There might be times in your life when you feel hurt or scared or sick. And I will want to make you feel better. But I’m not a doctor or a magician, so I will do the only thing I can really do in such a situation. I will cook for you. And I might cook this: A chicken pot pie that is delicious and hearty comfort food, and that takes about three hours to make, from start to finish. That might qualify this recipe for “pain-in-the-ass” status. But it doesn’t matter. Because love is nothing if not a little impractical.
A chicken potpie recipe with enough endnotes for a David Foster Wallace novel
(See below the recipe for a really, really fast version!)
Cooking the chicken and making broth:
Start with a whole, raw chicken. I like Bell and Evans brand. Remove all the gizzards and neck.[i] Put in a large stock pot along with:
· two peeled and quartered onions
· a few peeled and smashed garlic cloves[ii]
· 4-5 carrots (don’t bother peeling them, just cut into chunks so they fit in the pan)
· a few ribs of celery (leaves and all, and again cut into chunks)
· fresh herbs: Thyme, rosemary, sage, preferably tied in a bouquet garni[iii]
· Some whole peppercorns, if you have them [iv]
1. Fill the pot with cold water, covering everything by about an inch.
2. Bring to a boil; let it boil for about an hour. Check on it periodically to make sure it’s not boiling over and also to skim off any foamy scum (I can’t think of a better word for this, sorry!) that comes to the surface.
3. Check the chicken for doneness using a set of tongs to pull and twist the drumstick; if it falls away easily, it’s done.
4. Pull the chicken from the pan and set on a big plate to cool.[v]
5. Fish out the big pieces of veggies and herbs from the pan using a slotted spoon and throw them away. To quote Alton Brown, “they’ve given their all.”
6. Line a big colander with a couple layers of cheesecloth, place the colander on top of another large pan, and put the whole contraption into the sink.
7. Strain the chicken broth into the colander.
8. Put the pot of chicken broth into the fridge to cool.[vi]
9. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull all of the meat off the bone and either cut it into bite-sized pieces or shred it.[vii]
All of this can be done a day or two in advance. You can put the chicken pieces and broth in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
Making the pie:
Now it’s time to actually make this thing! (By the way, you can also make a really nice chicken soup from here).
1. Mince an onion. Peel and cut 3 or so carrots into bite-sized pieces. (You can add other veggies, too, if you like, such as a cup of frozen peas and/or corn). Sautee until soft in olive oil; set aside.
3. In a large pot, melt a half stick of butter (less if you’re also using schmaltz; the total fat should add up to ¼ cup).
4. Add heaping ¼ cup of flour and cook for about 1 minute.
5. Add 1 ½ cups each of milk and the reserved chicken broth and whisk until smooth.
6. Cook and whisk over medium heat until the mixture is thick and bubbly. Add salt to taste. This means you should be actually tasting it and adding salt until it tastes good to you. Remember this is unsalted chicken broth you’re using, so salt is really needed here to get the flavor right.
7. Add the shredded chicken, cooked veggies, and herbs to the pot and stir.
8. Transfer everything to a casserole dish or very deep pie pan and top with a layer of pie crust. I use Immaculate Baking Company brand store-bought pie crust because it’s better and easier than anything I have ever made myself. But feel free to make your own![x]
9. Bake in a 375 degree oven until the crust is browned and the filling is bubbling around the edges. (Put your pie dish on a cookie sheet to catch any spillage). Cover with foil if the crust browns too much.
10. Let it set for 20 minutes or so before cutting into it.
The really fast version:
Hit the grocery store for boxed chicken broth, an already-cooked rotisserie chicken, and a bag of frozen peas and carrots. Start at step 1 or 2 of making the pie. Fresh herbs is the one thing I wouldn't skip.
As for that extra broth….
Freeze it in ice cube trays. When the cubes are frozen transfer them into a zip-top bag. Each cube will equal about 1/8 cup of liquid, so measuring for future recipes should be easy. Use the broth in certain recipes instead of water to add extra flavor, like when you’re making risotto or other rices. The broth is also great for sipping warm if you’re sick (don't forget to salt it!). Or use it to make chicken soup!
[i] Don’t rinse your chicken, no matter what other recipes say. Rinsing spreads germs!
[ii] Do it fast: Put a clove of garlic on the cutting board and lay a wide knife on top of it. Push down hard on the flat part of the knife with the heel of your hand. Pull out the smashed clove from its paper.
[iii] Tie the uncut, on-the-stem herbs into a little bundle, either with string or inside a square of cheesecloth so you’ve got something that looks like an herb teabag. This prevents the little herb pieces from getting loose in the chicken broth.
[iv] Likewise for the celery, or even the carrots.
[v] I use two big stirring spoons to do this, lifting the bird from underneath. If you find a better way, please tell me, because I don’t think this is optimal!
[vi] If you’re not in a rush, leave the broth in the fridge overnight. The next morning, you will find that the fat will have risen to the top and solidified. It’s called schmaltz. You can either toss it, or save it and use it to cook with. Before you say “eeew!” let me tell you that it’s “healthier” (clearly a relative term) than butter and will imbue your chicken pot pie with a rich, chicken-y flavor.
[vii] Taking apart the chicken while it’s still warm will be much easier and guarantee that you’ll get more meat off of the bone than if the chicken cooled completely.
[viii] Feel free to whistle “Scarborough Fair” while you’re at it.
[ix] Add more or less of each herb depending on what you like or don’t like.
[x] Sometimes I have made buttermilk biscuit dough and dropped it in spoonfuls on top of the pie filling. If you do this, bake at the temperature and approximate time that the biscuit recipe calls for. A toothpick inserted into the middle will come out clean when the biscuits are done.