It’s late January and a massive winter storm called Jonas is battering the northeast leaving behind record snowfall. Of course, here in Florida there is no snow but, temperatures were in the 30’s last night and that feels pretty cold to residents of the Sunshine State.
This chilly weekend is perfect for hot, stick to your ribs comfort food. Hanging out in a warm kitchen has its benefits on cold Florida days so I set out to make chicken pot pie as my weekend project. Not just any chicken pot pie, but a scratch built version made of a whole fresh chicken, homemade stock and a double pie crust.
I planned this pie to be the kind you wish you could remember your mother serving before realizing that the only pot pie in your childhood home came straight out of the freezer labeled Swanson. No. This will be a real pot pie made over a two day period in the kitchen. A bona fide “labor of love” if you wish.
A scratch made chicken pot pie requires a major investment of time. None of the actual steps are the least bit complicated. But, the process can be overwhelming if preparation is not organized. I worked in four steps leading up to the assembly and baking of the pie. Each step was an easy and discrete preparation allowing for a stop and go kind of kitchen workflow that I like.
Step 1: Pie Crust
The first step is easy to describe. I used a recipe from Sally, a very accomplished blogger who has serious baking cred. Feel free to make the pie crust using any recipe you like, but before you do check out Sally’s homemade pie crust recipe on her blog Sally’s Baking Addiction. Sally’s recipe and her photography describe making this dough in a detailed, easy to follow manner. Perfect for someone like me who rarely bakes.
The second step is to cooking the chicken and making broth. Homemade broth is so much better the store bought that I rarely reach for packaged broth in the market anymore. Sure, it takes effort to make broth but most of the time is not active cooking. It just involves checking the stockpot simmering on the stovetop and savoring the aromas that are wafting through the house.
A whole chicken is cooked and the broth is made in the same pot at the same time. Simmer chicken in the stockpot for 45 minutes along with any aromatic vegetables like carrot, onion and celery. After the chicken has cooked, set it aside until it is cool enough to handle.
If you are making the pot pie over two days as I did, this is a good place to stop. Cover the chicken in foil and refrigerate. Place a tight fitting lid on the stockpot. With the dough already made, the process can be easily restarted the next day.
Step 3: Filling
To make the filling, begin by breaking the chicken down into four quarters. Set the two chicken breasts aside for the pot pie. Wrap and refrigerate the two leg quarters for another use.
The backbone and wings get added to simmer in the stockpot. These chicken parts will enrich the broth, which can steep another hour, or so, before the gravy is made in Step 4. Strain and reserve any unused broth. There should be about 6 cups after making the potpie.
Cut both chicken breasts into 1/2’ cube and set aside in a large bowl. Prepare your selection of vegetables for the filling by sautéing these in a mixture of butter and oil. Common vegetable additions include carrots, onions, leeks, English peas, mushrooms and potatoes. All are good, but don’t overdue it. Pick three, maybe four vegetable additions for the filling. The filling for this pie included organic carrots, leeks, mushrooms and frozen English peas.
A classic white sauce – Béchamel– is used for the gravy. It is made by adding with half and half to a white roux and reinforcing the flavor profile with chicken broth from Step 2. Many recipes call for adding flour and milk to a saute pan heating the filling ingredients. I prefer making the gravy separately in a saucepan. The outcome is more reliable and the flavors can be better controlled.
Start by making a roux made of equal parts butter and flour. Gradually whisk in one cup of half milk and half cream followed by one cup of the fresh broth. Season the sauce with salt, pepper and nutmeg. A couple of sprigs of thyme can be added along with a bay leaf and if desired a few shakes of Crystal Hot Sauce. Set the Béchamel aside until needed.
Roll out one-half of the dough to fit in the bottom and up the sides of a nine-inch pie dish. Press it in carefully and using a fork to prick the dough in several places. Place the pie dish back in the refrigerator to cool while the filling is finished.
Add about two large handfuls of frozen English peas directly to the chicken and then pour reheated Béchamel sauce over the chicken mixture. Toss once again to combine filling then, after removing the pie pan with the bottom pie crust from the refrigerator, spoon the filling into the pie.
Roll out the remaining dough so it can be draped over the pie pan. Pinch the edges of the double crust to seal it together and cut a slit with a knife to vent the pie. Brush the crust with a beaten whole egg and cover the edges of the crust with aluminum foil, or a pie shield before baking in a preheated 425-degree oven for 45 minutes.
This pie serves four with some second helpings. In fact everyone who sampled it went back for more which is great testament. It turned out to be a great rendition of the comfort food classic. Serve the pie with a simple salad dressed in vinaigrette and a crisp, dry white wine.
Step 1: Crust (Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)
- 2-1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1-1/4 tablespoons of fine sea salt
- 6 tablespoons of cold, unsalted butter, cubed
- 3/4 cup of cold vegetable shortening like Crisco
- 1/2 of ice water
- 1 beaten whole egg to brush over the crust before baking
Step 2: Chicken and Broth
- 1-3 pound chicken, rinsed, patted dry, giblets removed
- 2 small to medium carrots cut in 3-inch lengths
- 2 celery stalks cut in 3-inch lengths
- 1 yellow onion, sliced cut into quarters, peeled
- 2 large cloves of garlic, mashed
- Add any other aromatic vegetables you have lying around. This broth includes a leek top (the dark green part) cut in 3-inch lengths.
- 1 or 2 bay leaves
- 1 star anise
- 1 dozen black peppercorns
Step 3: Filling
- 2 chicken breasts from Step 2, above, cut into bite sizes pieces
- 2 tablespoons of everyday extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter plus extra if needed
- 2 small to medium carrots cut into rounds between 1/8” and 1/4” thick
- 2 medium sized leeks cut into rounds between 1/8” and 1/4” thick
- 1 large clove of garlic, minced
- 1 cup of white button mushrooms cut into 1/2” pieces
- Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
Step 4: Gravy
- 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, cubed
- 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
- 1 cup of half and half, warmed
- 1 cup of fresh chicken broth from Step 2 above
- Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- 1 bay leaf and 2 sprigs of fresh thyme (remove before using the sauce)
- (Optional) 3 or 4 shakes of Crystal Hot Sauce
Step 1: Crust
- Add the dry ingredients (flour and salt) to a large bowl and stir to combine.
- Cut in the fats (butter and shortening) with the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a course meal with a few larger, pea sized pieces. A pastry cutter will make quick work of this step, but two forks can be pressed into service.
- Add ice water one tablespoon at a time combining into the flour mixture with a spatula or spoon. Stop adding the ice water when the dough begins to “clump” up. (See Sally’s site for a great photo of what the dough should look like at this point).
- Need the dough by hand on a floured surface until it comes together.
- Divide the dough into two equal portions. Pat each into a 1-inch thick round about 4 inches in diameter. Wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using.
Step 2: Chicken and Broth
- Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Remove any giblets or the neck that may be packed inside the cavity.
- Place the chicken in a large stockpot and cover in water. To the pot add the aromatics – carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Also add bay leaf, star anise and peppercorns. Don’t salt the broth since any saved stock will be used in multiple recipes. Salt it to taste later when you are using the broth in a recipe.
- Bring the stockpot to a boil then lower heat until the pot simmers just barely boiling on the stovetop. Cook the chicken for 45 minutes. Additional time may be needed for a larger bird.
- When the chicken has cooked, remove it and set aside to cool. The boiling stock can be taken off the heat at this point.
- When the chicken has cooled so that it can be handled, remove the leg quarters and reserve for another use. Remove the wings and add these to the stockpot. Remove the breasts from the chicken back and set aside. Add the back to the stockpot.
- Bring the stockpot back to a simmer and continue cooking the broth until it is ready to use in the recipe (Step 4).
- Cut the meat from both breasts into 1/2 cube. Place in a large bowl and season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. Set aside until needed.
Step 3: Filling
- Heat butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add sliced carrots and leeks to the fats and cook for 4 minutes.
- Add garlic and mushrooms to the pan. It the mushrooms need more butter to cook, add one, or two tablespoons to the pan. Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Continue to cook until the carrots are tender and the mushrooms have caramelized. Remove from heat
- Add the vegetable mixture to the reserved chicken cubes and toss to combine. Set aside.
Step 4: Gravy (Béchamel sauce)
- Add butter to a medium saucepan over medium low heat. When the butter is melted (but not browned) add flour and whisk to combine. Cook over gentle heat until the mixture forms a white roux. Be careful not to brown the flour and butter mixture.
- Add 1 cup of warm half and half 1, or 2 tablespoons at a time whisking while adding the dairy a little at a time. When the half and half has been added, begin slowly adding 1-cup chicken while whisking continuously. Cook over gentle heat until the mixture thickens enough to coat a spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste along with adding nutmeg, bay leaf and two sprigs of thyme. Set aside next to a burner on a low setting.
Finishing the Pie
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Remove one of the reserved pie crust rounds from the refrigerator and roll it out until it is large enough to drape over the bottom and sides of a 9” pie pan. Carefully press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides.
- Trim any dough overhanging the edge of the pan and using a fork, prick the bottom surface of the dough multiple times so that trapped air can release. Place the pan in the refrigerator to rest while the filling is completed.
- Place two large handfuls of frozen peas directly into the bowl with the reserved chicken and vegetable mix. Warm the Béchamel and remove both the bay leaf and sprigs of thyme. Pour the Béchamel over the chicken mixture and toss to combine.
- Remove the pie pan with the bottom crust from the refrigerator and spoon in the filling mixture
- Remove the second dough round and roll out until it is large enough to drape over the pie. Carefully drape over the pie and pinch the edges to seal. With a knife cut a slit in the dough topping to allow steam to escape.
- Whisk the whole egg until the yolk and whites combine. Brush this over the pie crust including the edges. Using either a pie shield or aluminum foil, cover the edges so these do not burn during baking.
- Place the pie in the preheated oven and bake for 40 minutes checking often. About midway through the cooking remove the pie shield or foil.
- When the crust is deeply browned, remove and let it set for about 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy.