Monday, January 07, 2013

Double Duty Recipe: Chicken Pot Pie

In trying to convey how much you can do with planning your meals out ahead of time, absolutely nothing beats our Chicken Pot Pie recipe. It's a single dish with relatively few ingredients (most of which are staples we typically have around anyway). There's a short prep time in the kitchen, followed by just an hour in the oven. It's not only delicious, but nutritious and filling. And best of all, it will easily feed (or rather, stuff) any guests we have over (as well as the kids) and leave a lot of leftovers (and reheats well). Throw in the fact that it doesn't make much mess and you've got the family meal to beat all others.

Like so much of what I do, we start with someone else's work: Ina Garten's recipe. Now, I already know what you're thinking: Ooh, Ina Garten, doesn't she use lots of butter and cream in her cooking? Isn't that a bit rich? I'm not going to get into a big discussion right now, but my short policy on the matter is simply: I'm not afraid of fat. More to the point, if you think it's too rich for you, then have a half portion. 

In any event, we're going to make some changes to her recipe (though not the fat content). First of all, ignore the first two sections of directions: we're not going to take an hour to prepare and bake 3 whole chicken breasts. Instead, pick up a plain rotisserie chicken from the store and tear off all the meat from it that you can. Remove the skin, and put the meat and drippings from the container in a bowl and set aside. I'm sure some people would rather have the pretty little white meat cubes floating around in their pie, but to me having torn-apart shreds of white and dark meat really take the comfort level of this food to 11 (plus, the drippings and dark meat itself will add gelatin, which improves the consistency and mouthfeel of the final dish) Doing this to a bird still warm from the grocery store is infinitely easier than one purchased earlier and refrigerated.

The second big change is optional, highly recommended and sounds like a ton of work to most of us but really isn't: be sure to use your own chicken stock. I know, I know: I'm writing a blog about trying to better plan and organize my life and suddenly I'm going all Martha Stewart on you. The truth is that I've got a fast and easy way to make stock, which turns it into a kind of force multiplier for other cooking efforts: however much time I have to make something to eat will produce a far better final product if it involves the homemade stock. I'll go into more details later, but the first step is that you're going to want one of these:

If you want to cook good food more often, you want to get comfortable with a pressure cooker. There are countless cooks and sites out there showing you how you can quickly make beans and risotto and even cheesecake in one of these, but the best use of it I've found is in stock. I can use it to turn around $8 of drumsticks, vegetables and herbs into four quarts of incredibly rich, nutritious stock that greatly improves the quality of anything I'm cooking far beyond what you can get in the store. Have some of this stuff frozen on hand and you can forget about extra (Better Than) bouillon in your Chicken Pot Pie.

Third, toss out the section about making the crust (while you're at it, toss out the pearl onions--no one likes those). Again, we're looking for fast and simple family cooking, and the idea of making pie crust from scratch on a Wednesday afternoon makes me queasy. Go for a store bought pie crust--we've found the refrigerated ones work best, though the frozen Trader Joe's that come in a roll also work really well.

Lastly, when you're cooking all this together, be sure to use a nice-looking dutch oven, since that's what you're going to bring to the table. That's right--rather than doling this out into four oven-proof bowls, simply roll the crust out onto the top of the dutch oven you've been cooking the rest of the food in and put the whole thing right into the oven. Not only is this easier than the original, but once you eat it, you'll realize how insane it is to think of a quarter of this whole recipe a single serving. One last note: what you pull out of the oven is going to be a thick, rich, deliciously hot mass of food: be sure to let it cool down a bit before diving in.

Between the flavor, fat and flour in the recipe, you're not going to make a big dent in this unless there are a lot of you. When we have my wife's family over, the five adults and one two-year-old are just barely able to push ourselves (always regretfully, in the end) to finish off one of these recipes. For a normal family, it means that you're going to have made for yourself some seriously delicious leftovers for lunch (and maybe even dinner) the following day.

One delicious, nutritious meal that's easy to make and feeds the family all by itself for dinner and lunch the next day? That's going to be the anchor of our weekly Food Plan.

Ina Garten's Tom's Chicken Pot Pie Recipe


1 plain grocery store rotisserie chicken
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 chicken bouillon cubes (but not if you use homemade stock)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups medium-diced carrots, blanched for 2 minutes
1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas (2 cups)
1 package store-bought pie crust, either refrigerated or frozen


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. If using frozen pie crust, remove from freezer. Remove all meat from rotisserie chicken, careful to avoid cartilage, bone and skin. Pour any drippings from chicken container in the bowl with the chicken meat and set aside. Blanch the carrots.

In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock and dissolve the bouillon cubes in the stock (if using). In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the onions over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

Add the hot chicken stock to the sauce. Add the stock in small batches, making sure to keep stirring so that the roux you've just made integrates evenly with the stock. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and heavy cream. Add the chicken, carrots, and (still frozen) peas. Mix well. Unroll the crust onto the liquid in the dutch oven and press against the sides.

Bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.

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