This is the the second of a series of postings, “10 Dishes to Make This Winter” which will feature hearty warm recipes for winter weather.
Mention Chicken Pot Pie to most people and inevitably the name “Swanson” is mentioned. King of the frozen one-pot meals, the Swanson Chicken Pot Pie is legendary; but it is not what we are making here.
The difference between the Chicken Pot Pie we are about to make below and the one you purchase is your freezer section is the difference between “sauce” and “gravy”, or “pie crust” and “pastry”. This version features colorful crisp vegetables, tender poached chicken, a rich puff pastry crust, and–in my mind–the most important component of all, a silky smooth sauce that pulls it all together.
There is a little bit of work to this one, but it is not hard to make. Paired with a fresh green salad this will be a great meal for a cozy weekend dinner party with a warm fire. It is also easy to make in quantity to freeze or reheat for weeknight meals.
- 2 Sheets Puff Pastry
- 1 1/2 oz veg oil
- 3 lb boneless chicken breast
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 lb yellow squash
- 3 red onions
- 6 carrots
- 4 celery stalks
- 6 oz butter
- 1 1/3 cup flour
- 4 cups milk
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- 2 oz sherry
- 1 1/2 cups frozen peas
- 1 cup parsley, chopped
- one egg (opt)
Preheat oven to 400° and put puff pastry out on counter to thaw.
Put chicken breasts in a pot and pour chicken stock over them. They should be just covered. Simmer (poach actually) until they are just done (there will be more cooking) which should take approximately 8-10 minutes of covered simmering.
Pull breasts out to allow them to cool, and reserve liquid. You have just done a simple, yet very powerful thing here. Not only have you cooked the chicken, but in the process, you have made the chicken stock more “chickeny”. Taste it…would this not be a great base for any soup, stew, or pot pie?
Chop all of the vegetables, the squash, carrots, celery, and onions to bite-sized pieces taking care to make sure they are all the same size as each other. Heat the oil in the pot and sauté the veggies until they are all soft, but not brown. All you are looking to do here is cook out the harshness of the onions and soften the carrots and celery a bit. We want them to retain their gorgeous color, and some of their crispness. Season as you go with salt and pepper, and do not be shy…there’s a lot of vegetables in there!
While those are sauteing, cut up the chicken. There are two choice here, either shred it with a pair of forks, or dice it to the same size as the veggies. I am a fan of dicing.
Note:I have called for boneless breast in this recipe because it is so universally preferred in this country. There is no reason you could not include a combination of light and dark meat according to your own preferences.
Set the softened veggies and diced/shredded chicken aside (you can combine them if you want to use the same bowl…they will appear together from here on.)
Pour the milk into either a sauce pan or microwaveable bowl. Heat the milk until it is warm to hot. The purpose of this is so that when you add it to the pot it does not completely stop the cooking. It is not a critical step but will save you time.
In a large pot melt the butter and add the flour. You are making a blonde roux here, and this means you do not want excessive browning of the butter/flour mixture. Still, stir it around a bit to cook the flour some and get it well mixed with the butter.
Now whisk in the newly fortified chicken stock. Work fast and do not panic if the butter/flour mixture seizes into a giant ball. Keep whisking and it will dissipate and serve to thicken the stock.
Note: What you have in front of you now is one of the classic French “Mother Sauces”, called velouté. This translates to “velvety” and you should be seeing why they say that. Had you led with the milk before the stock you would have made a béchamel sauce.
Once you have whisked in the chicken stock and smoothed out the butter flour mixture, add the warm milk and any juices that have accumulated in the bowl from the chicken and veggies. Add the thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer until thickened. This is an important step because what you see before you is the final product and if it is too thin you will wish you had given it more time. Be patient and allow it to thicken to approximately the consistency of pancake batter.
When it reaches the desired thickness, kill the heat and add the sherry. The aroma that now emanates from the pot should have you very excited!
Mix in the chicken, sautéed vegetables, parsley and frozen peas and adjust the seasoning (salt and pepper) to your tastes.
Ladle the mixture into individual ramekins and top each with a round of puff pastry. I use an upside down coffee mug to cut the rounds from the puff pastry sheets. This is not a difficult step as they do not have to completely cover the dish and require no handling. It is fun to carve a design or shape into the puff pastry because it will cook into it and show in the finished product.
I do recommend at this point beating an egg and brushing the eggwash over the puff pastry. It’s not a required step but will give the pastry a nice gloss when it comes out.
Place the ramekins on a sheet pan and bake until brown and bubbly. They need bake only long enough to cook the pastry as all of the ingredients within are more or less cooked. 20-25 minutes, watching the top of the crust as your guide. When they are golden-brown-and-delicious or gbd it’s time to pull them.
They will hold the heat forever, so pull them a bit before your guests sit down to dinner!