When I was a kid, my mom would serve those individual chicken pot pies every now and then. My brother and I would always trade - I'd give him the insides (mainly the icky peas and the other vegetables) and in exchange, I'd get the crust and the thick unctuous broth that stuck to it.
I forgot about pot pies for a while, until one night Mr. Food Musings and I went to Liberty Cafe, a little restaurant tucked away in Bernal Heights. There I had what is undoubtedly the best pot pie on planet Earth. They don't take reservations, and Mr. FM hates to wait for his food, so we got into the habit of going on Sundays around 6 pm, a time when most restaurants are refreshingly empty of crowds. I've never ordered anything but the chicken pot pie there; the flaky top crust, when punctured, releases a fragrant cloud of steam and the fresh potatoes, pearl onions, carrots and peas just scream out home-cooking. I got so addicted for a while that when my parents came to visit that was one of two places we took them to eat in the city. (Come on, in this city? You know I had it bad.)
Making a pot pie of my own has been a long time coming. For several years I've had the Joy of Cooking dog-eared to the Winter Vegetable Pot Pie with a Cheddar Biscuit Crust page, and with this week's arrival of Farm Fresh to You produce everything clicked into place.
I started by making my own chicken stock. Annoying, I admit, but it's not like I normally do that kind of thing, it's just that our freezer has been stuffed with so many chicken carcasses for so many months that it was time. (I told you once before that I hate wasting food. This past Thanksgiving I convinced Little Sister to take the turkey carcass back to New York with her, on an airplane, so she could make homemade stock. She did - well, to be perfectly accurate The Boyfriend did - is that love or what? - and the onion soup she made with it was lovely.)
I'm not going to tell you how to make stock - well, all right. If you do it like Nigella and me, just throw the bones of 3-4 cooked chickens into a big stock pot along with 2 peeled carrots, a celery rib, what else...an onion stuck with a clove, the white part of a leek (if you have it), 5 peppercorns, a bouquet garni (that's French for a little baggie with 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, a few parsley sprigs, and a bay leaf), cover with cold water, throw in a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Once it's boiling you'll need to skim the scum from the top (disproving the cheerful notion that it's always the cream that rises), then lower to barely a simmer, where the water burps up a bubble once every 5 seconds or so, and leave it uncovered like that for three hours. After that, drain it into a big pot and freeze it in cup-sized portions (for easy use later). Voilà! Simple, just takes time (and some scavenging beforehand).
Whether you go to the trouble of making your own stock or buy some, you'll need 4 cups for this recipe. If I do say so myself, the pot pie turned out nicely. It took me back to my parents' kitchen table, except this time I'd have stuck my brother's hand with a fork before I'd let him take the pretty little peas off my plate.
Chicken Pot Pie
Yield: 4-6 depending on appetites (4 servings in our household)
Instead of a pastry crust, this pot pie is topped with biscuits. To make it easier on yourself, buy stock and a rotisserie chicken. You can also use frozen peas - I used the season's first fresh peas. The pods guarded their contents steadfastly against my eager fingers; some yielded only one or two small peas, but it was worth it. And no, they did not go rolling all around on the floor when I was carrying them over to the pot. What sort of klutz do you take me for?
4 cups chicken broth
3 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/4" slices
3/4 lb. potatoes, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2" pieces
2 large celery ribs, cut into 1/2" slices
1 cup peas, freshly shelled or thawed
2 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken (I poached 1 lb. worth - two boneless, skinless breasts - then let them cool)
3/4 stick (6 TBSP) unsalted butter
5 small leeks or 2 large leeks, white parts only, or 1 medium onion, chopped
6 TBSP flour
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (substitute dried if that's all you have)
1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
FOR BISCUIT CRUST
1 1/3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 TBSP cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
2 TBSP vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into bits (Crisco makes a version with 0 trans fats now)
1/3 cup grated sharp Cheddar
1 large egg
About 1/3 cup buttermilk
MAKE THE FILLING
1. In a large stock pot, bring stock to a boil. Add carrots, potatoes and celery and simmer uncovered 8 minutes. Add peas and simmer another 7 minutes or until tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer veggies to a shallow baking dish along with chicken. Reserve stock.
2. Melt butter in saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leeks or onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes to make a roux. Add 3 cups of reserved broth in a steady stream, whisking contstantly, and bring to a boil, whisking. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking, for 3 minutes. Stir in nutmeg, parsley, thyme and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Pour sauce over chicken and vegetables and stir to coat.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
MAKE THE CRUST
1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450.
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. Blend in butter and shortening with fintertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cheese.
3. Break egg into a liquid measuring cup and add enough buttermilk to total 1/2 cup. Beat with a fork, then add to flour mixture and stir till dough forms. Gather dough into a ball.
4. On a floured surface roll or press out dough 1/2" thick. With a small glass or biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can, then gather scraps, reroll dough and repeat until all dough is used up. (I had two rounds leftover that I'll bake some other time, maybe for a morning Benedict?)
5. Arrange rounds on top of filling and bake until biscuits are puffed and golden and filling is bubbling, 15-20 minutes. (I had to transfer my pie from the middle of the oven to one rung below about 15 minutes in because the biscuits were browning too quickly.)