"No Kitty, that's my pot pie!"
I did not grow up eating pot pies. My mother, accomplished at French cuisine, and a smattering of Italian dishes in addition to her stellar Vietnamese repertoire, wouldn't have known what it was or how to make one (she never consulted the red and white checked Betty Crocker cookbook someone had given her) so my first introduction to chicken pot pie was at age 25, at the home of a friend of a friend; and the soupy hunks of chicken, mushy peas and carrots, topped with soggy biscuits, did little to make the first impression a good one. I'm probably not wrong in guessing that the pot pie was constructed from cream of chicken, frozen peas and carrots and Pillsbury biscuits. Enchanté I was not (an experience not unlike my foray into packaged Mac and Cheese at age 24; should I mention the horror that I could not hide when my college classmate pulled out the foil package of orange cheese by-product and poured it into the noodles?). So I had no reason to eat or want to make a chicken pot pie. Or any pot pie for that matter. Until an episode of South Park.
Cartman snaps at Kitty to stay away from his pot pie with such ferocity that I felt compelled to ask, "How good can a pot pie be?" My then-significant other began waxing lyrically about how much he loved pot pies. So much, in fact, that he got up, left and went to the grocery to buy himself a frozen pot pie to eat. I did not give his taste buds much credence; the fact is, he grew up eating packaged foods at home (his mother's acquaintanceship with a stove did not begin until long after her children had left the house) and then later, institutionalized food at college and during his stint in the Navy. How bad were his taste buds? Well, he once attempted to boil a steak because: "The Navy boils everything."
Shortly thereafter, I decided to try my hand at a pot pie and consulted a copy of the revised Joy of Cooking which I had been given as a housewarming present. Right after the recipe for Chicken or Turkey a la King was the one for Pot Pie. It first required a batch of creamed chicken (a roux, stock, cream and cooked chicken), with frozen vegetables added to the mix, a few teaspoons of fresh thyme, and then drop biscuits baked on top. Having no visual clue as to what a pot pie should look like, I could only operate on the previous experience -- my friend's friend's casserole dish. So I served the pot pie in the casserole dish and after he finished his first plate, He-Who-Lacks-Taste(buds) exclaimed, "This is excellent! It tastes store bought!"
It was the highest compliment he was capable of giving me. It did not bode well for our relationship and indeed, we did not last too much longer thereafter. But of course it made sense -- the recipe was heavy on cream, overly salted and a perfect proxy for processed chicken pot pie. It lacked subtlety or genuine flavor.
The recipe itself was good for technique -- but I didn't like the heaviness of the creamed chicken or the blandness of the vegetables accompanying it. And I certainly didn't like the biscuits on top. So I revamped the recipe to include my own preferences: pastry dough for a crumbly crust and top; diced carrots, peas and potatoes (or other vegetables as strikes my fancy) and creamed chicken made with 1% milk (so it's not so heavy) that owes its flavor to a nice hearty stock that's made while the chicken's boiling.
And I promise you this so does not taste store bought! I know this because Hubby offered this compliment when a friend recently wolfed down a third helping: "Yeah. My wife's pot pie is no !@#$." Pithy.
It So Does NOT Taste Store Bought Chicken Pot Pie
Not being a fan of Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches, I use turkey carcasses to make turkey stock and leftover turkey meat for a turkey pot pie.
Boiled chicken + Quick Stock
1 lb chicken, cut up
2 medim carrots, peeled and cut in half
2 celery stalks
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
salt to taste
Cover chicken with cold water. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a gentle boil. Skim any impurities that rise. Allow chicken to simmer until cooked, about 30-45 minutes. Season the stock to taste. Shred meat from the chicken bones and set aside.
Creamed Chicken & Vegetables
1 cup small diced carrot
1 cup small diced celery
1 cup small diced Yukon Gold potatoes
1 cup peas (fresh if possible)
you can always substitute other vegetables; just cut small dice.
4 T butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cup 1% milk
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan on medium high heat. Add the flour and stir to make a roux. Stir the roux about 5-7 minutes for a nice golden color. Add the stock. Reduce heat to medium and add the milk, stirring constantly. The roux will thicken; once it does, add the shredded chicken meat, then stir in the carrots, celery, potatoes and peas. Cook a further 5 minutes.
Baking and Assembly
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. I like pot pie to have a pastry crust on the bottom and top. I'm lazy so I'll stoop to using Pillsbury ready made pie crusts. Line pie pans or casserole dish with pastry. Blind-bake about 10 minutes so the crust is partially cooked (and won't get soggy when you add the creamed chicken and vegetables). Remove pan(s) from oven and allow the crust cool slightly, about 5 minutes, then pour in the creamed chicken. Cover with the second pastry dough and cut a few slashes in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake 35 - 40 minutes, until vegetables are cooked.