Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: A chance to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement, a chance to cook during the day and take photos in natural light.  Note that I am NOT EQUATING THOSE THINGS AT ALL.  It’s just a happy coincidence.  Like the light, fluffy snow that just started coming down, obscuring the city’s grit; the Barack Obama memorial only-legal-tender-in-Liberia coins that arrived today, just in time for the inauguration*; and the 10 pounds I just lost using only the power of positive thinking.  The alignment of these stars could only mean one thing: individual chicken pot pies, a lunch I choose to think Martin Luther King, Jr. would have enjoyed on a snowy day.

*I did not actually buy these, although once the decades-long civil war ends and I start vacationing there I may be sorry.

Erickson’s First 3 Stages of Pot Pie Development: Attachment, deviance, acceptance.

Pot pie doesn’t have to be fussy, especially if you don’t make your own pie crust.  I did, since I was trying to keep things on the cheap and the building blocks of pie crust – flour and butter – are house staples, but you could always buy pre-made pie crust (please don’t) or use puff pastry (totally acceptable, per my rule that any food is improved by at least 50% if accompanied by puff pastry).  It was risky, since pie crust is one of my nemesis food items, but necessary to hit the price point.

I use the FoPro to make pie crust instead of cutting the butter in the flour by hand or with a pastry cutter, because then when I fuck it up I can blame the FoPro for overworking the dough and I find it useful to have a scapegoat.  I go all-butter because I don’t normally keep shortening around the house, although you could do a 2-to-1 butter to shortening ratio and get a flakier crust, and I threw in a little freshly-cracked black pepper for some extra va-voom.  I pulsed the cold butter and flour together into pea-size chunks.  A little ice water helps the dough become, well, doughy, while keeping the butter cold, and it’s ready as soon as it starts pulling together of its own accord.

My secrets revealed.

Didn’t I sound like I totally knew about pie crust just then?  You can too, if you just start parroting the explanations in The New Best Recipe like I do.

I formed the dough into a ball – I think I went a little too heavy on the ice water, since my dough was on the sticky side – wrapped it, and put it into the fridge to chill while I dealt with the pie innards.

I mentioned that pie dough is my nemesis, right?

I know it’s unfortunate.

I know this is not a picture you want to spend any significant amount of time looking at, and it could be the basis of a Frig? if I weren’t about to tell you all about it right now. So, above we have a boneless, skinless chicken breast poaching in non-homemade chicken stock with a bay leaf and some thyme.

Why?  First, shredded poached chicken – as opposed to neatly cubed chicken – is more effective in pot pie situations because it has more nooks and crannies, and thus serves as a better vehicle for transporting the creamy sauce from bowl to mouth.  Second, the poaching liquid is usually store-bought stock in my case, because as often as I say I’m going to spend a chilly winter weekend making gallons and gallons of homemade stock, I never do it.  I have come to accept that, and am moving on.  Poaching the chicken in it with the added aromatics give it a bit of a flavor boost; since the stock eventually forms part of the basis of the sauce, the extra flavor is welcome.*

That being said, if you are one of the homemade stock people, please do use that.  Also, know that with the advent of dry ice frozen containers of stock are easily shipped cross country, and I have some nice neighbors who work from home and would be most willing to sign for the package while I’m at work.

*You can also use non-gussied up stock with leftovers picked from a chicken you roasted earlier in the week, and I won’t tell anyone.

Erickson’s stages 4 through 6:  anger, self-mutilation, jubilance.

My favorite thing about this pot pie is that chicken aside, the filling is made in one pot.  There’s no sauteeing, removing, sauteeing, removing, making sauce, adding back to sauce, mixing and doing the hokey pokey and turning all around.  The veggies are sauteed in butter, flour is mixed right in to make a roux and the liquids (stock and milk – no cream, so we’re not talking super-heavy)  go in and are stirred around until bubbling and thick.  You cook your veg in the order they take to cook, from longest to quickest (like, I do mushrooms first because I like them nice and brown, but do carrots near the end so they don’t overcook and turn to mush while the pies bake), and the whole shebang takes about 20 minutes.

I like to use mushrooms, carrots, parsnips, peas and onions in my pot pie; I know potatoes are traditional, but they seem to retain more heat for more time than any of the other vegetables, so that even when the pie is cool enough to eat, the potatoes remain tongue-blistering heat bombs.  And I vote “no” on proposition “tongue-blistering heat bomb.”  I have enough problems.

Stage 7: Ennui.

I filled two ramekins with the filling, and despite my total lack of measuring anything, including the size of the ramekin (this recipe should be taken very much as a set of suggestions) had EXACTLY enough to fill both to the brim.  I rolled out my chilled dough – still a little wet, so I floured the holy hell out of my board – and used an empty ramekin to cut out the tops.

Normally I’d just slap ’em on, seal the edges and poke some holes in the top with a paring knife, but since these were for you, I made my best attempt at a fluted edge, cut out a steam hole with a fluted biscuit cutter and took the resulting cut-out and added a decorative accent.  As you can see, it still looks very much like shit and at around the time I was doing this, Martha Stewart probably suffered an unexplained but brief stabbing pain in her right temple.

I told you already.  Pie crust.  Nemesis.

Do you know what happened to my last attempt at homemade pie crust? No, you don’t, because some things you just don’t discuss in polite company.  Despite blind baking with pie weights (read: dried beans), the crust ended up shrinking to a third its original size and oozing grease around its flaccid, not-at-all-browned edges.  It was like the Heart of Darkness of pie crusts.  You think you’re getting delicious quiche, and instead you get Marlon Brando in a caftan, insane in a cave in Cambodia.

The horror.

I threw the pot pies into the oven and knelt down on some tacks to say the rosary.

The final stage: Crustitude.

I at least had the presence of mind to put the ramekins on a baking sheet to catch the ooze, (1) because otherwise there would be crap all over the floor of the oven and Brian would have a shit fit and (2) because the ooze scrapings are YUM.

After 40 minutes or so in a 375 oven the crusts were brown, the innards were bubbling, and the pies looked tasty, like On the Waterfront Marlon Brando.

A crucial warning: DO NOT TRY TO EAT THIS IMMEDIATELY.  Yes, you can scrape the ooze immediately to try to sate your urges.  But if you try to eat the actual pot pie it will actually burn away your entire esophagus.  Steam hole or no steam hole, that shit is like napalm.  Which brings us back to Apocalypse Now Brando, which is just what we were trying to avoid.

Now I need a new nemesis to give my life meaning.

Crust:  Butter, flour, salt, pepper, water: pantry staples

Innards: One 1/2 pound chicken breast, $1.65.  One medium carrot, $0.40.  One medium parsnip, $0.74.  Four ounces sliced mushrooms, $0.87.  Half a cup of frozen peas: $0.35.  Two cups of store-bought stock: $1.49.   Onion, milk and dried herbs, pantry staples.

Ok, so FAIL: Grand total $5.50, or $2.75 per person. BUT, and let me attempt to justify for a minute, if you were to take advantage of economies of scale, which I did not, and prepare this for more than 2 people, I am confident that you would be able to bring it under the $2.50 per person limit.  Also if you bought bone-in, skin on chicken and broke it down yourself.  Or if you had homemade stock. And if you had sent me YOUR homemade stock I would have made it under the limit, too.

So you see, it’s not really my fault at all.  But don’t worry, I forgive you.

This is a yummy, basic, warming, hearty pot pie chock full of good-for-you veg.  The sauce coats the veg and chicken without being overly rich, and the recipe is open to a wide variety of interpretations – vary the herbs, go totally vegetarian, do whatever the hell you want.  Go super-easy, and make the innards while you bake off some squares of puff pastry to eat alongside, and dinner’s on the table in half an hour.  You can also make and assemble them in advance, and then stick ’em in the freezer; when you want one, it can go right from freezer to oven.  I’m like fucking Sara Lee over here!

If I say it’s safe to surf this beach, then it’s safe to surf this beach.

Chicken Pot Pies for Two

For the crust:
3/4 c. AP flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
6 tbsp. very cold butter, cut into cubes
2-4 tbsp. ice water

For the innards:
2 c. chicken stock
1 1/2 lb. chicken breast, boneless and skinless
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1 tbsp. olive oil
4 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium parsnip, chopped
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1/2 c. frozen peas
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 tbsp. AP flour
1/3 c. milk
s+p to taste

Make the crust: Pulse the flour, salt and pepper together in a FoPro.  Add the butter and pulse until the butter bits are no larger than peas – 10 to 12 1-second pulses.  Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until the mixture starts to come together.  Dump it out onto a lightly floured surface, smush it into a ball, wrap it in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Make the innards: Heat the stock, bay and thyme in a small saucepan until just below a simmer.  Add the chicken breast and poach until just done.  Don’t worry if there’s still some pink inside; it will finish cooking as the pies bake.  Remove the chicken but reserve the stock.

Pre-heat your oven to 375.

Heat the olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat.  Add the shrooms and cook until nicely browned, 7-10 minutes.  Add the carrot, parsnip and onion, along with a good pinch of salt, and saute until they’re somewhat cooked but still offer resistance when poked with a knife, 5-7 minutes.  Meanwhile, shred the chicken.

Add the butter and allow to melt and coat the veggies; add the flour and do the same.  Cook for a few minutes to cook out any raw floury taste.  Add the milk and a cup of the stock; as the mixture comes to a boil, the roux will thicken it.  If it doesn’t look like you’ll have enough sauce, add a bit more milk.  Stir in the frozen peas.

Assemble and Bake: Divide the innards equally between two ramekins or other small oven-safe dishes.  Roll the chilled dough out to 1/4-inch thick and cut out 2 circles slightly larger than the vessels you’re using.  Drape the dough over the baking dishes.  You can crimp for pretty edges, or just fold the dough over the edge of the dish.  Poke some holes in the top so steam can get out.

Put the ramekins on a baking sheet and into the oven.  Bake 35-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.  Let rest for 10 minutes before you try to eat them, or you’ll be sorry and I will totally say I Told You So.