Other than my Mac and Cheese and Boozy Fruit Tarts, this recipe has to be the most requested one. As it was DJ Snuggle Monster’s birthday today, he got to request whatever he wanted, and well, it’s probably no surprise that this was his birthday dinner. A “labor of love” is an appropriate saying I would say. Who doesn’t love chicken pot pie though?! Creamy, cheesy, crunchy, filling. The perfect comfort food. This chicken pot pie is “deconstructed” because I don’t actually put a crust on the “pie.” The crust is puff pastry that is baked separately. I do this because it’s easier to clean (baking pot pies causes pain I’m pretty sure for whoever has to clean the ramekins they bake in…those crust remnants ain’t easy to un-glue from the sides), easier to control timing, tastes better (you don’t get a soggy side to the crust then), and from my experience, people LOVE the crust and want extras (not sure if its because they are so individualized this way or because they taste great, but either way, this makes it easier to accommodate the extras requests).
Chicken pot pie is not difficult. It’s home cooking/comfort food – it’s meant to be simple. BUT it does take some time to make and several stages. And if you are going to make chicken pot pie, I would hate you to shortcut any of it (i.e., store-bought stock, pre-cooked chicken, etc.). Plus, it’s much more impressive when people find out how much effort/time you put into it and that you DID IT ALL! Almost every stage is something that can be made ahead though, so if you want to parcel out the steps, you can.
I will say that this is also a GREAT recipe to use for Turkey Day leftovers. If you are like my family, we tend towards turkey sandwiches and those get old really quickly. But you usually have stock (for the gravy), tons of turkey meat, and sometimes vegetables. So really all you need to buy is the crust stuff (and hey, get crazy if you want to use what you already have as far as bread is concerned). Your family will hail you as a god if you can switch up the leftover game with something that amazing.
My recipe kicks out the pearl onions and subs in potatoes to make it more hearty. I don’t understand pearl onions – they’re cute and all, but they don’t seem to have a real purpose to me and I’m gun-shy when it comes to onions generally (I know it’s weird for a foodie such as myself to have a sort of aversion to such a mundane staple – long story.). And potatoes make your batch go further because they bulk up the base and fill your guests up quicker. If you want to do it the traditional way, be my guest.
Shall we get onto it then?
TIMING: 3 hours
- 4 chicken breasts with skin and bones included
- Olive oil
- 3 onions, cut into 6 large pieces
- 3 heads of garlic, halved horizontally (not down the root side, but the other side)
- 2 turnips, cut into chunks the size of the onions (or one rutabaga, since my grocery store was mysteriously out of turnips)
- 3 lemons, cut into 6 large pieces
- 4 carrots, peeled (save the peels) and cut into two pieces
- 6 celery stalks with leaves, cleaned, cut into 4-5 pieces
- 2 tablespoons peppercorns
- 15 sprigs fresh thyme
- 8 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 medium to large size Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into large bite size pieces
- 1 cup frozen peas (don’t need to thaw)
- 2 sheets frozen puff pastry (separated and thawed about 45 minutes at room temperature before you bake)
- 1 egg
- 12 ounces shredded Parmesan Cheese
- 3 Tablespoons Heavy Cream
- 3/4 stick unsalted butter
- 5 tablespoons All Purpose Flour
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Start your stock first. In two large stock pots, heat olive oil over high heat until really hot. Salt and pepper your chicken breasts and place two in each pot, skin side down first. Don’t move your chicken around. Wait for about 3-5 minutes or until you get a really good caramel brown color on it. Flip and cook for about two minutes. Add all of your root vegetables (turnips/rutabaga, onions, garlic), your carrots (and peelings) and celery (and leaves), lemons, peppercorns, 12 sprigs of thyme (don’t need to remove from stem) and your rosemary (don’t remove from the stem) into both pots (evenly divide all of your veggies and herbs).
Fill both pots with just enough tap water to cover the chicken and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a gentle boil/simmer. You don’t want it to boil over, but you don’t want it to cook your chicken and reduce either. Cook for about 25-20 minutes depending on how strong of a boil you have going.
Check one piece of chicken for doneness (yes, you can cut into it). You just don’t want to see the chicken start cracking or pulling away from the bone too much. This leads to dry chicken (don’t fret too much if you get your chicken to this point…pot pie hides the dryness in a creamy sauce). Remove your chicken to a plate (trying to leave as much of the other ingredients in the pot as possible). Place in the fridge or freezer to cool down quickly. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin and the bones. Add these to the stock and set the rest of the chicken aside. (If cooking at a later time, you can refrigerate the chicken at this point). Crank the heat up a little bit and cook the stock for another 20 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and pull out as much of the large vegetables with a slotted spoon as you can and place in a strainer over a large bowl. Continue until you only have a few bits left or just liquid. Using your spoon, smoosh all of the cooked vegetables in the strainer to get more liquid out of it. Discard these veggies except for the carrots – set those aside. Then strain the rest of the liquid in the pot through the strainer into the bowl. Do the same for the other pot, pouring the reserved liquid into one pot between the two. Season with salt to taste. (If you set aside to cook later, you can strain the fat off the top of this liquid. If you refrigerate it, the fat solidifies so it’s even easier to remove).
Prep the vegetables and chicken. Bring your stock to a boil. Add in your potatoes and cook until fork-tender (about 15-20 minutes depending on size…try to get all of the cuts similar so they’re all done at the same time). Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl. Turn your stock back down to a simmer/low heat. Take your carrots that cooked with your chicken and the rest of the veggies. Slice them into bite-size coins. You won’t use all the carrots, so throw out the ones that are waaaay too soft. Put in same bowl as your cooked potatoes. Shred the chicken. It will be a lot of chicken, I know. But whatever you don’t use is great for leftovers (hello, homemade chicken soup!). Set aside.
Make your roux (base for your pot pie sauce). If you haven’t already, put your puff pastry out to thaw at this point!!! If you cooked your stock earlier and it’s cool, warm it up in a pot. If you are cooking everything at once, just make sure your stock has been kept simmering while you did everything else. Clean out one of the other pots you cooked your stock vegetables in (hey, don’t make cleaning harder on yourself…it should be fairly clean, just maybe need a wipe with a paper towel to get any solids out). Melt the butter over medium heat. Add your flour until you get a clay/sand like texture and mix fully with a whisk. Cook for about 1-2 minutes (so it doesn’t taste like flour). Add about 1 cup of your warm stock and whisk, whisk, whisk until it is smooth and there are no lumps (you are going to get a workout here, so prepare yourself!). It will be very thick at this point – don’t worry. Keep adding 1 cup of stock and whisking until smooth until you have a sauce. A note on a roux – don’t give up on it! It will be an odd consistency after you add liquid. And IT WILL BE LUMPY. Just keep on whisking it. If you add only in small amounts, you’ll be able to work it out. If you add all of your liquid at once, you’ll be at the stove for at least an hour trying to get the lumps out. Also – warm liquid always helps, so don’t use cold stock. Just keep going and be patient. You know you are at the right point when you dip a wooden spoon in the sauce, hold it horizontally, and swipe your finger through the center horizontally. The liquid should not drip into the path made by your finger.
Turn the heat down to low. Add in your heavy cream and half of the Parmesan cheese (about 6 ounces). Combine and then taste – season with salt, cayenne, and pepper until you’re satisfied. Add the leaves of the remaining thyme stalks, the zest of your remaining lemon, and 1/2 of the lemon’s juice. Taste and add more lemon juice if necessary. Add in your chicken, potatoes, carrots, and frozen peas and cook through/warm up. Add in equal parts of potatoes, carrots, and chicken, making sure that you have enough sauce to keep it moist (I’m a saucy lady, so I like to have about half solids, half sauce). Keep warm while you make your “crust.”
Make your tasty, flaky crust (or crouton?). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Make an egg wash by whisking (or forking?) together the egg and 1 tablespoon of water. Flatten out your puff pastry and roll out just slightly to get the lines out of the dough and make it a bit thinner (you can do this with your fingers or you can use a floured rolling pin). Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Cut the puff pastry into rectangles about 2 inches x 1-2 inches. Place on the cookie sheet, leaving just about 1/2 inch between the pieces (they rise upward usually, not toward each other). Brush each one with the egg wash, salt and pepper, and then sprinkle with some parmesan cheese in an even layer. As much as I am a cheese-a-holic, you don’t want to get too thick of a parmesan layer here, otherwise the puff won’t rise. Place in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until it’s golden brown on top and cooked through. If you pull it out and its a bit soft, put them back in. You’ll probably have to do two rounds in the oven (unless you have an amazing oven or two ovens that I dream of on a nightly basis). Stack up on a plate to share.
Pour your chicken with sauce into a bowl, top with a little more Parmesan (if you like), and dunk in two or so of your crusts. Then enjoy! Leftovers are just as good if not better (like a fine chili I say).