When I was a little girl, I used to take ice-skating lessons for several hours after school, three times a week. When I would get home, I was usually famished and ready for something warm and hearty for dinner. One of my favorite things to have was chicken pot-pie, which I always thought was a special treat. We always bought the frozen, individual sized kind, which I remember took a whopping 50 minutes to bake in the oven, pure agony for a hungry eight-year-old. But when that 50 minutes was over and the pot pie came out of the oven in all of its flaky and bubbling glory, I knew that it was well worth it. To me, pot pie was the ultimate comfort food, and it still is.
This is my homemade version of my childhood favorite, right down to the individual serving size in the aluminum tin. The filling has been made a little more sophisticated, with the addition of saffron, and the crust has been scattered with fresh herbs, but the pot pies still taste and look like the ones I remember (maybe even a little better??). Whip up a double-batch and freeze them for future meals--this recipe only takes a not-quite-so-agonizing 40 minutes to bake!! A few comments and tips to help you out:
- The pot pies can be assembled, but not baked, and then frozen for up to 3 weeks, wrapped tightly with plastic wrap. They are great to have on hand for an easy dinner. Just take them out of the freezer about 45 minutes prior to baking, and then bake as directed in the recipe. The unbaked pot pies can also be refrigerated for two days, wrapped tightly with plastic wrap.
- For an extra-special presentation, I like to cut small shapes out of the remaining scraps of crust dough and then place them on the center of the pot pie crust (see picture of finished pot pie.) Simply brush the shape with a little bit of water on one side and then it will adhere to the crust. If you don't have any mini cookie cutters, create a shape freehand.
- The pot pie filling allows for quite a bit of improvisation with the ingredients. Instead of the onions or fennel, try using leeks. Use sweet potatoes or butternut squash as a substitute for the potatoes. Cut green beans into 1-inch sections, quarter some crimini or shiitake mushrooms, or add some frozen sweet corn. Substitute shredded turkey for chicken, and if you don't have any brandy, you can use some sherry or Marsala wine.
- If you don't want to roast and shred your own chicken breasts, then purchase one of the pre-cooked rotisserie chickens from the supermarket and shred the meat.
- Saffron is the world's most expensive herb, and while it really adds a nice flavor to the sauce, you do not need to buy some in order to make this dish work. If you do use it, only use the generous pinch per the recipe--a little goes a long ways. In order to achieve the golden color that saffron creates, stir a tablespoon of turmeric into the sauce instead.
- Instead of making individual pot pies, you can also make one large casserole-style pot pie with this recipe. Pour the filling into a casserole dish. Roll the crust into a rectangle large enough to fit over the filling and then invert it onto the filling (carefully!). Trim the overhang and seal the edges with the dish. Place decorative cut-outs on top and then bake at 400F degrees for about 50 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.
Chicken-Vegetable Pot Pies
Makes 7-8 individual pot pies
For Herb Crust
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup chilled butter, cut into ½ inch pieces
½ cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into ½ inch pieces
6 tablespoons (about) ice-water
Blend first 5 ingredients in a food processor until the herbs are very finely chopped. Add the butter and shortening. Blend until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and, using a fork, mix enough of the ice water into the four mixture to form moist clumps. Gather the dough into a ball and flatten it into a disk. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
For Chicken-Vegetable Filling
½ cup butter
2 cups yellow onions, chopped
1 fennel bulb, sliced crosswise
2 ½ cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon brandy
Generous pinch saffron threads
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 ½ cups diced potatoes
1 ½ cups asparagus tips
1 ½ cups diced peeled carrots
4 cups shredded roasted chicken
¾ cup frozen peas
½ cup minced flat-leaf parsley
8 aluminum pot-pie tins (4-5 inches in diameter)
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and the fennel and saute until translucent, 10 minutes. Add the flour, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 3 minutes more. Slowly add the chicken stock, brandy, saffron, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the heavy cream and stir to incorporate. Season to taste and set aside.
Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 8 minutes. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and then add the asparagus and carrots to the pot and cook them in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well and then add the potatoes, asparagus, and carrots to the saffron sauce. Mix in the shredded chicken, peas, and parsley, and stir over medium-low heat until heated through.
Preheat the oven to 375F degrees.
To assemble the pies: Remove the herb crust dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured work surface to just less then a ¼ inch thickness. Using a round cutter or an inverted bowl, cut out circles with diameters a little bit larger then those of the pot pie tins, re-rolling the dough to make more circles if necessary. Divide the pot-pie filling among the tins, mounding it slightly. Place the circles on top of the filling, and then, using a fork, "crimp" the edges of the crusts to adhere them to the edges of the tins.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and place the pot pie on the baking sheet. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Serve hot!