The most comforting of comfort food
Which recipe is worth making two times in one week? I say chicken pot pie.
Have you ever had a craving, an itch that just would not go away? A longing for something that kept you up at night, bugged you all day long and then finally forced you to give in for fear of being haunted? As you may have guessed, this recently happened to me with chicken pot pie.
A few weeks ago, I received a care package from my older sister, who lives in Washington. She knows me all too well. The box was packed full of my favorite things: coloring books, sharp new colored pencils, five cooking magazines and two packages of Kit Kats. Everyone has their weaknesses.
My sister’s selection of cooking magazines was well hand-picked, but one stood out amongst the stack — a special edition of Southern Cast Iron Cooking. I am a sucker for anything in a cast iron pan. There is something exceptionally comforting, homey and satisfying about a meal prepared in a cast iron pan. I don’t care what you serve me in cast iron, my mind is already made up before I take the first bite. It’s going to be good.
As I was perusing the Southern Cast Iron magazine, recipe after recipe teased my palate. However, one photo jumped out at me and I could not shake it. I tried to turn the page and move on but I couldn’t. Staring back at me was a cast iron skillet gloriously cloaked with a crisp, golden ,flaky crust with a creamy chicken and vegetable filling peeking through. Ugh! This should be illegal. As far as I am concerned, looking at chicken pot pie is worse than looking at pictures of puppies. I closed the magazine, telling myself not now. Limping around on one leg, I am in no shape to be tackling a homemade chicken pot pie.
Preparing a pastry dough, chilling it, waiting for homemade broth to simmer, shredding hot chicken, then prepping the filling, is a formula that requires some stamina. Yes, there are short cuts, but that is not my style. In the kitchen, I am a self-destructive overachiever.
For days, that chicken pot pie image stuck in my mind. Shame on that photographer. I put the magazine away. Pulled it out again. Put it away. Pulled it out again. Showed the family. Teased friends who stopped by. Asked mom if she felt like making a chicken pot pie. (I thought I could tap into her subconscious but I failed). I think I was just trying to confirm what I already knew was going to happen. I am weak.
The more I thought about chicken pot pie, I started to realize it really is an amazing creation. Comfort food at its finest, yes. But if you can get past the crisp, flaky topping and hot, creamy filling, a homemade chicken pot pie recipe really tests a home chef’s patience, improves culinary skills and teaches necessary cooking techniques. All in one.
Feel free to take shortcuts sometimes. I get it. Life is busy. But if there is one recipe that you can make time for in order to hone your cooking skills, make it this one. Take it in steps. Perfect each one. I can guarantee you will become a better home chef for doing so.
Homemade chicken pot pie teaches you how to make a pastry dough similar to making biscuits or scones. Working quickly with delicate hands, in order to keep the butter cold — a necessity in yielding layers of crisp, flaky crust. Adding water as needed, but not too much. The recipe will test your resourcefulness in simmering a whole chicken, infusing the water to make a delicious herb- and vegetable-flavored both, while producing enough broth for another use. A bonus.
Your knife skills will sharpen while chopping up mire poix (onions, carrots, celery) for the savory vegetable packed filing. Sautéing will become second nature as the butter foams in the skillet awaiting its next components. The complexity of creating a roux (fat and flour used as a thickener) will be revealed when the raw flour meets the liquid as it is gradually introduced in to the pan, whisked continuously until incorporated, thick and creamy. The freedom of your personal balance of herbs and spice will be tested as you make sure the filling is just right before blanketing it with the buttery cold pastry dough. The polish of the egg wash will shine upon exiting the oven as your eye catches the glossy, mouth-watering, golden color of the crust. Dare you to not break off a piece of that crust.
You may not think you have the time to dedicate yourself to making a chicken pot pie, but I assure you if you prepare it in phases, once it all comes together you will not be disappointed.
■ Don’t be deterred if this recipe appears complicated. It’s not. The dough comes together surprisingly quick. Make it ahead, a few days even. The broth and the chicken can be made ahead also. If the dough, broth and chicken are ready, the filling comes together in a snap. Just make sure the filling is heated through before encasing with the dough and placing it in the oven.
■ Chicken pot pie is a great recipe to experiment with different vegetables. I don’t know any vegetable that doesn’t like to simmer in a creamy sauce.
■ You don’t have to use a cast iron pan. Any oven proof pan of equal volume is fine.