10 Chickens Pot Pie

#RecipeUpTop (Details below):

  • 2 chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
  • 2 cups of whole milk (have more on hand)
  • 4 stalks of celery
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 medium sweet potato (or 1 russet potato)
  • 1/2 of a large yellow onion
  • 1/2 bag of frozen peas
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Pepper (to taste)
  • FAT (veg oil, butter, schmaltz) (as needed)
  • Puff pastry (preferably homemade)
  • 1 egg (for egg wash) (optional)

Method: Brown your chicken in a cast iron skillet and remove, then sweat the aromatics in the wreckage with some schmaltz, then add the small-dice potato. Slice the chicken into bite-size chunks, and return to the skillet. Add the butter and melt, then add the flour and cook out the cereal flavor. Add the milk, wait until thickened, and adjust for seasoning. Add the frozen peas, and move to a casserole dish. Cover with the puff pastry, vent, and egg wash with salt sprinkle. Bake at 400F for forty (40) minutes, or until pastry has fully puffed.

The Details

Chicken pot pie is a liar, and you need to know this going in. It’s delicious, and hearty, and comforting, but it will also lie to you every chance it gets.

This is a meal I’m routinely convinced to make mid-week, on rainy, blustery days when the refrigerator is full of dark beer and my calendar is empty. “Just today,” it says.

Lies.

It’s not difficult, and it’s probably the best thing a human being can conjure from a chicken breast, some flour, some dairy, and an afternoon. But, once you’ve done it, it will creep into your brain and demand to be made twice a week, and it won’t let go. Good luck.

Step one: brown your chicken breasts. For this, I’m using a boneless, skinless chicken breast (actually, two) that I butchered myself from a whole chicken. If you’re buying chicken parts on a budget, I’d go with boneless, skinless thighs.

Throw a little oil in your pan, salt your chicken liberally, and brown over medium heat.

This is maybe the only chicken dish I make where I don’t brine the chicken first, and one of the only meat dishes I make where I don’t salt well ahead of time. The reasoning is pretty simple: this is going to be cut into bite-sized pieces and finished in a delicious sauce/gravy, and it really doesn’t need all the extra attention.

I’m also trying to cultivate a nice fond (the brown bits in the bottom of the pan), and I find using brined chicken can hamper that process. To that end, I’m also moving the breast around the pan for maximum leftover brownage:

You don’t need to cook your chicken all the way here, and in fact you shouldn’t if you can help it. It will have plenty of time in the oven to finish, so you should aim for slightly underdone. If you do go all the way, don’t sweat it. This meal is absurdly forgiving.

Once your chicken is browned, remove it and drop the heat to low.

Step two: Classic mirepoix… sort of. This dish is about one thing, and surprisingly it’s not chicken. It’s about this very basic aromatic blend of onion, celery, and carrot:

I’ve gone kind of silly with the ratio of carrot to the other ingredients, but it’s madness with a purpose. These carrots are straddling the line between aromatics and actual ingredients, so… there’s going to be a lot of them.

Also, this is a rustic meal, so you don’t need to be super finicky with your cuts. A small dice will work:

Step three: sweat your aromatics. Back over to the pan, we need to add a little fat to help draw out the flavors of the veggies we just cut up. I’m deploying a secret weapon here: schmaltz. This is chicken fat that’s leftover from my stock-making process, and it’s like chicken butter. If you don’t have any, well, shame on you. But also, you can use regular butter or even veg oil.

Once your fat is melted, everyone goes in the pool with a sprinkling of salt. Keep the heat low; you don’t want any browning here. We just want to soften the veggies and let them give up some of their flavors. Also, go easy on the salt. We aren’t really using it to season (yet), but rather for its chemical action of drawing moisture out of the aromatics.

This is a process that’s going to take a few minutes, so be patient. Give it a stir every once in a while. You’ll also notice the fond coming up off the pan as the liquid is released from the mirepoix. You should help this process with your wooden spoon or spatula.

In the interim, prepare your potato(es). I’m using a single sweet potato, but you can use as much or as little as you’d like, either sweet or russet. This is the “bulk out” of the dish, and can be used to extend the volume very, very quickly and cheaply. Just know that if you’re going wild with potatoes, you’ll need the final consistency to be a little more moisture-heavy going into the oven in order to get them cooked. Small-medium dice for these:

Step four: build the sauce. Get the sweet potatoes in the pan, and cut your chicken into bite-sized chunks, then add it as well.

From here, add four (4) tablespoons of butter, and let it melt, then add three (3) tablespoons of flour. The goal is to have all the moisture sucked up by the flour, but not to have dry spots. You can add flour and butter in small amounts to try and correct this balance:

Close-up, you can see the texture of the flour coating everything. There’s no standing liquid, but things aren’t parched either.

Drop your heat to low, and add the milk. At first it will look VERY watery, but once the milk comes up to temperature, the flour will explode and thicken everything. In fact, it may thicken everything too much, in which case add a little extra milk.

Before
After

At this point, taste your sauce and adjust for salt. Add cracked black pepper to taste, and the frozen peas, then move to a casserole dish of your choice.

Step five: add the puff pastry and bake. I’m using homemade pastry, but store-bought is fine too. Just get it cut to match your casserole pan, brush it with egg wash, and add some extra kosher salt on top. Then, cut some vent holes and get it into a 400F oven for about forty (40) minutes:

Let it cool for a few minutes, then serve:

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