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Chicken Pot Pie

One of the small mercies of life is that February only has 28 days. I know there are real reasons for it, involving Romans and lunar calendars and such, but I like to think of it as a small blessing--the fact that cold, gray February is just a little shorter.

Of course, March will probably be more of the same--snow, ice, wind, rain--but hitting March just feels like progress. It feels like pretty soon we'll all be planting flowers and going barefoot and wearing sun dresses. It's a rickety sort of optimism, but it makes me feel a little less confined.

For now, though, on the last day of February, I'm thinking about ways to stay warm besides wearing a scarf indoors or forcing the cat to snuggle with me. The whiskey sour I'm drinking right now helps with that, but I know I can't subsist for long on such meager fare. It's time to get serious about dinner.

I don't know if you've been paying attention to the recent NPR series on the family dinner, but the gist is that eating dinner as a family is on the decline. And with it, our health. As it turns out, most families are too busy to have a common meal these days, which we at the Joy Kitchen find to be disturbing and unfortunate.

We don't have any scientific studies under our belts, but we know that we're happier and healthier when we eat together. There are few things quite so discouraging as eating alone, and we don't think that busyness should wreck quality evening family time. And so we propose yet another simple solution for a quick and simple meal.

Chicken pot pie would be a very labor-intensive dish to make from scratch in one evening. There's the chicken and the crust and the sauce to think about, and we don't really expect anyone to tackle all three when you've got kids to corral and homework to oversee, and piano practice to supervise. It's asking a lot even for folks with no children and few evening responsibilities.

Which is why we suggest planning ahead. Poach a chicken or two on Sunday and reap the benefits throughout the week. Make a double batch of pie dough and freeze it for later. Sure, it requires a little forethought, but not much. If you're really short on time, find a rotisserie chicken that calls your name and buy some frozen pie crusts. It's better than calling for take-out again.

But really, buy a chicken. Poach it. It's pretty much a hands-off process that requires you to boil water and set a timer. You can do it. Then, you can use it in this recipe, which is far more than the sum of its parts.

Other articles you might enjoy: Hamburger Pie, Venison Black Bean Chili, Using Leftovers

Chicken Pot Pie
Serves 6 to 8

First, prepare the creamed chicken. Have ready:
           1 1/2 pounds shredded cooked chicken (from a 3-ish pound chicken)
Melt in a large saucepan over medium-low heat:
            4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
Add and whisk until smooth:
            1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat. Pour in a steady stream while whisking:
            2 cups of the cooking broth (if you poached the chicken) or 2 cups chicken stock
Whisk until smooth. Whisk in:
            1 1/2 cups milk
Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking constantly and breaking up any lumps. Cook until the sauce has thickened considerably. Stir in the cooked chicken. Remove from the heat and season to taste with:
           Fresh lemon juice
           Salt and white or black pepper
           (Grated or ground nutmeg)
Have ready:
           1/2 recipe Basic All-Butter Crust
Position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a 13 × 9-inch baking dish. Heat in a large skillet over medium-high heat:
            2 tablespoons butter
Add and cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes:
           1 medium onion, chopped
            3 medium carrots, sliced
            2 small celery ribs, sliced
Stir the vegetables into the creamed chicken, along with:
           ¾ cup frozen peas
           3 tablespoons minced parsley or other herbs
Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Roll out the pie dough into the shape of the dish, place on top of the chicken, and tuck the edges down in against the dish sides. Brush the top with:
            Beaten egg (1 large)
Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping is browned, 30 to 40 minutes.

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Cut into florets:
           1 small head cauliflower (about 1 pound)
Cut the florets in half so that each floret has a flat side that will sit well in the skillet....