Monday, January 26, 2015

Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot Pie!

I love chicken pot pie, as I've said before (here). Maybe not as much as Slow Donnie (from "Just Shoot Me") but they rate pretty high on my list of favorite comfort foods. I love having a full meal that comes in a single container. One dish that you eat everything out of and then recycle. How perfect is that?

When we were kids back in the 60s an 70s, my mother would serve chicken pot pies from time to time. They were usually a store brand and I always picked out the peas. By the time I was done, that little aluminum pie plate was surrounded by pathetic, discarded green spheres. Even as an adult, whenever I have a chicken pot pie, I pick out the peas. I don't think there's a brand on the market that doesn't have peas. Trust me; they're all chock-full of peas.

An Aside On My Relationship With Peas: I really don't like peas. That's not quite accurate. What I really don't like are garden peas. There's something about their consistency and taste that bugs me. Grainy, mushy, with husks that just don't seem to ever go down easy. Snow peas? Love them! Chickpeas? Yeah, I can do those. Garden peas? Bleah! No way. And don't come near me with split pea soup because I'll split the scene in a New York Minute. 

An Aside On My Relationship With Peas Ends.

A few years ago, I went on a sampling spree of the available brands of pot pies to find one that I liked – and wasn't a health risk. Swanson's was disgusting, and these days only has a top crust. Hungry Man just couldn't be trusted. Marie Callender's was too weird because they add broccoli to the filling, and as much as I love broccoli it just changes the flavor and consistency too much for my tastes. I settled on Stouffer's because they were a decent size, both the chicken and turkey varieties were pretty tasty, and the crust wasn't half-bad.

The crust. Always comes back to crust. I'll admit it: I'm a pastry crust lover. When I eat a pot pie, I work through the filling as quickly as I can (without scorching my tongue) so I can savor the crust. I try to keep it as intact as possible and then eat it from the bottom up. I know. I know. That's a little odd. Look, I never claimed to be completely sane.

At any rate, most store-bought pot pies have lousy crusts, probably because they're frozen, so the crusts have all been through ice hell and back by the time you're ready to eat them. And pot pies on the menus in restaurants, upscale NYC groceries with hot food counters, etc., are a travesty. None of them have bottom crusts and are generally made in a large baking pan. The top crust is usually a poorly made pastry, or something like biscuits layered on top of the filling. The worst is when they try to palm-off mashed potatoes as the top crust. Excuse me? Biscuit crust? Mashed potatoes? Top crust only? I'm sorry; that's not a pot pie, that's a "pot cobbler". And that just sounds nasty.

Obviously, there was only one thing for me to do: make my own pot pies. I went through a couple of recipes, some using cream-of-something soups and others that were more stew-like. None of my versions had peas in them. So there. Eventually, I happened up on this recipe from Allrecipes.com. It proved to be hearty, easy to make, and flexible enough to accommodate  whatever I wanted to take the place of the ever-present peas.

For the all-important crust, though, I modified my regular pie crust recipe by removing the sugar and replacing it with whatever herbs and salts suit my fancy at the time. I've mixed in thyme, curry, and tarragon to great success. Black salt, pink salt, kosher salt...all of these have added subtle tastes to the crusts. At some point, I might using one of my hot salts but that will be a pot pie that I'll keep to myself.

I've mostly used twelve-ounce porcelain ramekins for my pot pies. The difficult part is making the bottom crust, because the cylindrical shape is a bit steep to just lay the crust in it like I would with a regular pie. I'll do a blog to illustrate my procedure for that at another time. I didn't have the time to take pictures this time around because I was making them for dinner and time was running short. Suffice it to say, it's brilliant.

Here are the results of my labors:

Twelve ounces (x2) of chicken goodness!

These were the best chicken pot pies I've ever made. And mine was the best chicken pot pie I've ever eaten. the crust was perfection and I ate ever single last bit. Michele pronounced hers as "pretty good" (which is high compliment from someone who prefers turkey to chicken).

Can't ask for more than that.

Currently listening to: Amanda Ghost - Silver Lining

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