Rich, dense and packed with a filling bordering on stew-like, the pot pie may be the paramount example of cold-weather comfort food. With a crumbly, buttery crust that could just as well hold a ton of apple pie filling, pot pie often contains chicken as the primary protein. Many also boast turkey, duck or other proteins.
As it cooks, a pot pie often perfumes the house. They're best served positively piping hot, with the filling oozing out as you slice into the pie, the crust slightly collapsing and the bottom of the pie shell almost soggy from the viscous sauce that enrobes the chicken and vegetables.
Characterized by peas, carrots and celery — plus the aforementioned chicken, sauce/stew and crust — pot pie doesn't call for much in the way of ingredients, but it's so much more than the sum of its parts.
Whether you're a proponent of a homemade iteration or could eat Marie Callender's with fervor, a chicken pot pie is an unbeatable example of a prime autumn dish that will warm you from the inside out.
A very brief history of the pot pie
Savory, meat-based pies sometimes don't get the attention they deserve. While many love a pecan or pumpkin pie, it can be a tougher "sell" to hawk a pie filled with animal protein and veggies. But why? A pot pie is truly just a stew ensconced in a pie shell . . . and doesn't that sound pretty darn delicious? (Besides, it's hard to beat this iconic moment).
Taste Atlas notes that pies of this sort were super-popular all the way back in the Roman Empire, long before they became a customary go-to in England. Pie Bar adds that over the years, proteins such as lamb, venison and other birds and game were also featured in pot pies, the first written recipe of which was published in 1796. Fast-forward to the 1950s, and pot pie became a smash hit frozen food that would grace the dinner tables of many Americans — especially on busy weeknights.
A new(ish) version of a retro classic
In addition to its storied history and outrageous flavor, the flaky pot pie is also endlessly customizable. Not into herbs? Cool, don't use them whatsoever. Vegetarian? No animal protein needed. Have a bounty of fresh (or frozen) vegetables at home? Throw 'em all in: When it comes to what can be added to the filing, there are hardly any limitations.
I didn't want to reinvent the wheel in any manner because the pot pie is already a perfect dish (that is also really neat because you can serve it completely on its own — no sides necessary). Instead, I just added some unusual ingredient additions, slightly diversified the flavor profiles and bulked up the texture.
Also, don't fret about the pie crust: I'm not really a "baker" or pastry-focused cook, so I wound up picking up a Marie Callender's pie shell and a sheet of puff pastry and calling it a day. Truly "semi-homemade," if you will. (Where's that GIF of Sandra Lee's inexplicably long pour of "2 shots" when you need it?) If you're a pastry virtuoso, though, then use your homemade, buttery pastry for a really special dinner.
A 2017 NPR piece by Kevin Weeks is aptly titled "Restoring Humble Potpie to Its Rightful Place," and I couldn't agree with him more. Do your part this winter to help boost the pot pie into the upper comfort food echelon, which is exactly where it belongs.
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 3 to 4 leeks, cleaned and sliced (not too thinly), dark greens saved for another use
- 4 to 5 large carrots, peeled and cut into sizable slices (See Chef's Notes)
- 3 stalks celery, cut into sizable slices
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 bulb celeriac, greens removed, peeled and cut into cubes
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (See Chef's Notes)
- 4 to 5 cups warmed chicken stock or broth (See Chef's Notes)
- 2 tablespoons white miso
- 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
- 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 bag frozen peas
- Pie shell, store-bought pie crust or homemade pie dough
- Puff pastry sheet, optional
- 1 egg, beaten well with water or milk
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the chicken on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Transfer to the oven and roast for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove the chicken from the oven and let cool. Turn the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
- In a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks, carrots, celery and celeriac. Cook for about 5 minutes, ensuring that the vegetables don't brown but instead start becoming somewhat tender. (They'll continue to cook in the sauce, so don't feel as though you need to cook them through in their entirety now).
- Add the garlic, stir and toast for 30 seconds, or until fragrant.
- Add the flour in increments, stirring in between, ensuring that the mixture is homogenous and there's no raw flour lingering in a corner of the pan or under an especially large chunk of carrot. Cook for another minute.
- Add the stock or broth in increments, stirring in between. There should be slight resistance and a subtle thickening before you add any further liquid. Once all the liquid has been added, stir well and raise the heat slightly.
- Add the miso, crème fraîche and cream. Stir well. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so. The sauce should be nappe, meaning that if you stir the mixture and then turn the spoon over above the pan, you should be able to make a swipe through the sauce with your finger and the sides should "hold."
- Season with black pepper and salt if needed. Add the chopped chicken back to the mixture. Stir in the frozen peas and mix well. (Be careful with the salt here: Depending on the brand/type of stock or broth you use, as well as the prior seasoning and miso, there's already a good amount of sodium in this dish.)
- Prepare a baking pan or tin with the dough, crust or pie shell. Carefully, fill with the chicken, vegetables and sauce. Depending on the size of the pie pan or tin, you may have enough filling for two pies, so fill accordingly.
- Finish with a latticed pie dough topping or a rolled-out sheet of puff pastry. Brush with the egg wash and top with flaky salt.
- Transfer to the oven for a half hour, or until the pastry is browning and the sauce is bubbling. Let cool for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
For this recipe, slice the carrots on the bigger side (i.e. slightly larger than you might expect).
If gluten isn't part of your journey, reach for arrowroot, cornstarch or a GF-friendly flour alternative.
To make the broth, I used Better than Bouillon's roasted chicken base, whisked into water.
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