This lousy Smarch weather has got us down. Despite being basically April, there’s like 8 inches of fresh fucking powder on the ground in Chicago. We’re cold, we’re over it, and we need to snuggle up to something hearty.
Chicken Pot Pie is the coziest of all foods. Somewhere between pastry and stew, it’s the culinary equivalent of napping in a sunbeam. Except it’s, like, a sunbeam made by a chorus of heavenly grandmothers. And it’s easier than it sounds. A little poached chicken here, a pie crust there, and you’re out of the kitchen with less than 30 minutes of hands-on time.
We’ve been on Team Food Processor when it comes to making Pie Crust for-basically-ever but, we’re finally ready to admit that we were wrong. Sure, food processing butter into flour is easier on your hands. It’s (maybe) a teeny bit faster, and it results in crusts that are consistent from batch-to-batch– but those consistent crusts lack so much character. And that character is what makes a pie crust feel cozy, and taste delicious. When you use your fingers to work cold butter lumps, you end up with striations of golden fat in your dough. Those streaks help the crust get puffy and flakey, developing crags where sauce can hide. It’s the difference between a pie that feels impersonal and store bought, and one that feels like your witchy great aunt made it with kitchen magic. It’s so worth getting your hands dirty.
When you cut butter into flour by hand, there are two things you need to remember. First: clean under your dang fingernails. Shudder. Second: you do have to pay attention to keeping things cold. We’re still not in the psychotic “keep everything, including your flour, your bowl, and first born in the freezer for three days” camp, but we do think it’s important to work the dough in a room that’s under 80 degrees. It’s even more critical to use butter that is cold to the point of being still hard. As you work the butter into the four, it will melt. As it melts, it releases water. And that water can combine with the flour to form gluten– which makes pie crusts brittle, hard to roll out, and slightly less than delightful. The colder your butter is when it starts out, the longer you have until that unavoidable melting process begins.To make sure our butter stays extra cold for as long as possible, we dice it up and stick it in the freezer while we wipe down counters and measure out our flour.
- 2 ½ sticks cold Unsalted Butter, cut into small pieces
- 3 cups All Purpose Flour (plus more for rolling it out)
- 1 tsp Salt
- ½ cup Chicken Stock - cold or at room temperature
- 1 egg, for an egg wash, later (optional)
- The pastry can be made up to three days in advance, if stored in your fridge.
- Dice your butter into small chunks and stick it in the freezer for 2 or 3 minutes. Measure your dry ingredients and combine them in a medium bowl. Separately, measure out your chicken stock.
- Retrieve the butter and dump into your dry stuff. Toss it around to give every piece a coat, and then start pinching between your thumb and fingers. I pinch between the base of my index finger, but you’ll quickly find what’s right for your hands. Every once in a while, when it feels like the top of the bowl is all buttered, and there’s lots of flour on the bottom, I give the whole thing a toss between my fingers. Like I’m Scrooge McFuckingDuck, playing in a pile of money. There are zero points for style, so really get in there and do whatever gets the job done.
- Keep pinching, tossing, sifting, and whatevering until all of the big butter lumps– and most of the small ones– are incorporated into the flour. You’ll know you’re done when you can grab a big fistfull of proto-dough and make a flour-snowball that holds its shape pretty well.
- Pour in the chicken stock, mix to combine, and let it sit in the fridge until you’re ready to roll it out.
- 3 lbs Bone-In Chicken– your favorite cuts are fine, but the bones are key to making this really savory and wonderful.
- 3 ½ cups Low Sodium Chicken Stock
- 1 fist-sized Onion
- 4 Carrots
- 2 tbsp Butter
- 6 tbsp Flour– we use Wondra. Because Julia Child said so. But good old fashioned AP (or the lingering tbsp from the box of cake flour you will literally never finish) work just fine.
- 1 Bay leaf
- 2 cups Frozen Peas
- 2 tbsp Heavy Cream or Sour Cream (optional)
- Salt and Black Pepper, to Taste
- 3 tbsp Parsley, roughly chopped.
- After you call wrap on your pie dough, place your chicken pieces into a medium saucepan, and cover with stock. If the stock doesn’t quite cover, add a little water. Not a big deal.
- Simmer the chicken parts over low heat for about 18 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the center of the thickest piece reads 165°. Don’t boil them. Simmer. Low and slow. Barely any bubbles, ok? Skim anything unappetizing (like gross meat foam) that comes to the surface, and don’t worry so dang much.
- While the chicken simmers, dice your onion and carrots– and, while you’ve got your knife out, give the Parsley a whizz, too, and set it aside. We like to go teeny tiny with the onions and bigger with the carrots, to make sure the veg cooks evenly.
- Saute the onions with butter in a very large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat until they’re translucent, about 5 minutes. When the 5 minutes are up, add the carrots. Saute another 3 minutes, and then add the flour.
- This will make a globby, weird mess. And we promise that it’s okay. This is the roux. The flour is keeping the vegetables from overcooking, and everything will be all nice-nice once the stock is added. Keep cooking the roux over low heat, stirring constantly, until the flour starts to brown lightly and smells nutty. It should take about 10 minutes.
- Conveniently, your chicken should be done about now. Set it aside until its cool enough to handle, skim anything funky off the top of the now extra rich stock, and pick the meat off of the bone. Chop the chicken into bite size chunks, add to the roux, pour in the skimmed stock, add your bay leaf and turn the heat up to medium.
- Let the stew bubble until it thickens. This usually takes about 4 minutes. Fish out the bay leaf. If you left it in any longer and it will make your dish taste like a pine forest’s armpit. Just a few seconds of bay gives you an interesting, woodsy bitterness that helps make chicken taste chicken-ier.
- Cut the heat and add the still-frozen peas to cool things down. Being frozen is key for two reasons:
- A, you can taste without burning your face off.
- B, you can add some cream without making it curdle.
- So, once the peas are mixed in, add your cream (heavy or sour-type, whatever’s handy), and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss in the Parsley, too, and give it a good stir.
- Preheat your oven to 425°.
- Roll out your pie crust on a clean, well floured counter. Cut a circle of dough to fit the top of the baking dish(es), oven-proof skillet or, um, pie plate that will be the eventual home for your dinner, and set it aside. You can do a full double crust, and roll out another piece to fit the bottom of your vessel but we think it’s a bit too much effort for little reward. Double-crusted pot pies are hard to serve, and we think it’s better to just place the scraps in the bottom of the dish. They will turn into tender, delicious dumplings. And everyone wants that.
- Pour the stew over the crust scraps, and place the neatly rolled crust on top. Cut a few slits to vent (and look adorable). If you’re into a shiny crust (we are), beat an egg and brush it on top in a thin, even coat. Place in the oven and bake until the crust is golden brown, about 12 minutes.
- Serve it hot, eat it in your jammies, feel better about your life.