tbsp. Shallots peeled and minced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 6 cups quality chicken stock
- 4 sprigs fresh parsley
-2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup AP flour
- Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in large saucepan and add the carrots, celery and shallots. Sweat the vegetables until they're soft (8 minutes or so) and then deglaze with the white wine and reduce until the liquid is almost gone (8-10 minutes).

Add the chicken stock herbs and peppercorns to the saucepan and simmer over a medium heat for 1 hour.

Meanwhile prepare a blond roux. Melt the 6 Tbsp. of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Using a whisk slowly add in the 1/2 cup flour. Continue whisking until light brown. Remove it from the heat and set aside.

After simmering the stock for 1 hour, strain and return the liquid to a clean saucepan. Bring it to a simmer again and whisk in the roux.

Cook the veloute until it is velvety in texture and will coat the back of a spoon (2-3 minutes) simmer 8-10 more minutes and then season with salt and pepper.

Herbed Pastry Dough
This can be made very quickly in a food processor if you have one. I don't so I do it the old fashioned way with a pastry cutter. Even so, the dough doesn't take long and can be done while the veloute stock simmers.

- 4 cups AP flour
- 2 tsp minced fresh parsley
- 2 tsp minced fresh thyme
- 2tsp minced fresh rosemary
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed (2 sticks)
- 1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cubed
- 8-12 Tbsp. ice water

Combine the flour, herbs, salt and pepper in the food processor or a LARGE bowl.

Add the cold butter and shortening and incorporate into the flour, by pulsing 10-12 times in a food processor, or by cutting the cubes in with a pastry cutter or two crossed knives. When you're done the mixture should look like coarse cornmeal with a few small chunks of fats throughout. You don't have to get every chunk cut down.

Add in 6-8 Tbsp. of the ice water to the mixture and pulse or stir to make clumps form in the dough. Add in more water tablespoon by tablespoon if the mixture seems too dry, but BE CAREFUL. You don't want to add too much water or overmix it, or your dough will be sticky.

Transfer the dough to a large piece of plastic wrap. Flatten it into a big rectangle and wrap completely. Chill it in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 an hour while you do the rest of the prep.

Vegetable Filling
The original recipe notes also that you can substitute other root vegetables (though they advise avoiding beets because they'll color the pie pink) and we've had success with celery root and other squashes, though I didn't like turnips particularly. We also thought about subbing in rehydrated porcinis for the shiitakes, but totally forgot to do it.

-- 2 cups peeled butternut squash, cut into 1" cubes
-- 2 cups peeled parsnips, cut into 1" cubes
-- 2 cups small unpeeled red potatoes, quartered
-- 2 cups purple pearl onions, peeled
-- 8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut up
-- 8 oz crimini mushrooms, stemmed and quartered

-- 1/4 cup olive oil
-- 2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

First, preheat the oven to 425 F.

Cutting up the vegetables will take the most time. When I'm feeling energetic, I start with blanching the pearl onions for 30 seconds in boiling water and then icing and peeling them -- just to get it out of the way. It's my least favorite part of the whole darned pot pie escapade.

Throw everything into a large bowl and then toss it with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Then spread it out on a large baking sheet (I line the baking sheet with a Silpat to keep sticking to a minimum.)

Roast the vegetables for 10 minutes or until they begin to brown. Stir them around a bit and roast for another 5 minutes.

Chicken Shredding
I think just using a nice roasted 5 - 7 pound chicken (we like a lot of chicken meat in our pot pies) from Whole Foods cuts down on the stress of prepping this recipe. This can be done by the person who finished the pastry dough.

-- 5-7 pound roasted chicken

Shred off all the meat and discard the skin (or feed it to your feline sous-chefs).

Break it into bite-sized pieces and toss it into the large bowl that contains or will contain the roasted vegetables.

Hallgerthr would like to remind you not to miss the underside of the chicken or the yummy little chicken "oysters" of meat on the back.

This is the part where you finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Keep that oven preheated to 425F.

Here's what you should have on hand:
-- 12 1-cup tartlet tins or pot pie dishes
-- the chilled pie dough (but keep it chilled until you're ready for the rolling out step)
-- 4 cups of veloute
-- the roasted vegetables and shredded chicken
-- 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
-- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
-- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
-- 1/2 tsp salt
-- 1/2 tsp black pepper
-- 1 whole egg beaten with a tbsp of cold water

Combine the veloute, vegetables, chicken, vinegar, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper in that large bowl, making sure everything is nicely coated. Then spoon a cup of filling into each pie tin or dish, dividing the filling completely among the dishes. If two people are working on this, one person can be doing the combining while the other person rolls out the dough.

For the pastry, divide the dough rectangle into 12 equal pieces. While you work on each piece of pastry, keep the rest cold in the fridge.

Handling it as little as possible (dough is better when not too warmed, even by your hands!) form it into a ball, then flatten and roll it out into a circle to fit over the pot pie dish. It's better to roll it a little large (you can always tuck the ends under as you place it) rather than stretch it to fit, since the dough tends to shrink back if you stretch it.

Repeat for each piece of dough, rolling out and placing it. Crimp the edges, so it sticks to the dish or tin -- you can do it with fancy little decorative touches too, like cut out leaves, or forked edges.

At this point, you could wrap each one in a double layer of plastic wrap and freeze them -- which we did with ten of them. They make great little individual lunches and they'll last frozen for about a month.

When you're ready to eat though, pull one out -- you don't even have to thaw it -- put it on a baking sheet, brush the top with the beaten egg mixture, and bake for 30-35 minutes at 400F until the crust is golden. There is sometimes a bit of bubbling out of filling.

Do let them cool a few minutes before eating -- if you can stand the waiting.

And be sure to defend your prize.

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